Muhammad Ali Siddiqi
The credit for giving Pakistan a free media goes to journalists and press workers, the political parties`contribution being incidental. It couldn`t be otherwise, because elected and `democratic` governments never missed an opportunity to persecute journalists and muzzle the press. History recalls with shame that, when the Zia regime had journalists whipped, his minister for information belonged to a political party which used to shout itself hoarse for press freedom. As for the judiciary like many columnists now dead, our judiciary believes in fighting for democracy when democracy reigns. The contents of Dr Tauseef Ahmad Khan`s book, Azadi-e-Sahafat ki Jidojahad mein Akhbari Tanzeemoon ka Kirdar, thus, justify the title.
The first law designed to control the press in the subcontinent was made in 1799 by the East India Company, afraid that the stories of corruption among its officials would reach London. Little did Company officials know that they were setting a perverse tradition which would be followed and perhaps with greater ruthlessness by the Muslim state that would come into being a century and a half later.
Not content with their colonial heritage, especially the draconian decrees made during World War II, successive governments in Pakistan made laws of their own to muzzle the press, the first such being the Public Safety Act of 1949. What followed then was one law after another, there being little difference between authoritarian and elected governments in devising newer ways to gag the press, impose censorship, close newspapers down, treat journalists as little better than enemy agents and throw them into prison. During the Cold War especially, when Pakistan was America`s most allied ally, so to say, the governments thought the movement for press freedom was a communist conspiracy.
No one was perhaps more qualified to record all this for posterity than Dr Khan, chairperson of the mass communication department of the Federal Urdu University.As a journalist, Dr Khan took part in trade union activity, is at present a newspaper columnist, and appears regularly on Voice of America (VOA) and BBC as a commentator.
Originally the author`s doctoral thesis, the book is a history of the newspaper industry in South Asia for the last two centuries and makes the reader believe nothing is left out. The book records for history the rise and fall of newspapers and the eclipse and eventual extinction of great newspapers with a romance of their own, like Maulana Zaffar Ali Khan`s Zamindar, Rudyard Kipling`s Civil and Military Gazette, and The Pakistan Times edited by journalists such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Ali Khan and Mazhar Ali Khan. In one single strike that stunned the nation in 1958, the military government took over four newspapers and periodicals owned by the Progressive Papers Ltd English daily The Pakistan Times, Urdu daily Imroze, weekly Lailo Nahar and Sports Times. In 1964 was formed the National Press Trust, which soon became a government-controlled cartel of 15 newspapers, including the Karachi and Dhaka editions of Morning News, the chain of Mashriq newspapers, and a number of Bengali and Sindhi dailies.
While it is impossible not to remember Zamir Niazi and Dr Abdul Salam Khursheed for pioneering works of their own, Khan`s book has a larger scope. Its sweep includes the organisations and personalities involved in the decades-long struggle for press freedom, the foundation and evolution of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (and its pre-Partition predecessor), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, the Press Council, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and its various provincial branches, the multiclass and controversial All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation, the chronology of anti-democratic laws, their occasional softening, and their eventual annulment, especially of the Press Publications Ordinance, whose very name still haunts old-timers among journalists. As pointed out by the book, a galaxy ofunion leaders rendered invaluable sacrifices for the repeal of this law, but the one man whose name stands out as a shining example of courage, honesty and dedication to his mission was Minhaj Barna.
Broadly, the author lists six methods used to control the media press `advice`, ad cuts, the newsprint quota, harassment of journalists, pre-censorship and pressure groups. As irony would have it, the rise of these pressure groups coincided with the loosening of government control of the press and the gradual return of democratic norms after Ziaul Haq`s death. These pressure groups actually ethnic and`ideological`fascist militias outdid the state in violence against journalists in methods that ranged from disappearances, tortures and murders to deadly bomb blasts. Yet, it must be said to the credit of the men and women who run the Pakistani media, they refused to be intimidated, many of them paying with their lives. More shockingly, the state`s secret agencies didn`t lag far behind in pursuing their own hidden agenda. Page after page spews a litany of confiscations, arrests, kidnappings, assassinations, mob violence and bombings, making one wonder about the immensity of crimes to which the media and nation were subjected.
There is no doubt that Khan has burnt midnight oil to write what, indeed, is his magnum opus crammed with facts and figures verified and cross-checked. Besides books, newspapers, pre-Partition census data, archives and the plethora of reports and findings that lend authenticity to his book, the author interviewed a large number of senior journalists who were in the thick of things to ascertain the truth about matters rendered controversial because of unverified and conflicting claims.
It must be pointed out there are some factual corrections that need to be made: Ahmad Ali Khan returned as Dawn`s editor in-chief in January 2003, and then finally retired in February 2004. It is true that G.
N. Mansuri was The Star`s editor in the`80s, but he didn`t go through the route because he was a Gujrati language journalist.
Initally Dawn`s senior assistant editor used to be The (Evening) Star editor, the first being M. A. Zuberi, the second Akhtar Adil Razwy. While giving Dawn`s history (page 49), the book doesn`t tell us when weekly Dawn, Delhi, became a daily (Oct 12, 1942).
Also Emperor Aurangzeb`s year of death needs to be corrected.
Ultimately, one would also like to add that if translated into English this book could be of immense help to international research institutes and think tanks.
Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, “For a free press,” in Dawn, June 7, 2015. Accessed on June 7, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1186738/for-a-free-press
The item above written by Muhammad Ali Siddiqi and published in Dawn on June 7, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on June 7, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.
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