KARACHI: “Trying to suppress information, subduing journalists, launching press agencies from the presidency, introducing press policies and revising them often; the state has been hostile towards the press from day one,” said veteran journalist and activist I.A. Rehman while delivering the first Razia Bhatti Memorial Lecture on Monday.
Held at the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration (CEJ-IBA), he spoke about his own experience with bold journalism. “And then there was Zia cancelling newspaper licenses and flogging journalists. Preceding the period and also during it there were women journalists such as Alys Faiz, Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, etc, going beyond writing about fashion and art to break into social themes. And joining them were Zubeida Mustafa, Razia Bhatti, Rehana Hakim, Sherry Rehman, Umber Khairi and the rest with Zahid Hussain and Talat Aslam, who had good copy ready in no time, developing unity of purpose. It had to be seen to be believed,” he added.
He said that the former editor of Dawn Saleem Asmi had taken the “girls at the Herald under his wing. He asked me to start writing for the monthly too sometime in 1976. Then I was approached by Razia Bhatti for a piece followed by a request for another. That’s how my monthly contribution in Herald went from one story to two to four and I felt embarrassed to be writing so much until Irfan Husain informed me that he wrote more than me for Herald,” he laughed.
Getting serious then he said that after meeting Razia a few times and watching her work, he became aware of her strengths. “She lived for Herald, and then Newsline. She nursed these journals like babies and established herself as a courageous editor,” he said.
“We have seen them pointing out the government’s shortcomings and wrong decisions in the Herald. When Zia brought his martial law he thought he had good supporters within the Herald team. But he was soon disappointed as Razia and her colleagues were not interested in towing the line of the dictator. And there came a time when he displayed a copy of the magazine and said that he will not allow this type of journalism,” he said.
“One night soldiers surrounded her house as they had come to arrest her citing criminal charges,” he said.
Talking about the other threats to journalism after Zia, I.A. Rehman shared some examples such as Jang newspaper’s ‘mistakenly’ publishing a small picture of the wedding ceremony of an office-bearer of a strong political party whereas the demand was for a better display on the front page and for which the entire All Pakistan Newspapers Society sought forgiveness. He spoke of how that party then approached the Dawn editor Ahmed Ali Khan to send party news to him directly. How the current editor of the paper was attacked at his home when he was a reporter for the BBC.
“It was at such a time that Razia Bhatti took that party on. No threat from them could change her. She stood her ground in the face of all challenges,” he said, adding that now one sees the space for freedom of expression being curtailed with various laws being introduced to harass journalists and bloggers, and fear and violence making people surrender without a fight and become an obedient herd.
“Security and safety have deprived us of our critical faculties. It is in this situation that it is natural that we miss Razia Bhatti so much,” he concluded.
Badar Alam, editor Herald, also read out his latest editorial about the recent tensions amid the air of hostility between Pakistan and India.
Earlier, CEJ-IBA’s director Kamal Siddiqi provided a bit of background about the annual lecture series named after Razia Bhatti. “It is an initiative by friends of Razia Bhatti and Newsline, which we took to IBA and Aman Tower who named this classroom after Razia,” he said.
“This place stands for a lot in terms of journalism and bravery,” he added. He also said that apart from the room and the lectures Razia’s family will also be honouring the best investigative story by a student at CEJ-IBA with a gold medal each year.