Mohammad Ziauddin — a fiercely independent journalist

Published November 30, 2021
A photo of veteran journalist Muhammad Ziauddin who passed away in Islamabad on Monday. — PTV Twitter
A photo of veteran journalist Muhammad Ziauddin who passed away in Islamabad on Monday. — PTV Twitter

ISLAMABAD: Ziauddin was among the last of titans in journalism and newspapering world.

These were the words uttered by Farhatullah Babar, who is known as human rights activist more than his position as the PPP secretary general, after attending the funeral of veteran journalist Muhammad Ziauddin, who passed away early Monday morning after a brief illness. He was 83.

“The trophies he won as a professional journalist were vastly different and immeasurably superior to the glittering medals worn on the chests. The trophies that came his way without his seeking indeed are intangible. Unlike the medals worn on chests, they never gather dust,” remarked Mr Babar, who also has a journalistic background, while recalling a number of instances when Ziauddin flatly refused to get any favour from those in power throughout his “illustrious career” spanning nearly 60 years.

The most befitting description of late Ziauddin’s professionalism came from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who declared him as “the most capable and fiercely independent journalist” he had ever encountered.

Every ruler wanted to see Ziauddin in the interview panel only to provide some legitimacy and credibility to his or her actions, but at the end, they found themselves in deep trouble and fully exposed before the nation.

During the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto in 1994, once Ziauddin Sb and Ghazi Salahuddin reluctantly interviewed Asif Ali Zardari for state-run PTV and blatantly asked questions about the stories of his corruption. The interview was never telecast.

The journalists around the world still remember the incident when then military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf during a talk at a think tank in London in 2007 got annoyed with Ziauddin, who was working as Dawn correspondent in the UK after getting retirement as resident editor of the daily, over a question about the safety of the country’s nuclear assets and publicly called him a traitor.

In his recent interview to senior journalist Kamal Siddiqui published on the Samaa TV website, Ziauddin narrated the whole incident as to how later, while addressing the Pakistani community, Gen Musharraf recalled his altercation with him and instructed the audience ‘do-teen tika dain’ (slug him a few) if they saw him.

The next day all the major newspapers pegged their stories on the Ziauddin-Musharraf spat except Dawn because: “We are journalists and we do not become the story,” Mr Siddiqui quoted Ziauddin Sb as having stated.

Born in Indian city of Madras (now Chenai) in 1938, Muhammad Ziauddin had migrated to Dhaka, the then East Pakistan, with his family in 1952. He had obtained a bachelor degree in pharmacy from Dhaka University before moving to Karachi in 1960 where he did masters in journalism from Karachi University. He started his journalistic career as a junior reporter in Pakistan Press Agency (which later became Pakistan Press International) in 1966.

In 1974, Ziauddin joined weekly Pakistan Economist and started doing reports on the subjects of finance and economy. In 1976, he became assistant editor of Morning News. However, he moved to Islamabad in 1978 and joined The Muslim as a member of the founding team of the newspaper.

Ziauddin had the longest association with Dawn, which he had joined as an economy reporter in 1982. And the very next year, he got APNS Award in the category of best investigative story for his report captioned “The untold story of IMF conditions” in which he had exposed the tough conditions attached with the IMF programme for the first time.

Through his hard work, he became the bureau chief of Dawn’s Islamabad office in 1990, a position he held till March 2001, when he became the first resident editor of the newspaper after the launching of its edition from the capital. It was after him becoming the resident editor that the newspaper came out with special Economic and Business Review pages, known as EBR, which were later turned into Business and Finance.

Ziauddin, who is known as one of the pioneers in finance reporting, had also joined The News in 1994 but left the organisation within months and rejoined Dawn after developing some differences with the management and due to interference from the top in editorial matters. He worked as resident editor of Dawn Islamabad till 2005 and then moved to London to work as its foreign correspondent. He, however, returned to the country, mostly because of unsuitable weather conditions for him as he was a heart patient with asthma.

Ziauddin also worked as executive editor of Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014.

He was very pro-worker and also known as a trade unionist. He also held the office of assistant secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in the 1970s. Despite holding an executive office, he was always found among the working journalists and media workers during their protests on non-implementation of the wage board awards and on the issue of press freedom.

He had also served as president of the South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) that was established to promote networking among the media community, improve professional stan­dards, facilitate journalists’ exchanges and media trainings and undertake joint media productions in the region.

Condolences started to pour in from the country’s journalist and media community, civil society and the political leadership with people paying tributes to late Zia Sb.

Senior journalist Mubashir Zaidi called Ziauddin an “icon of Pakistani journalism”.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari remembered him to be “a man of principles, polite in discussions and debates, never adopting an accusatory tone”.

Political analyst Mazhar Abbas said Ziauddin was not only an “outstanding journalist” but also “an iconic figure and a guide for all the young journalists”.

“Ziauddin sahib’s struggle was not just against dictators; he put up with his fair share of irascible seniors and weak media owners .... By attempting to document some of these stories, I hope to remind the next generation of Pakistan’s journalists that they can prevail,” Mr Siddiqui had written in the introduction of the interview he conducted with Ziauddin Sb a few months ago.

Meanwhile, the PFUJ announced a three-day mourning. The union says it has suspended all activities for three days and that offices of the journalist body would hoist black flags to mourn the death of the veteran journalist.

In a statement issued on Monday, PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi said the death of Ziauddin was not only a great loss for the journalist fraternity but also for all those who worked for rule of law, supremacy of parliament and upholding fundamental rights of all Pakistanis.

Dr Masuma Hasan, president of the Aurat Foundation, on behalf of the Board of Governors, senior management and staff of the organisation, expressed deepest condolences on the death of the veteran journalist, who was also a board member of the organisation. “Mr Ziauddin is widely considered to be a teacher of teachers among Pakistan’s contemporary journalists. He has left behind a legacy of speaking truth to power,” she said.

With his departure, Pakistan’s civil society and media industry have lost one of its leading and most well-respected advocates for human rights, democratic values, media professionalism and journalistic integrity.

The Trust for Democratic Education and Advocacy also condoled the demise of Ziauddin, who was associated with the organisation as its chairperson till his death.

Late Ziauddin has left behind a widow, two sons and two daughters to mourn his death. He was laid to rest at the Media Town graveyard. His funeral was attended by a large number of his old associates, journalists, politicians, members of civil society and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2021

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