Journalism and textbooks: Part – II – Dr Naazir Mahmood


The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

The tragedy of textbooks by Dr A S Khurshid and Miskeen Hijazi is that you do get to read something about the history of journalism and that too mostly pre-Partition, and some technical aspects of journalism but they make no mention of the struggle of Pakistani journalists for freedom of expression.

One of the bestsellers of Hijazi is ‘Fun-e-Idarat’ (The art of editing) in which you find no critical perspective at all. The same applies to the books by Anwar Sadeed whose Urdu book ‘Pakistan mein adabi rasael ki tareekh’ (The history of literary magazines in Pakistan) published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 1992, does not mention any restrictions imposed on magazines in Pakistan. Another textbook used at the university level is ‘Journalism’ by Abid Masood Tehami, first published in 1987. It has gone into many reprints and is of course recommended by university teachers to students.

Again the entire book does not have any critical aspect to it, apart from regurgitation of platitudes such as ‘the main purpose of journalism is to promote righteousness so that the Muslims around the world can propagate religion effectively’. Then he goes on to assert that it is the responsibility of a good Muslim journalist to not promote drama, film and literature that is not in accordance with their faith. (Page 61) With the help of the scripture he tries to prove that “all those who do not believe in the authenticity and righteousness of the Islamic theory of communication are hypocrites who propagate evil and prevent you from doing good deeds.”

In another chapter titled ‘Azadi-e-Sahafat’ (Freedom of the press) he writes just seven lines about the General Zia era:

“Two years after the establishment of General Zia’s military government the newspapers gained some freedom and an English newspaper The Sun was launched in Lahore and the Muslim in Islamabad. In 1981 daily Jang started its Lahore edition and many other regional newspapers also appeared. Some newspapers were banned such as ‘Musawat’. From October 1979 to November 1981 pre-censorship and press advice were enforced. [The] All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) in one of its functions drew General Ziaul Haq’s attention to the problems of journalism and he promised to solve them.” (Page 68)

That’s how all the restrictions imposed on journalism during that period are glossed over; there is no mention of the struggle that journalists waged nor is there any discussion on the jail terms and floggings that journalists endured to keep the standard of free expression aloft. Similarly, while mentioning the history of journalism mostly Muslim journalists are mentioned and praised whereas nearly all Hindu journalists are overlooked. Similarly, another book ‘Mujallati sahafat ke idarati masail’ (Editorial problems of magazine journalism) by Roshan Ara Rao was published by National Language Authority (NLA) in 1989 and then in 1998 when Iftikhar Arif was its chairman.

This is claimed to be a textbook for MA students in communication. It totally ignores the struggles of journalists who fought for freedom of the press. This nearly 400-page book gives just 20 pages to the editorial problems from 1947 to 1987. Most of these problems include: a lack of resources and new machinery, shortage of newsprint and printing materials, poor standard of education, limited readership, a dearth of new topics, and differences of opinion among various segments of society, lack of cooperation from the governments, and lastly journalism laws and restrictions.

The last problem gets just four pages in the entire book, and that too in a manner that students cannot get an idea about the real political suppression and authoritarian oppression. For example, read the following:

“In 1976, the country faced a severe political crisis, and just like other walks of life the [sic] magazine journalism in Pakistan was also affected. This resulted in the imposition of martial law in July 1977. Since there were no political activities, political magazines also moved to a back seat. There was no room for the magazines that supported the political ideas of the Bhutto government. Those who aligned themselves with the new government followed a soft policy and others changed their loyalties. This change of policy tarnished the reputation of these magazines.”

You see: the country automatically faced a political crisis, that affected journalism, and political magazines took a backseat on their own. Political activities just vanished and apparently nobody was responsible for that. The ‘room for political magazines’ shrank by magic. The writer does not even mention how democracy was derailed and how political activities were curbed by the dictatorship. There is not even a slight hint at how the freedom of the press was curtailed and free expression crushed. Now, if you become a journalist after reading such books, how are you supposed to know about the sacrifices rendered by the stalwarts of journalism in Pakistan?

On page 201, the writer has the following to say: “After 1977 some progressive magazines such as ‘Lail-o-Nihar’, ‘Nusrat’, ‘Sada-e-watan’, and ‘al-Fatah’ closed down. ‘Chatan’, ‘Zindagi’, and ‘Baadbaan’ lost their relevance. ‘Chatan’ became a dummy and Urdu Digest aligned with the government policy”. Now the question is: how did all these developments take place on autopilot? She responds by saying, “During martial law regimes people adopt new attitudes. They move away from politics and lose their energy and verve.” How nicely put! Without even identifying any culprits or those who drive people away from politics.

The book does not mention any magazines that were banned and how their editors and journalists were targeted. Though, there is an interesting mention that is not directly related to politics. Qasim Mahmood published the monthly ‘Talib-e-Ilm’ in Karachi. It was banned on the pretext of it propagating obscenity and publishing objectionable material. Actually, the magazine carried ‘Tilism-e-Hoshruba’ in installments and when its 23rd episode was in the press in November 1979 censorship was imposed. It declared ‘Tilism-e-Hoshruba’ obscene and closed the magazine. Similarly, the martial law government in Sindh declared Rajindra Singh Bedi’s short story ‘Girhan’ (Eclipse) obscene too.

To promote this anti-literature tendency, ‘intellectuals’ such as Dr Syed Abdullah played an active role. In the annual issue of monthly ‘Auraaq’ in January 1980, he wrote, “Keeping in mind honesty and truthfulness, the objection is that our literature is reflective of many foreign ideas and theories; moreover it promotes a foreign way of life that is alien to us. No literature can be considered our own unless it reflects our national and patriotic feelings.” (Quoted on page 207 in Roshan Ara’s book). That’s how you throw the real issues of society under the carpet.

Another similar book is ‘Sahafati zimmedariyan’ (Journalistic responsibilities) by Ahsan Naz Akhtar published by the NLA in 1990 when Jamil Jalibi was its chairman. In the third chapter of this book titled ‘Sahafati nazariyat’ he explains that the first man on earth was responsible for worshiping God and communicating his message to the people. That’s how communication became a responsibility that was fulfilled by all apostles. The writer tries to prove that it was the first theory of communication in the world. The writer repeatedly tries to reinforce that the primary purpose of journalism is to propagate religion; prevent obscenity and nudity, and enforce religious injunctions.

In the sixth chapter, see the following: “On 5th July 1977, a new martial law government came to power and within seven days General Ziaul Haq announced that if a code of conduct is developed, and correct standards of journalism are established, then all laws will be abolished.” The writer also wants us to believe that despite martial law regulations the new government tried to establish good relations with the press. How they did that, we will discuss in the next column.

To be continued