NON-FICTION: THE FIGHT FOR THE TRUTH – Journal
The standoff between the authorities and the public over the issue of free speech is as old as human civilization. The issue of freedom of access to information and its public dissemination has generally been in tandem.
Each society – and later, states – manifests this shock in different forms and by different methods; legal or illegal, coercive or corrupt, overt or secret. In Pakistan, the dynamics of the struggle for free speech began with the founding of the country in 1947, with a backdrop inherent in the publishing environment during colonial rule.
As stated in the book From Layoffs to Lashes: PFUJ’s 70-Year Fight for Media Freedom: “It was in January 1948, five months after the creation of Pakistan. A small group of journalists, led by Kerala-native MA Shakoor of the daily Dawn, Ahmad Ali Khan (later editor-in-chief of Dawn) and Asrar Ahmad, organized a meeting at SM Law College in Karachi. They were to deliberate on the role of their community in the new country.
However, the event was denied because authorities believed this group to have leftist leanings. A month later, they regrouped in Sindh Madressatul Islam, Karachi, and laid the foundation for the Sindh Journalists Union (SUJ). SUJ received a positive response from across the country. Therefore, on August 2, 1950, the Federal Union of Journalists of Pakistan was established.
On August 2, 2020, the PFUJ closed its 70 years of existence and released this impressive document to commemorate the occasion. Written in English and Urdu, From Layoffs to Lashes pays tribute to hundreds of journalists from across Pakistan who struggled, fought and suffered on this traumatic journey for seven decades. Subsequently, other associations of lawyers, farmers and students also joined the community of journalists in agitations for their rights and against official repression.
The Federal Union of Journalists of Pakistan presents a comprehensive historical and political record as well as a very readable account of the current state of freedom of expression in the country
The book is divided into six sections. The first section was written by well-known seasoned journalists and each contributor summarizes PFUJ’s eventful journey as well as their own personal experiences and observations. The second section recalls the leadership and other characteristics of personalities who have led the union from time to time, such as Minhaj Burna.
The third section covers various phases of the union’s turbulent history and the fourth, “The Constituents”, highlights the network of 13 regional constituent associations of the PFUJ in the country. The fifth section, “Tools of Coercion”, discusses the laws used to restrict media freedom and the evolving challenges facing the media. The sixth and final section discusses the issues facing the journalist community today and the outlook for modern challenges, including the paradigm shift of its influence from print to electronic and social media.
The 208 pages of the English section include contributions from 30 renowned journalists, including IA Rehman, M. Ziauddin, Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, Rahimullah Yusufzai and Mazhar Abbas – who is also the moderator of the PFUJ-70 team, the committee who undertook this project.
Salman Akram Raja and Yasmeen Aftab Ali, both lawyers, highlighted the laws that are used to restrict media freedom and the ever-changing challenges facing the media, respectively.
The Urdu section is spread over 298 pages and 36 articles. Contributors include, among others, Ali Ahmed Khan, Nasir Zaidi, Iqbal Jafri, Masood Ashar, Fareeda Hafeez, Fauzia Shahid and Hamid Mir. These frontline journalists, who fought for press freedom and the protection of the rights of the community, recounted their personal experiences, including arrests, beatings at the hands of the authorities, dismissals, convictions, incarceration and even flogging. The two sections are divided by rare historical photographs of the movement.
In ‘Aakhri Nau Din’ [The Last Nine Days], Mahnaz Rehman, journalist and wife of Ahfazur Rehman – who is the author of the most vivid account of the epic struggle of journalists in his book Sub Se Barri Jang: 1977-78 [The Greatest War: 1977-78] – expresses a moving description of the author’s last nine days before his death in 2020. According to Mazhar Abbas, “Sub Se Barri Jang is the most comprehensive account of the 1978 PFUJ campaign.”
Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, in his well-documented historical account of the development of the newspaper industry in the subcontinent, states that there were no newspapers during the Mughal period. The subcontinent’s first newspaper, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette or Original Calcutta General Advertiser, was published in 1780. It became famous as the Hicky Gazette in honor of its founder, the Irishman James Augustus Hicky.
Since his newspaper published documents targeting East India Company officers, as well as then Governor General Warren Hastings, for their corruption and scandals, Hicky was eventually fined and sent to jail. , which resulted in the closure of the newspaper due to officials. measures. So the war on free speech began with the very first newspaper in our region. However, soon after, others started publishing newspapers in various cities on the subcontinent.
The PFUJ joined the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2002. In his article, Aidan White, former secretary general of the IFJ and founder of the Ethical Journalism Network 2012 program, affirms that an open door to cross-border cooperation remains as strong than ever before, and that this has led to a long-standing partnership between the IFJ and the PFUJ to develop training programs and workshops to strengthen union building and promote the safety of journalists. He also adds that “not surprisingly, professionalism, ethics and media standards have become major issues in recent years”.
Some of the main concerns highlighted in this rich compilation stem from the fact that the reach of journalism as a profession has exploded. The print media is losing its readership and traditional impact on society to electronic media. But while electronic and social media have overwhelmed the masses, their editorial standards, content, credibility, professional competence, coverage and authenticity are questionable.
The condition of their workers is not better than in the past either, with the exception of a few very visible presenters / presenters. The gulf between the business interests (including “ratings”) of newspaper house owners and professional journalists has widened. Governments, civilians and military alike, are as intolerant as they always have been in the past. Disappearances, kidnappings and attacks on journalists from official and unofficial quarters continue.
The journalistic community and the print and broadcast media industry also suffer from internal conflicts. There are divisions within news houses and within the ranks of journalists, as well as between journalists and media owners. The gains of the struggles and laudable achievements for press freedom in the past have receded, necessitating a revision and reorganization of the struggle.
Nevertheless, it is generally perceived that the media in Pakistan still enjoy more freedom than the media in most third world countries.
Without a doubt, From Layoffs to Lashes is a very readable account of the current state of free speech and a comprehensive history of the struggles of the journalistic community. It is a valuable source of understanding for contemporary and future entrants into this profession.
Moreover, it is a rich source of our political history, seen through the eyes of those who have taken to the streets in the cause of informing the public about the truth. This document can provide context and direction to address the above concerns.
The reviser is a freelance writer and translator freedom of the press: the war of words 1977-1978; and Mr. and Mrs. Jinnah: The marriage that rocked India, in English and Urdu respectively
From layoffs to eyelashes: 70 years of PFUJ
Fight for media freedom
By the Federal Union of Journalists of Pakistan
Edited by Nizamuddin Siddiqui and Waris Raza
Karachi Journalists Union, Karachi
Posted in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 29, 2021