Nasir Zaidi gets Ahfaz-ur-Rahman Award for media freedom

Published April 21, 2024
Rights activist Mahnaz Rahman presents the award to Nasir Zaidi as Dr Jaffar Ahmed claps, on Saturday.— Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Rights activist Mahnaz Rahman presents the award to Nasir Zaidi as Dr Jaffar Ahmed claps, on Saturday.— Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Veteran journalist Nasir Zaidi was given the Ahfaz-ur-Rahman Award for courage and freedom of expression for 2024 at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Saturday evening.

Mr Zaidi is one of the few journalists who received public flogging during the martial law regime of then dictator General Ziaul Haq just for raising voice for media rights and freedom.

The award is named after journalist, poet, and rights activist Ahfaz-ur-Rahman.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Zaidi said Pakistan is passing through a phase where it can’t be cited as a good example with reference to freedom of expression or freedom of the press.

“I dedicate this award to those journalists, political activists, youngsters and the underprivileged who are struggling for freedom in this country. From 1947, the media hasn’t experienced freedom. Censorship has existed in different forms during the tenures of dictatorial regimes and democratic governments.

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro highlights duplicity of western media in coverage of Israeli atrocities in Gaza

“We hope that the young generation will continue the struggle. Hope should remain. I would like to say to journalism students [in the audience] that professionally you should be innovative and investigative,” he said.

Earlier, Dr Jaffer Ahmed while introducing Mr Zaidi said that the journalist is an inalienable part of our journalistic history.

He went down memory lane when 46 years ago during martial law Mr Zaidi had to face hardship for his writings.

‘Western media are complicit in genocide’

On the occasion, journalist Zarrar Khuhro gave a perceptive talk on Genocide in Gaza — War on Speech and Media Complicity.

He began his address by saying that journalists from Third World countries always look up to western media and have an inferiority complex. “But the kind of genocide and barbarism that we have witnessed [in Gaza], and the way a majority of western media has covered it, proves that they’re complicit in the genocide.”

He said in order to kill a nation one needs to form opinion and provoke people. “Western media have done that so that Israel could achieve its goals. It is nothing new. The same happened in World War II. Nazi Germany was supported by the media against the Jews. In that connection, cartoons were a popular medium because when you dehumanise the other, your job becomes easy.”

Mr Khuhro said in 2018 a peaceful protest took place in Palestine. It was called Great March of Return. In that protest, 270 unarmed people were killed. A cartoonist for the Washington Post made a cartoon in which thousands of mice were seen running away with Palestinian flags in their hands; and they’re being bombarded.

“This atmosphere exists for the last many decades. When it comes to the media, two things need to be looked at: the choice of words and whose point of view is being projected. We have seen that after Oct 7 (2023) the first question that would be asked of Palestinian guests on TV shows was: do you condemn Hamas’ act of Oct 7? If anyone tried to tell [the anchor] what happened on Oct 6 or Oct 5 or what had been happening in seven decades, it was difficult to get the response to that.

“The Intercept has made an analysis on what kind of coverage can be read in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. According to it, when two Palestinians get killed, they’re mentioned just once. When an Israeli is killed, it’s mentioned eight times. When Israelis get killed, they call it a ‘slaughter’ or ‘massacre’. When Palestinians get killed, it’s not even mentioned how they’re killed. The word ‘slaughtered’ was used 60 times for Israelis and once for Palestinians. The word ‘massacred’ was used 125 times for Israelis and twice for Palestinians. And the word ‘horrific’ was used 36 times for Israelis and four times for Palestinians,” he said.

The journalist said for American newspapers, Palestinians are not killed, they simply die.

“Eleven hundred news articles were studied in which not even once the word [Palestinian] ‘children’ was used. We call it censorship, in America it is called style guide. According to the New York Times guide, they can’t use the word ‘genocide’ and can never talk about ‘occupied territory’. Not that it’s a new phenomenon. In 2021, the headquarters for Associated Press (AP) in Gaza was destroyed by Israel. AP didn’t mention Israel in its own news item. Three years back, Israeli army killed an AP cameraman and it didn’t even mention once who killed the cameraman,” he added.

Speaking about the issue of the conflict of interest in the media, Mr Khuhro told the attendees about certain American journalists whose relatives are in the Israeli armed forces.

Play on problems being faced by Pakistani journalist

Apart from the speeches, the students of the Urdu University’s Mass Communication Department put up a play, written by Irfan Aziz, on the problems that today’s journalists are facing in Pakistan.

One felt it was under-rehearsed because despite its simple narrative, scene shifting was taking a long time.

An oath-taking ceremony and prize distributions were also held for the students who have done well. Neha Batool and Areeba Jamil won the first position prize.

Naazir Mahmood moderated the event. A musical programme was also lined up for the evening.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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