LAHORE: Renowned academic and journalist Prof Dr Mehdi Hasan passed away in Lahore on Wednesday after a protracted illness. He was 85.

He suffered a heart attack a few years ago and had been bedridden for the last one year or so due to multiple health problems.

He has left behind his wife Rakhshanda, a retired journalist, and two sons to mourn.

Funeral prayers of Dr Mehdi Hasan were offered at Sukh Chain Housing Society’s main mosque and he was laid to rest at the nearby graveyard.

Dr Hasan won acclaim because of his profound knowledge and principles he stood for through thick and thin. His colleagues vouchsafed that he struggled in life for standing up for the right cause despite being wronged and victimised.

Dr Hasan was a left-wing journalist and media historian who served as head of the Punjab University (PU) Mass Communication Department and later as a professor and Dean School of Mass Communication at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU). He was all for honest and impartial reporting because he believed that bad journalism was distorting the history of Pakistan.

He was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2012 for his contribution to literature and journalism. A long-time human rights activist, Dr Hasan was a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. He also remained with the HRCP as member of its governing council. Besides, he served as chairman of the Council of Complaints at Pemra in Punjab.

He was considered one of Pakistan’s prominent communication experts with specialisation in political analysis. He has written many books and research papers and participated in several seminars.

One of the few media historians in the country, Dr Hasan was a regular commentator and panelist for news channels and radio stations where he brought his academic research into social context. His book “The Political History of Pakistan” is a widely used source of reference by journalists and producers. He has many other books to his credit, including those on media.

A proudly secular man, Dr Hasan had the courage of his convictions and long warned that Pakistan could not hope to become a true democracy as long as it pandered to religious nationalism. His unwavering commitment to freedom of religion, expression and opinion gave direction to human rights defenders and progressive journalists across Pakistan, scores of whom would congregate at his home in Lahore out of a shared love of poetry and political anecdotes.

He did his PhD in mass communication from the Punjab University. His doctoral thesis was on “Role of Press in Formation in Public Opinion 1857-1947”. He was a Fulbright Scholar (1990) at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he conducted research on “Coverage of Third World Countries in the American Mass Media”. He had published papers in America and Pakistan.

As a journalist, he worked in various capacities such as subeditor, reporter and News Bureau Chief at the Pakistan Press International (PPI) during 1961-67. He was elected office-bearer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) five times during this period. He had also been a news commentator and analyst for television since 1964 and for radio since 1962, including for Voice of America, BBC, Radio Germany, Reuters and APA. He has written for all major newspapers in Pakistan.

He nurtured generations of reporters and columnists, always emphasising the need for integrity and facts and evidence. Beneath his soft-spoken demeanour was a political astuteness that few can lay claim to. It was to Dr Hasan that many leading politicians -- his former students -- turned for advice. Photography was his hobby and passion. His worldly possessions included some 35 mm cameras including a couple of Rolleiflex cameras. His passion for photography took him to frontline of Lahore war zone in 1965, although he was not a professional photographer.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar condoled the death of Dr Mehdi Hassan. In a condolence message, the CM extended sympathies to the bereaved family and paid tributes to the late academic’s contributions.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also expressed grief. “Dr Hasan will be sorely missed and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” says Hina Jillani, Chairperson HRCP.

Punjab University Vice Chancellor Prof Niaz Ahmad Akhtar expressed his sorrow over the death of the scholar. He said Dr Hasan was a powerful voice of human rights in Pakistan.

Senior journalist Asha’ar Rehman says: “Dr Sahib was a tower of strength during the bleak years this country has seen. He was our go-to person whenever we needed the expert opinion... We knew he would not spare the holder of an errant position and he did not extend favours to those unwilling to spend the hours. He was a man who stood out, even among equals and the like-minded, ready to give those the dose in his unfailing deceptively calm voice.”

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2022

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