BY: Hamid Mir
Nowadays when any four journalists sit together, the discussion related to future of journalism in Pakistan is always pondered upon. Owing to the pressures on Pakistans economy, television and print media are going through difficult times. Many news channels and papers are being closed down. Those that manage to survive are striving to cut costs via downsizing and slashing salaries. However, up-till now no journalistic organization has come forth with a joint strategy to tackle this and even the Government has been unable to comprise an encompassing resolution for the crisis faced by the media industry.
On the governments part, the reasons for failing to bring the media industry out of crisis is the incumbent government itself facing a plethora of issues. If it comes out of one prevalent crisis, it does not wait a minute to create a new one. Three days back Finance Minister Asad Umar, in an off-the-record meeting with a group of Journalists, informed us about the figures related to Pakistans economy. When he apprised us about the figures issued by Federal Bureau of Statistics and how the increase in prices (inflation) in recent months have affected the rich more, compared to the poor section of society, it brought a wry smile on our faces.
The same figures were claimed by ex-Finance Ministers Miftah Ismail, and Ishaq Dar before him, to us. Asad Umar gave us hope that Pakistan will come out of this economic crisis. When we heard some good news, we sought answers related to the billions of rupees owed by the government with regards to payments it has to make to the media, which may possibly halt the enforced firings of employees? To which Asad Umar replied that if the secretary of information writes the due amount, it will be paid. The secretary of information carefully responded to the finance minister that his department had a few reservations over a portion of the due amount and if those reservations were addressed then he will issue the required documents for the release of the amount. However, for the time being a portion of the due amount will be paid.
When we came back to our offices, we were surprised to see that PTV had spilled the beans on Asad Umars off-the-record meeting and broadcasted the news related to Asad Umars statement pertaining to pressures on economy and its swift resolution, but there was no mention of the conversation related to medias plight in that news.
Next day ex-Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail and Marriyum Aurangzeb invited us for a meeting. As one of our colleagues Arshad Sharif joined the meeting, he was welcomed by Miftah Ismail, who greeted the former by saying that nowadays you are PMLNs favourite anchor. Same Arshad Sharif during PMLNs tenure was booked for issuing fake news. At the time some of us had requested PMLN ministers for letting issues pertaining to Arshad Sharif go, but we were slammed for supporting Anti-Democratic forces. Now, a few months later and not in power, the same Anti-Democratic anchor had become PMLNs favourite journalist because he was criticizing the current government of PM Imran Khan like he used to lambast PMLN government in the past. It is good that PMLN has finally realized that a good journalist is not a mouthpiece of any political party, but at the same time because of the use of this same yardstick, many hero journalists have become villains for Imran Khan. A good journalist is always a hero for the opposition and a villain for the government.
It is good that PMLN has finally realized that a good journalist is not a mouthpiece of any political party
On that same evening a few young journalists came to see me. They had fears of possible enforced job termination and were concerned about their future. Some of them wanted to know if a conspiracy was being hatched against them. I asked my young fellow men to find any proof of a conspiracy and if it does exist then they must unite and fight it. And, if they cant unite then those people are their enemy who are preventing them from uniting. One of the youngsters said that it has become very difficult to speak the truth owing to censorship. I reminded him that speaking the truth has always been difficult, however they can use social media for speaking the truth & bypassing censorship. If that is not possible then they need to wait for the right time where they can speak the truth, while protecting themselves.
Pakistans journalism has seen tough times in the past as well
Pakistans journalism has seen tough times in the past as well. Those who imprisoned, banned and flogged journalists in the past are lost in the darkness of oblivion whereas journalists are still alive today and revered. A young journalist asked whether I can give any example? I responded quickly with the name of Hussain Naqi. I told them that Naqi Sahab was pressurized by General Ayub Khan, followed by an arrest in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul Haqs tenure. But those arrests could not affect his integrity as hes still a hero. A young Journalist said that they know about Hussain Naqi but dont know more details about his life. After hearing this I had to say that our journalism is going through turbulent times because we are not aware of our heroes.
Hussain Naqi has been discussed in Zameer Niazis book Press in Chains, Ahfazur Rehmans book Sab Se Bari Jung and Tahir Masoods recently compiled book Altaf e Sahafat. Altaf e Sahafat is about the founder of Urdu Digest Altaf Hassan Qureshis services to journalism. A detailed account of this book will be discussed some other time, but Altaf Hassan Qureshi is one of the few journalists who remained a villain for the government and a hero for the opposition.
Hussain Naqi and Altaf Hassan Qureshi may have dissenting ideologies but both were arrested in Bhuttos Democratic regime and Zias Dictatorship. Altaf Hassan Qureshi founded the Urdu digest along with his brother during Ayub Khans era, in 1961. Ayub wanted Roman written language instead of Urdu, but Altaf Hassan Qureshi resisted the decision by writing Urdu articles in his digest. In Bhuttos era he was arrested along with Mujeeb ur-Rehman Shami and Hussain Naqi. When Zia came to power, Altaf Hassan Qureshi conducted his interview. During that interview Zia vowed to stay for 90 days, but in his editorial Altaf Hassan Qureshi wrote that a lion does not share its prey with someone else. This offended Zias regime and he was imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat jail for 6 months. He was arrested on 20th October 1977. In that same jail Bhutto was also imprisoned at the time, who gave Altaf Hassan Qureshi a standing ovation when both met face to face.
Altaf Hassan Qureshis name also surfaced in Asghar Khan Case, however he dismissed allegations hurled against him. I remember that fateful evening when I was shot at in Karachi, in an attempted murder. Altaf Hassan Qureshi along with other journalists came to console me with the words Dont Worry! This too, shall pass. Today, when my colleagues tell me about their bad times, I repeat the same line Dont Worry! This too, shall pass. Meanwhile, we must create unity in our ranks.