THOSE involved like me in its launching in 1962 must feel sad over the closure of Daily News, Karachi’s last English language evening paper. The battery of journalists working for the paper at its launch ranged from seasoned newsmen to juniors and apprentice, but at least one of them would rise to become an icon in his lifetime — Zamir Niazi. His book, Press in Chain, is a primary read for scholars doing research on the history of journalism in Pakistan.
The man behind the venture, the Jang group’s Daily News, was Shamim Ahmad, an institution in himself, then a senior correspondent at Dawn. I was then a junior sub-editor and was surprised when Shamim asked me whether I wanted a job on a higher salary. Who wouldn’t?
“Is the party sound?” I asked. “Yes”, he said, “more sound than you could think.” He then asked me to be there at a given room in Bombay Hotel on McLeod (now I. I. Chundrigar) Road. When I reached rendezvous I was surprised to find quite a few Dawn men there, including Khawaja Ibtisam Ahmad and Salman Meenai. The latter would return to Dawn and retire in the first decade of this century. Another DN staff member was Habibullah Farooqi, who later became PTV General Manager.
Ibtisam was six-foot plus tall and had passed the superior services exam to join the police service as Assistant Superintendent of Police. In less than a year he found he didn’t fit in there, resigned, returned to Karachi and joined the now defunct weekly The Statesman, owned by the Pir of Pagara, as a proofreader on a salary of Rs60.
When launched Daily News became Karachi’s fourth English language ‘eveninger’. The first English language evening paper was, of course, the Dawn group’s Evening Star (renamed The Star in the ’70s). Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Bogra called it Dawn’s beta (son), priced at one anna. Working for Dawn meant labouring for Evening Star, too, for it was Dawn’s morning shift that edited it.
Another evening paper was the Matri group’s Leader, its main attraction being Sultan Ahmad’s column, ‘Rambler’s Diary’. Also in the field were H. M. Abbasi’s Current and The Sentinel, owned by the group which had begun Pakistan’s first non-official news agency — Pakistan Press Association — now Pakistan Press International, founded by Moazzam Ali. The Sentinel’s editor was Huzoor Ahmad Shah, who later joined Dawn and became City Editor.
Pakistan’s newspaper industry was about to expand, for Ayub Khan’s Pakistan was booming, and all journalists eagerly awaited Daily News. I remember the banner headline of the first issue, ‘Shafi Okarvi knifed’. The story was by an apprentice, S. M. Fazal, who rose to become its editor in 1990 and remained so till Saturday.
One striking feature of Daily News was the green colour of its lead headline. Because of the contrast with the other papers it attracted attention. Karachi was then a middle class city, with the highest literacy rate in the country. It was indeed a measure of the kind of society Karachi was that the evening papers were in great demand. As I journeyed home after Evening Star had been printed, I would find people in buses reading it and commenting — scenes hard to visualise today.
I quit Daily News within a few months and Shamim followed me over policy differences with the proprietors. He would return to Dawn in 1966, leave it again on the eve of the 1970 general election and found another paper, this time a morning daily, The Sun, owned by the Laris. He dragged me into this new venture, too.
Zamir Siddiqi, who replaced Shamim as editor, was forced to resign because of a news item Ayub’s information czar didn’t like. The editors that followed included Wajid Shamsul Hassan, who quit in 1989 to become chairman of the National Press Trust and later High Commissioner to Britain. Fazal became editor in 1990. Others who were editor after Wajid’s departure included Abdul Hameed Chhapra and Mohammad Jami.
I asked Fazal, a fellow KU political science colleague, how he felt about DN’s closure. He said: “I feel very sad. A paper that was so popular was wound up so unceremoniously.” His paper, he said, had some great columnists — H. M. Abbasi (‘Over a Cup of Tea’), Dr G. M. Mehkri, Major Ibnul Hassan, Mazhar Yusuf and Ghulam Jilanee.
“It was sudden and unceremonious”, said Fazal. On Monday morning “I and the staff, a mere 10, came as usual to begin work, but were officially informed of the decision”: Daily News was to be closed.
The writer is Dawn Readers’ Editor
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2018