Thursday, March 29, 2007

Daily Dawn comes of Age?

The blame for the over fifty year long, chronological abuse of the press in Pakistan can be quite properly laid at the autocratic attitude commonly found in Pakistani leadership – be it civilian, military or bureaucratic.

However, one cannot completely absolve the press itself for its historical subservience to Islamabad. The blame for this lies squarely on the press owners - such as Mehmood Haroon, Khalil-ur-Rahman, Majid Nizami et al - for placing self-interest and financial profit before the principle of press freedom. All of these gentlemen have had ingratiatingly close connections with various despotic governments over the years. For instance Dawn's Mehmood Haroon happily served as Interior Minister and Governor of Sindh under the military dictator Zia, Nawa-i-Waqt's Majid Nizami was exceedingly close with the Sharif family (while it was trampling on the press and arresting the likes of Najam Sethi) and Jang's Khalil-ur-Rahman remained thick with many a dictator.

Coming back to Dawn, a senior member of its editorial staff (M Ziauddin) took his own newspaper to task not so long ago by saying:

The Dawn survived decades of military dictatorships basically because it shamelessly toed the government line. Ziauddin recalls printing verbatim government press releases and letting the censor board remove entire pages.

So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Dawn has finally come out of its dusty closet and decided to take on a military dictatorship.

I wonder how much of this is due to the efforts of Zafar Abbas, the ex-BBC Urdu correspondent and recently appointed Islamabad editor for the paper?


libertarian said...

Onlooker: could you shed light on the economics of the print media? For instance, why are the print media so heavily dependent on government spend rather than private advertising and circulation? That lies at the root of the media's subservience.

mountainman said...

Good to see you back, Onlooker. Will give comments later.

Anonymous said...

Am not exactly sure about Abbas but hopefully he will bring postive changes on the english online version of the paper. Calling it terrible is being too nice.

I even emailed the staff/editor to offer my help in editing(pro bono) but I never heard back from them.

This was maybe a year and half ago.


Anonymous said...

I think, sir, that you are too hasty in interpreting the Nawa-i-Waqt editor's friendship with the Sharif family as something immoral and for the benefit of financial gain, rather than as what it was/is: just a friendship with the family. The paper is and always has been unstinting in criticism where it is due, be it levelled against friend or not. Another fact that you forgot to mention is that it is this same newspaper that has under every single government been prosecuted and singled out for unfair discrimination, to its financial detriment and by no measure to the contrary.

As an aspiring journalist, I have examined the industry into which I hope to enter and perhaps can shed the requested light on government spending and the role it pays in the running of a paper.

All papers at the end of the day are businesses. This is not to imply that every editorial decision they make is based on mercenary interest, but rather to point out that the very causes they were established to highlught cannot be served if there is no cash flow to print and distribute the publication.

Government advertising is a large percentage of the media's revenue, and i can only imagine that this is because of the large quantity of government propaganda that needs to be circulated and on the flip side the many developemental projects that need publicity. The media subservience you refer to, comes into play when governments threaten a publication by refusing to grant them their share (based on circulation) of the advertisements.

This stands in naked refute of the freedom of press that this government, amongst others, has been so fond of touting.

President doesn't like what's written about him on the editorial page, he makes a call and says hold on to our advertisements to this publication. This is effectively a government sponsored stranglehold, which results in businesses operating under losses and ultimately going bankrupt. Problem solved. It is something disturbingly akin to, "If you're not with us, you're against us...and we will choke the life out of you for daring it".

In the case of Nawa-i-Waqt however, it is the one newspaper group that has been subjected to these government bans (so much so that even it's ration of printing paper was withheld), yet has never changed its not one instance.

I myself have read things in it that I did not agree with, and upon voicing these concerns have been invited to write a reply to the piece which was duly printed. In my dealings with them, I have always found them to be fair and strictly ethical.