The Karachi press Club has always been a pioneer for freedom of expression. The building has been declared a heritage site
Karachi Press Club is housed in a Victorian-style bungalow built in 1890 as per the record maintained by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
This building was declared an evacuee property after the partition in 1947 and remained in government use. For a short period of time, President Iskandar Mirza used it as well.
Later, the office of the Evacuee Department was established in the building. Some journalists in the late 1950s started looking for a building to open the Karachi Press Club. Ibrahim Khalili was the officer in charge at that time in the Evacuee Department. He supported the journalists in their bid to get a building for the press club.
Their efforts reached fruition in December 1958, when Gen Azam Khan handed over the keys of the building to members of the Karachi Press Club. Since then, it has been housed in the same building. The premises was declared a national heritage site at a later stage.
When the building became dilapidated after 100 years of its construction, the then executive body of the Karachi Press Club, with the help of the Endowment Fund Trust (EFT), a non-government organisation, took on its restoration.
The work to preserve the building started in the tenure of its secretary Amir Latif and ended in the tenure of Maqsood Yusufi (more than four years later). “Now the building is safe for another 50 years,” say EFT officials.
Karachi Press Club was the first press club in Pakistan. Elections are held every year according to its constitution. It is also hailed as a champion of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Almost all political and religious parties, NGOs and civil society hold protest demonstrations to press their demands and raise their voices in front of the Karachi Press Club.
Needless to say, Karachi Press Club is one of the most happening places in the city. Rich with history, the club has been a hub for writers, poets and artists for decades.
American journalist, Josephine Campbell sent me an email asking about the significance of Karachi Press Club because she was intrigued that news stories originating from the financial hub of Karachi were somehow related to the club.
Almost all political and religious parties, NGOs and civil society hold protest demonstrations for their demands and raise their voices in front of the Karachi Press Club.
Her query is not unusual, because Karachi Press Club has acquired the status of Hyde Park and most of the demonstrations in the mega city are held in front of the heritage building.
The political clout associated with Karachi Press Club can be gauged from the fact that it was here that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto launched his campaign against (then president) Ayub Khan. Gen Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, the information minister of yet another military dictator, Gen Ziaul Haq, once dubbed the club as ‘enemy territory’.
Karachi Press Club also provides a platform for press conferences, seminars, workshops, and for discussions amongst different political and non-political groups, labourers, students and other segments of the society.
The Movement for Restoration of Democracy sprung from Karachi Press Club as well, as political gatherings were banned under martial law. The political leaders headed by Nusrat Bhutto would hold meetings here, leading to the formation of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy.
The Karachi Press Club also raised its voice against Musharraf’s emergency rule in 2007, which jeopardised freedom of expression. It was the only instance of more than 200 journalists being arrested at the same time and place. Due to its sacrifices for democracy and freedom of the press, Karachi Press Club has credibility.
Eminent journalist and TV anchor Amir Zia recalls, “I was first introduced to the Karachi Press Club during my days as a student activist. Gen Zia’s regime was on its last leg and the Club used to be a hub of activity. From book launch ceremonies to the meetings of progressive rights groups, it served as a ‘liberated area’ in the words of Abdul Hameed Chapara, the late journalist and one of the leading voices at the time.”
“When I joined as a trainee reporter in 1990, there was a strong line of seniors to welcome rookies like myself with open arms. They would guide, teach and share their experiences while also hosting evenings at the famous card room of the club. From Altaf Siddiqui, bureau chief of The Frontier Post to Dawn veterans, including Sabihuddin Ghousi, Aleemuddin Pathan and Mushtaq Memon – one remembers many faces that were once an integral part of the Karachi Press Club. Sadly many of them are no longer around. Mujahid Barelvi and Zahid Hussain — whom I looked up to since my student days – are among the few remaining veterans of those times,” he reminisces.
“Although most of us are unable to visit as often as we’d like, a new breed of journalists has replaced the seniors and juniors of those times, and the process of grooming the young guns continues as before,” Zia concludes.
As the building has evolved over the years, so has the culture. In many media houses, the editorial has been given a back seat and the marketing department dictates what will be published. Salaries have been slashed drastically.
The vast majority of young journalists who frequent the Karachi Press Club today have an uncertain future. Bigotry, fear and restlessness rule the roost. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. One can see many young journalists who respect the heritage and the history and are resisting the bigotry.
The writer is a journalist and a peace activist. He writes on health, heritage and environment issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org