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Legendary newscaster

April 09, 2012

THIS is with reference to the letter ‘Legendary newscaster Riaz Ahmed Khan’ (Feb 23). I am in a position to comment and set the record straight as I have spent 37 years with Radio Pakistan, now the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), 25 of which were with news control.

First of all, I don’t agree with the majority of personalities present in the list of legendary newscasters made by Mr Riazuddin. It may be his wish and if ‘wishes were horses, beggars might ride’. We should keep in mind the difference between the sea and the ocean. Any Tom, Dick and Harry could be known who would go ‘on air’ everyday for years in a country where the means of entertainment were restricted. Till 1965, radio was the only medium besides cinema. Then gradually the standard of radio programmes started deteriorating and it was overshadowed by Pakistan Television. Still radio listeners are more than television viewers all over the world.

All India Radio (AIR) and Radio Pakistan have produced few news readers who could genuinely be called legends and venerable in news reading. They are Masood Tabish, Rajan Mehra, Anita Ghulam Ali and in the present times Shaista Zaid. Rajan Mehra and Masood Tabish, who was a poet with sonorous voice, had an edge over the above-mentioned names because when they were in business, reading Urdu news was very difficult. Urdu news reports were handwritten with a copying pencil whereas it was typed in English. Nowadays both bulletins are computer composed. It may be recalled, Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari, the then director general of Radio Pakistan regarded reading Urdu news as the eighth wonder (‘Art of news reading’, Feb 12, 2004).

It is interesting to mention here a few mistakes/ blunders committed by ‘legends’ on a number of occasions. I was the ‘chef in the kitchen’ for years, so everything was in front of me.

On the day of mourning when Quaid-i-Azam died, one of the Urdu newsreaders read Quaid’s news in a grieving voice. Immediately after the news, Z.A. Bukhari rushed to the studios and asked the newsreader “Quaid was dead or …?” The rest is history. He was of the opinion that newsreaders should not display feelings and expressions when delivering news.

In 1965, during the Pakistan-India war, a newsreader, who had a thunderous voice, went complete out of text and added his own words, ‘Pakistan kay ladake bumbaron nay Hindustani jangi jahaazon pe theek theek nishanay barsa kar maar bhagaya’ whereas the text was ‘Pakistani jet tayyaaron nay Bharti jangi jahaazon ko maar bhagaya’. A famous Urdu poetess, who was also principal of a degree college, was the sister of a female Urdu newsreader to whom she used to handover a list of pronunciation mistakes everyday.

My old ears are fed up and are not used to hearing words like ghalth for ghalath, khatam for khatm, surasmegi for sarasmeegi, surgunna for sarghana in Urdu bulletins and Amm-ester-dam for Amsterdam, georgeous for gorgeous, maiears for measures, gastures for gestures; it is a long list.

In the past, these ‘legends’ were suspended many times or were issued warning/caution letters, but now, unfortunately, even the authorities are not competent, so how can they appreciate or show their displeasure?

A RETIRED BROADCASTER (Name withheld on request) Karachi