Since October 2019, I have been writing – off and on – about some prominent Pakistan journalists and their writings that are useful for observers, practitioners, teachers, and students of journalism in Pakistan. We have discussed inter alia significant writings by journalists such as Ahfaz-ur-Rahman and Zamir Niazi.
The last of this series was titled ‘The enlightenment of Waris Mir’ published on these pages in the last week of September 2020. Here we discuss some of the writings by Prof Tausif Ahmed that have appeared in book form and as articles and essays in academic journals such as the quarterly ‘Tareekh’ that Dr Mubarak Ali and his friends have been publishing despite extreme financial constraints. Two of Prof Tausif Ahmed’s best books are: ‘Azadi Sahafat ki Jadojihad mein Akhbari Tanzeemon ka Kirdar’ (The role of newspaper organizations in the struggle for press freedom) and ‘Pakistan mein Sahafat ki Mutabadil Tareekh’ (An alternative history of journalism in Pakistan).
One of his first essays that I came across was in 2007 when he wrote ‘Pakistan mein Editor ke Idaray ka Irtiqa’ (The evolution of the institutional role of the editor in Pakistan). This article appeared in the 31st issue of ‘Tareekh’ dedicated to historiography. This is a 25-page essay that begins with the role of the editor in the late 18th-century when the first newspaper of India saw the light of day in 1780 in Calcutta. It was the Hicky Gazette whose editor and publisher was James Hicky, a former East India Company (EIC) employee.
According to Tausif Ahmed, right from the beginning of journalism in India the office of the editor and publisher was the same. Since Hicky was exposing the Company, it imposed a ban on the Hicky Gazette and imprisoned its editor and publisher. Then the ‘India Gazette’ and some other early newspapers in India also had a combined office of editor and publisher, who were mostly British citizens. One of them was James Buckingham who became a strong proponent of press freedom in India, but the Company exiled him too.
His Indian friend Raja Ram Mohan Roy continued his struggle for freedom of expression in India. According to Tausif Ahmed’s research, Ram Mohan Roy was the actual founder of Indian journalism, and he emerged as not only a competent editor but also a social reformer. He launched multiple newspapers such as ‘Samvad Kaumudi’ in Bangali language in 1821 under the editorship of Bhabani Charan. That’s how Roy separated the office of the editor from the owner or publisher, but he himself edited and owned his ‘Miratul Akhbar’ in Persian. He also became the first local to challenge the Press Ordinance that imposed some curbs on free expression.
Tausif Ahmed highlights the significance of 1835 as a memorable year, when nearly a dozen editors appealed to the governor-general to relax curbs on the press and demanded that any law regarding press freedom seek public opinion before its enactment. This is a right that journalists in Pakistan are still demanding after around two centuries.
Rajab Ali Baig was also the editor and owner of his ‘Sultanul Akhbar’ from Calcutta. From Delhi too, the first Urdu newspaper ‘Delhi Akhbar’ had the same editor and owner, Maulana Baqir, who was later put to death by the British rulers for his support to the 1857 War of Independence. He became the first Indian newspaper editor and owner to sacrifice his life for his principles.
Munshi Harsukh Roy, the editor and owner of the newspaper Koh-e-Noor was sentenced to a three-year imprisonment which he served with valiance. But perhaps the most prominent editor-reformer among the Muslims was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan whose ‘Scientific Society, Aligarh Institute Gazette’, and ‘Tehzeebul Ahlaq’ served his purpose of social reform for Muslims in India. Munshi Naval Kishore was the first to realize that circulation, editing, and printing should have separate offices and by doing this, he launched a new trend in Indian journalism that most other editors followed.
Tausif Ahmed moves on to explore how newspapers editors formed their associations in the late 19th century to protect their rights. One of them was the Muhammadan Press Association formed by some Muslim editors in Bombay. That was the beginning of a joint struggle for press freedom in India. Prof Tausif’s essay covers the entire 20th century and takes us through the ups and downs of the office of editors in Pakistan.
Then the second important essay by Tausif Ahmed the readers must pay attention to is ‘Fauji Amriyatain aur Pakistani Sahafat’ (Military dictatorships and Pakistani journalism) published in 2009 in the 39th issue of ‘Tareekh’. This is a pretty well-researched essay spanning nearly 60 pages and exclusively focusing on military dictatorships in Pakistan and their role in curbing media freedoms in the country. He informs us that just one week before the imposition of the first martial law in October 1958 by President Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza, the government of Pakistan used the Safety Act to arrest the editor of the weekly ‘Lail-o-Nihar’, Syed Sibte Hasan.
The authorities then nabbed Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, the chief editor of the daily ‘Imroze’, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz who had just returned after attending a literary conference in Tashkent. In jail they had to languish in the ‘C Class’ under the Security Act. General Ayub Khan imposed pre-censorship on all newspapers in the country and in April 1959, the martial law government forcibly confiscated Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) of Mian Iftikharuddin who owned the dailies ‘Pakistan Times’ and ‘Imroze’, and the weeklies ‘Lail-o-Nihar’ and ‘Sports Times’. Per Tausif Ahmed’s research, two ministers in the General Ayub Khan cabinet, Gen K L Shaikh and Z A Bhutto were leading the operation to take over PPL.
Z A Bhutto tried to convince Mazhar Ali Khan to continue as the editor of the ‘Pakistan Times’ under the martial-law government control but Mazhar Ali Khan resigned. Tausif Ahmed quotes Zameer Niazi as saying that it was General Ayub Khan’s interior minister Brigadier F R Khan who instructed the head of the intelligence services Mian Anwar to develop a plan to take over PPL, and prominent lawyer Manzur Qadir provided the legal-cover draft. By doing this, General Ayub Khan not only silenced the most liberal and progressive voices in the country but also sent a clear message to other newspapers to toe the line of the general.
Interestingly, the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) kept mum about it. It was the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) which accepted a resolution by Munno Bhai and Hameed Hashmi of ‘Imroze’ against General Ayub Khan’s military government’s decision to take over PPL. In 1960, General Ayub Khan got himself elected in a sham referendum; as Generals Zia and Musharraf did the same under their own military dictatorships with a difference of nearly two decades each. The same year the newly self-appointed president, General Ayub Khan, issued a Press and Publications Ordinance (PPO-1960).
The PPO imposed curbs on the press that have resurfaced time and again for the past 60 years, with or without martial law. The PPO ordered all newspapers to get new declarations as all previous declarations were now null and void. Thus, the dictator obtained the authority to issue new declarations per his policy, and the martial-law authorities were able to blackmail newspapers. In July 1960, a special military court in Quetta sentenced M Hasan Nizami – the editor of the newspaper ‘Tanzeem’ – under the Martial Law Regulation, to one-year imprisonment for publishing an ‘objectionable’ article.
Prof Tausif presents a long list of curbs, imprisonments, lashes, and sentences that journalists have endured under the four military dictatorships in the history of Pakistan.
To be continued