KARACHI: “It was the golden era of journalism when people connected with this profession made big sacrifices while remaining truthful to their work. Writing about the injustices faced by journalists is also a way of taking revenge,” said I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
He was speaking at the launch of Dr Riaz Shaikh’s book Strangling Liberty: Media in Distress in Pakistan at the Karachi Press Club here on Thursday.
Dr Shaikh is the head of social sciences department at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology.
Throwing light on the current situation in the media world, Mr Rehman said back in Field Marshal Ayub’s time, when he wanted a newspaper to give his opinion, he had to take over the entire paper but today’s politicians, sadly, don’t really need to do go that far.
For instance, there are press advisers changing the official word to make it not look so bad.
“In an age when reporters are being bought or threatened, there is no way to tell the exact number of lives lost by drone attacks. We have no accessibility in that area so we have to believe whatever the reporter is sending in,” he said.
“We have the right of expressing opinions; we should also have the right to correct information. Then we may be reporting but what about starting a discourse or analysis,” he questioned.
“Mr Shaikh has been very brave by clearly telling the history of journalism in Pakistan like it happened. He has not spared villains, turning it into a truthful treatise,” he added.
“When Zamir Niazi wrote, one could get a feel of his frustration and outrage from his words, I can pick the same kind of feeling from Mr Shaikh’s writing,” he said.
Senior journalist and poet Wahid Bashir said that there was a need for another book that could also raise the issues being faced by the electronic media such as censoring a live programme and the code of conduct of the host and guests on such a show.
Dr Tauseef Ahmed, head of the department of mass communications at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, said: “There is no book other than veteran journalist Zamir Niaz’s books on the history of journalism in Pakistan until now. We should think about including it in mass communications curricula.”
He continued: “Staring from the East India Company, Mr Shaikh takes you to the Wage Board. He also discusses the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. I think the state should not have a regulatory authority as there will then be no freedom of information.”
Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas explained how easy it was to manipulate public opinion through the media. “Today we look at the people of Balochistan as traitors because the media says so. See how the media has created a distance between the Urdu-speaking community and Sindhis. And knowing how easily the media can influence minds, it takes no responsibility. The crime shows on the channels will deliberately show crimes against women as that’s what will increase their ratings,” he said.
“But what to do when media houses are owned by the drug mafia and land mafia? Those against whom we used to do stories are the ones paying our wages,” he regretted.
Prof Dr Shahida Kazi, arguably the first woman English newspaper reporter in Pakistan, said that even though the faults in today’s media were obvious “we should forgive the media for making some mistakes. It is not all bad. And it has won many battles to come this far."