A legacy of farsightedness

Zia Shahid will always be remembered for his matchless dedication and invaluable contributions to journalism

Zia Shahid, the chief editor of Khabrain Group who left for his eternal abode on April 12, could be credited for single-handedly making the issues of the masses the primary concern of newspaper journalism in Pakistan.

Shahid had been under treatment at Shaikh Zayed Hospital for two weeks. Chronic kidney disease and other ailments had left him quite unwell. His funeral was attended among others by large numbers of journalists, politicians, philanthropists and bureaucrats.

Columnist Taufeeq Butt told The News on Sunday (TNS) had Zia Shahid had lost all zest in 2007 when he lost his son, Ednan Shahid, at the age of 37. Since then, he said, it had been a lifeless existence.

Journalist Hamid Mir thinks otherwise. He tweeted, “senior journalist and writer Zia Shahid Sahib has also passed away. After the sudden death of his eldest son Ednan, he took care of himself and wrote many books. He was a great friend of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.”

Seconding Butt, journalist Ali Ahmed Dhillion says, “I had been associated with Shahid for 35 years. I found him brave and fearless. He could not be persuaded to compromise on what he saw as national interest. If a report was accurate and in public interest, no mai ka lal in the world could stop him from publishing it.” He added, “Shahid played well under pressure. He knew how to connect with the news and keep in touch with the reporters. He was an expert at fixing the news and catching mistakes by taking a quick look at the page.”

Dhillion says that Shahid would ponder for hours on insignificant looking news and send teams to follow up. “He encouraged me to report. My wife and Zia’s are good friends. This made the relationship more substantial. I reported with the news section for a while.”

For Dhillion, having been a protégé of Shahid’s is an honour that he shares with many of Lahore’s seasoned journalists. “He was a staunch supporter of investigative journalism. He used to tell us that investigating crime not only improves society but also corrects the direction state institution might take.“ “He was the pioneer of investigative journalism in Pakistan. He turned us towards investigative journalism in such a way that we would run after stories and follow-ups day and night.

He was also the pioneer of ‘forum’ journalism in Pakistan. He started an inspection team. Before that, only PR journalism was available in Pakistan,” Dhillion says.

Journalist Khushnood Ali Khan, a close friend of Shahid’s, says,” he made it a policy to move from traditional journalism to public journalism so that the newspaper became popular.” Khan says Shahid’s formula was successful. “Like his personality, which was second to none in the journalism world, my relationship with him was exemplary.”

He says, “we were always on the same page. We endured the ups and downs of life together. We faced many difficulties but together we set up the most effective newspaper in the country.”

Ahsan Raza, the journalist and political analyst, says, “Shahid can be regarded as the pioneer of modern pro-public Urdu journalism in Pakistan. He brought the issues of poor people to the front page.” Raza remembers Shahid taking on the elite, always keen to expose the grim face of corruption.

Zia Shahid was a gifted writer and a born leader. He wrote with utmost clarity, never mincing his words. He mentored and groomed several star journalists during his career.

Zia Shahid was a gifted writer and a born leader. He wrote with utmost clarity, never mincing his words. He mentored and groomed several star journalists during his career. One of his contributions to local journalism was the launch of regional language newspapers.

“Besides Urdu, he launched newspapers in Punjabi and Sindhi languages. His newspaper’s Multan edition gave extensive coverage to Saraeki literature. Zia Shahid’s journalism model needs to be studied carefully,” Raza adds.

Journalist Kahkashan Farooq, who had worked at an English daily of Khabrain group, The Post, says, “it is really sad that Zia Shahid Sahib is no more. He was the father of my first editor, late Ednan Shahid. I never had a boss like him again. He was in an altogether different league.

Farooq recalls, “there were many stories about this family. When I was offered a position at The Post in 2005, some colleagues warned me against joining them, but I met them and found the rumours baseless.” She says she worked with the paper for four years. “Throughout that journey, my decision was proved correct. I was young and naive, but Ednan Sahib showed trust in me. Zia Sahib, too, was always respectful towards me,” Farooq says.

She says after Ednan Shahid’s passing, she resigned in protest over some administrative issue. Zia Shid called her for a meeting and refused to accept her resignation, assuring her of his support. “I still remember his words, ‘Kahkashan Farooq, if you come up with an even bigger issue, I won’t let you resign. Just keep me informed. I’ll make sure that you do not face any trouble.’ The next day, I learnt that he had fired the ‘trouble’.”

“He had not been well. But I was happy that he was there for Ednan Sahib‘s adorable kids, who spent their childhood playing in the corridors of The Post office. I have such fond memories of them and those days,” says Farooq. “I wish I could have attended Zia Sahib‘s funeral, but this pandemic still calls for social restraint, so sending my prayers his way. May his soul rest in peace, amen.“

Journalist Raza Rumi says, “Shahid introduced a new business model in the media industry, which will be remembered not for its ethical standards or accuracy but for navigating the tough conditions for the press in Pakistan and for garnering new groups of readership way before click-bait digital platforms entered the market.”

“By all means, he was a successful entrepreneur who created an empire from scratch. However, scholars and press historians will likely not be too flattering in their assessments of the impact his newspapers had on shaping public opinion; and the levels of ‘trust in the news media,” Rumi says.

Shahid will be remembered for his pro-masses journalism. He leaves a legacy and a colossal responsibility for his son, journalist Imtinan Shahid.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He reports on politics, economy and militancy and can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @hassannaqvi5

A legacy of farsightedness