The present state of Pakistani media has been the topic of much lamentation in my columns : having churned out many elegies for its decaying state, particularly the electronic medium which has perhaps depreciated the merit of the Press in Pakistan through the absence of integrity of the published word, the lost obligation to say the truth and the lack of commitment towards justice.
In my past columns, I have also referred to some people who helped in shaping my journalistic ideals. One person almost always lambasted me at his mere mention but two weeks ago, when Saleem Asmi’s compilation of interviews, articles and reviews were published and he was publicly commended for his work by many of his contemporaries at the book launch held at the Karachi Press Club; I decided it was safe now to write about him without fearing a backlash from him!
Recently in Pakistan, I was lucky to receive a signed copy which said, ‘to my self-proclaimed shagird (student).’ Anyone lucky enough to have worked under him or with him would by default become his shagird because his editorial acumen unconsciously imparts so much wisdom.
In his early days as Editor Dawn, he would mark the paper red and send it to the newsroom to educate the reporters/sub-editors. Whether the recipients of these corrections educated themselves is hard to say. But as my primary critic, I have always tried to follow every editorial lesson that he has given me whether it was the incorrect use of prepositions or the need of a better word.
His writings provide a glimpse into the craft of writing. A journalist`s skill must need integrate a good angle, an orderly flow of thought and good diction which should neither be text-bookish nor laborious for the average reader. Asmi sahib’s articles merge these qualities to form the perfect examples of writing.
A man of few words – or rather, just two words, as a colleague once put it – Saleem Asmi wrote profusely on varied subjects. The assorted compilation (undertaken by S.M. Shahid) includes comments on literature, history, art and music.
The book is dedicated to two amazing journalists – A.B.S. Jafri and Razia Bhatti. The one I only knew of from afar and the other was my inspiration to become a journalist. But journalism and its outlines have changed. It is not about truth but only about the shock factor.
When I wrote on the new revelations of Wikileaks and commented that Assange’s revelations are just short-lived scandals which won’t make any lasting difference, Asmi sahib wrote to me in strongly critical terms telling me that I was wrong. “Remember, it is in the nature of governance to keep everything under the lid and it is in the nature of journalism to pry it open. I think your conclusion that Wikileaks has died with a whimper is hasty and entirely off the mark.”
I might have been wrong in my assessment of Wikileaks but the nature of journalism as believed by Saleem Asmi and others of that ilk has definitely vanished.
News is pursued these days only for its sensational value, for the race for top slot amongst viewer ratings or to win the bid for breaking news. Perhaps that is why we need more such compilations to remind us of the worthy journalism once practiced in Pakistan.