“What’s missing from today’s journalism is the practice of following up on issues. When you go for an interview, do your background research, ask the tough questions and don’t sleep on it. Get the story out as soon as possible.”
Veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai gave this advice during the second Razia Bhatti Memorial Lecture that was held at the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA).
The lecture series is held to honour Razia Bhatti, the founder editor of the Newsline magazine who is considered one of Pakistan’s most outstanding journalists.
Razia passed away in 1996 after an illustrious career as a fearless writer and editor. Her family and friends instituted the lecture series in her memory in 2018 in collaboration with the CEJ.
This year’s lecture was delivered by Rahimullah Yusufzai, who has reported widely on the Afghan conflict, as well as the situation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Apart from his other professional commitments, Yusufzai had also worked with Razia and Newsline, with which his association spanned over three decades.
Yusufzai focused his talk on his interviews with Osama bin Laden (OBL). His talk was titled ‘Reporting in Troubled Times: Tea with Osama Bin Laden’.
Recalling his interviews with OBL, Yusufzai said that after the now-infamous news conference in which OBL had declared war on the US, all the reporters sat down for tea with the leadership of al-Qaeda.
He said that the other reporters were speaking among themselves or enjoying their tea, but he used this as an opportunity to sit beside OBL and ask him about the details of his life that were not previously known.
“I asked him some tough questions, and even though OBL was a soft-spoken man, I saw him get visibly upset at some of them.”
Citing one example, Yusufzai said that he asked OBL about the fact that more Muslims had been killed as a result of the attacks carried out by his group. “OBL replied that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Currently a resident editor at the The News International in Peshawar, Yusufzai had received Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2010 as an acknowledgement of his contribution to journalism. He was also a recipient of Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 2004.
Yusufzai had started his career as a proofreader at The Sun newspaper in Karachi while still a student. Over the years, his work and collaborations have extended to the BBC, the Time magazine and ABC. He is widely regarded as an authority on Taliban and al-Qaeda, and known for his knowledge on the Afghan conflict.
However, the best compliment for Yusufzai, as Newsline’s co-founder Umber Khairi put it during her introduction of him, is that he “commands respect from all sides due to his balanced reporting”. “I am honoured to be invited for this series,” said Yusufzai, as he remembered Razia with fondness for her services to journalism.
The talk also featured comments by IBA Executive Director Dr S Akbar Zaidi, who said that there has not been another journalist who has understood or written about what has happened in KP and Afghanistan, and on the wars on terror.
“There is nobody like Rahimullah. I just need to refer to Razia Bhatti and Rahimullah Yusufzai to talk about the quality of journalism,” said Dr Zaidi. “What we learned about the developments in those areas, sitting 1,500 kilometres away, is a testament to their work.”
However, Dr Zaidi also shared his concerns on journalism standards in the contemporary age, saying that the quality has seen a decline. “I wonder who we will call next for the memorial lecture.”
Kamal Siddiqi, director at the CEJ-IBA, commented: “This is a memorable lecture and Rahimullah Yusufzai was an ideal choice. He is an icon of Pakistan’s journalism industry.”
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