LAHORE: Masudullah Khan, a veteran journalist and one of the most vocal voices for journalists’ rights, breathed his last on Wednesday after a brief illness — malignancy in lungs.

He was buried late in the evening at the local graveyard while Qul prayers would be offered today at 10am at his residence. He was 86 and is survived by a wife, one son, and three daughters.

Born to a family of royals who were expelled by Raja Ghulab Singh and the Britishers in 1846, the family took two routes: one part moved to Wazirabad and the other to Himachal Pradesh. Masudullah Khan was born in 1937 to the Himachal branch in a village called Rehlu in the Kangra district. He completed his early education in his village. After his primary level, his parents moved to Wazirabad, where a part of his family had migrated from Rajouri. He completed his matriculation from Wazirabad before joining the MAO College, where he studied up to a master’s in English literature. He belonged to a family that has produced two more veterans, now both late, of journalism: Shafqat Tanveer Mirza and Raja Aurangzeb.

After completing his master’s, he joined the Pakistan Times in the 1960s and stayed with the paper till Ziaul Haq took over and the fight for freedom of the press started in earnest. Being one of the most vocal leaders for freedom of the press and journalists’ rights, he, along with three other journalists (Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Iqbal Jaffari), was sentenced to lashes and imprisonment by a military court. He left the country to join Kuwait Times and did not return to Pakistan till Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and Ziaul Haq died in a plane crash. He returned to join The News as part of the launch team, where he again ran into management for the rights of the workers and quit in protest to return to Kuwait. However, he returned shortly to join Dawn as news editor at the Lahore office.

Hussain Naqi, a veteran and lifelong friend of Masudullah Khan, believes Khan belonged to a generation that believed in the canons of journalism and the integrity, uprightness, and honesty of a journalist. He trained a whole generation of journalists in honesty and did it honestly. In addition to that, he was also a perfect practitioner of the skills of sub-editing. He had such a command over creating the most appropriate headlines that even the journalists whose first language is English would praise him.

“Khan turned out to be the most powerful and roaring voice of journalists in the 1960s,” Nasir Zaidi, former secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. “He was the man we all idealized, followed and got inspiration from.”

Saqlain Imam, a journalist from Lahore who thinks it was a privilege knowing and working with him, pays tribute: “We know several great people who, when they die, leave a great vacuum behind them. But Masud was different. He left behind several great journalists trained by him so that we did not feel a vacuum of his absence. The biggest satisfaction is that not a single journalist he trained belongs to the current generation of TV anchors misguiding the audience. He not only trained his juniors, but also inculcated in them great professional and human values. He will be profoundly missed for his fearless journalism.”

Normally, trade unionists are not intellectuals, thinks Raja Sadiq Ullah – a poet and cousin. He was one of those exceptions who believed that trade unionists should be professionally and intellectually above common standards of the profession, and he kept that candle alight all his life. He was not only a high-level professional but also a bold activist for rights.

“He belonged to a royal family and had acquired a set of royal rules: he was an ardent supporter of human values, rights, and dignity. He would never compromise on the aesthetics, context and the appropriate choice of words in a news story. He had very high standards to maintain the quality, public interest, impartiality, and trustworthiness of a news story. He never compromised on journalistic principles.”

Khawar Naeem Hashmi, who was sentenced with Khan, notes the bravery that Masud personified: “He was awarded lashes by a military court during Gen Zia’s Martial Law, which he could have easily avoided but perhaps he was destined to make history. He challenged the legal authority of a military court when it was announcing the sentences to journalists and some other trade union activists for courting arrest in 1978. He heard the sentencing and challenged the military officer presiding over the court, saying that the army had no right to try journalists and citizens.

Asha’ar Rehman, former resident editor of Dawn (Lahore) and co-worker of Khan, remembers him as an extremely warm and witty person. “Had a remarkable memory and could recall from the classics of English literature with great aplomb,” he said, adding the late Khan would shower his affection on those he liked and was very supportive of the young in the mould of a true teacher, which he was at heart.

He worked at his own pace and was unfazed by the pressures of the newsroom, of which he was a part for many years. Khan was a master at giving apt headlines to stories.

One famous one that comes to mind was when he gave a headline to an incident of multiple murders inside a house in Sheikhupura back in the early 1990s. A similar incident had taken place in Islampura, Lahore only a few days ago. And Khan Sahab’s heading read: “Islampura in Sheikhupura.”

He liked his food and was a strong well-built man more than six-foot tall used to taking so much in his stride. Journalism could have greatly benefited from his experience but he chose to somewhat withdraw himself from the scene in his later years.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2023

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