Muhammad Ziauddin

In view of Independence Day on August 14, all of August, the Daily Times will highlight individuals who continue to make Pakistan proud. Our 11th interview is with veteran journalist and columnist — Muhammad Ziauddin

Muhammad Ziauddin


Tell us about your foray into the field of journalism. How did it all begin for you?

I had a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry but there were no suitable jobs in the industry, which were in infancy in early 1960s. The only job that it could offer me was that of a medical salesman, which I took, got bored soon and started looking around for a more satisfying career. By this time I had become a veracious reader of left literature. Found myself fascinated by the student movement in Karachi. This led me very close to one of the prominent student leaders, the late Jauhar Hussain who inspired me to join Karachi University’s Journalism Department. From then on, there was no looking back.

What was it about journalism that made you stick to the profession all your life, as there are many who get fed up of all the problems media industry brings with it?

Three things: Reporting on daily basis on economic issues especially government policies and plans that impinged on the downtrodden; hoping someday to set the world on fire with my reports and; the media house Dawn which gave me all the freedom that I needed to do my job within its culture of heightened sense of responsibility. I spent more than three-fourth of my career at Dawn, which looked after me extremely well. In a way pampered me.

Was money ever a priority for you in journalism throughout your career?

No. Money was never a priority. My focus had always remained on profession rather than on how much I earned from it. I have never tried to let my performance be dictated by the size of my salary. Still, I was perhaps among the top salary earners in the industry while advancing up the ladder in Dawn.

What advice would you give to a novice in journalism?

Never ever compromise your integrity and credibility. That is the only way you can earn the confidence of your readers and viewers. You don’t win it overnight but need to work on it on daily basis for at least half a decade. This does not mean you would not make mistakes. But when you do, accept them immediately, apologise if indicated and issue the required correction and clarification immediately.

What have you learned the hard way in the field of journalism?

It is never easy to maintain your integrity and credibility in this profession. The temptations are many and very attractive. You are like a traffic policeman with powers to stop the mightiest in his/her tracks if found violating traffic rules. So, you need to work on it diligently and responsibly, daring to look even the mightiest in the eyes directly even if it meant going home for days together without answers to questions from family in dire need of things you cannot afford. It was tough. I believe I came out largely unscathed. But I would like to leave it to others to judge me on this matter.

Tell us about your most memorable experience during your career.

There have been many, all equally memorable in my over 50-year career. The most memorable one: I had written an editorial for the daily Morning News on the lifting of Martial Law in 1978 by General Ziaur Rahman in Bangladesh. After the very first sentence in which I introduced the subject, the entire text was on the ‘side-effects’ of martial law with almost direct attacks on our Zia’s martial law quoting as well from Bhutto’s If I am assassinated but without mentioning his name. Since it was a Friday, our editor’s weekly off, we had discussed the edit subject on telephone but as usual he did not see the text as in those days Internet did not exist and neither had the fax machines arrived. The then Information Secretary, the late Lt General Mujib understandably lost his cool when he read the edit and wanted my editor, the late SR Ghauri to sack me immediately. SR was not a fan of Bhutto but he was one with a great sense of professional honour. He did not sack me but sent me and himself on one month leave each and said let us see how things shape up when we come back. I never went back because meanwhile I had found a job with The Muslim in Islamabad.

Were you ever a victim of office politics? How did you deal with it to have come this far in your profession?

I was never a victim and nor was I ever a part of any office politics. However, once when I had refused to vote for one of my colleagues in the Karachi Press Club elections, he wrote a letter to the then Press Trust Chairman stating that one pro-Russian communist sitting in a Press Trust Newspaper has been writing anti-American Edits. The chairman came all the way to Karachi to probe the matter. I neither knew about the letter nor why the chairman was visiting the newspaper. This was first of Ramadan. The editor called me to his office to introduce me to the chairman. Tea was ordered. I said not for me. Editor looked at me as if asking why not. I said I was fasting. After a few queries mostly by my editor with the chairman seemingly having lost interest in me, I was excused. After an hour, the editor called me again to his office. The chairman had left. SRG with what can only be described as a wholesome laughter said, “He had come to sack a pro-Russian communist but was delighted to meet a Rozadar!”

Never ever compromise your integrity and credibility. That is the only way you can earn the confidence of your readers and viewers. You don't win it overnight

Is there anyone who you haven’t worked with in your journalism career but would love to? Who did you have the most fun with?

I have worked with all the giants of my time. But missed working for the giant of them all — Mazhar Ali Khan. Though once I had contributed an article for his weekly Viewpoint. I learnt a lot from Ahmed Ali Khan, AT Chaudhary and Ibnul Hasan. I had spent most of my career in Dawn because it was not only highly satisfying to work for the newspaper but also exciting, as the editor was a tough taskmaster. It was fun working under pressure cooker conditions.

Do you think it’s important for a journalist to have studied journalism in university to take up this profession?

Yes, but only after having tested for aptitude for the profession and at a university where at least half the faculty has had professional experience of at least 10 years each. Good teachers are not known to be good in the field. And good journalists are not known to be good teachers. It is very rare to find persons competent both in the classroom as well as in the field. Moreover, it is like having to do house job and specialisation after doing your MBBS. So, one needs to specialise on job in one or multiple fields like crime, economy, foreign affairs, law and justice, sports, culture, art, performing arts, social issues, politics, international relations, technology and science etc. Every field has its own unique set of vocabulary.

In what ways has journalism changed or evolved from the time you started out until now?

In innumerable ways. In my early days access to information, gathering news and communicating news to consumers used to be too cumbersome, too time consuming and too complicated. Today the technological revolutions in telecom and information sectors which are on-going have made accessing information, gathering news and conveying news to consumers almost in real time has become possible. Every one having access to a smart phone is not only a consumer but also the conveyor of news and information. All these new technological gadgetry has made checking and rechecking the veracity of news as well as sifting real news from fake news almost impossible. The business models of media industry too have come under greater pressure because advertisers are shifting to on-line while reducing their advertising budgets drastically for newspapers and TV channels. All this is only a miniscule part of the on -going change. You need a book to justify a thesis on the subject. And of course, from 1962 to about 1986-87 the media in Pakistan was tightly controlled by a law called Press & Publication Ordinance which meant if some government minion did not like the colour of your jacket he could order closure of your newspaper, confiscation of your printing press and your arrest and there would be no recourse to law. In the early 1980s there was strict censorship and Zia had also enacted a peculiar law which said even if the story was true and even if it was in the national interest you were liable to be prosecuted! Compared to those days it appears like Laissez-faire in the media industry today.

Which has been your toughest story to do throughout your career? Which one have you enjoyed the most working on?

Every story that I have produced had appeared to me as very tough. There were innumerable nights when I could not go to sleep going over the story I had filed over and over again to see if I had missed anything. Reporting annual budgets was perhaps the toughest because you get only about five hours to understand and report it in a language easily understood by the ordinary readers. Budgets as one knows are usually complex documents with actual facts and figures camouflaged within the data in such a way as to make the budget appear pro-poor while in fact it is designed to be pro-rich. I enjoyed almost every story that I reported as I don’t believe in doing anything which I don’t feel like enjoying. One of the oldest was when I projected to the decimal point the outgoing year’s expected shortfall in budgetary income. It was mostly desk calculations using some published figures. As luck would have it, the amount I had projected was identical to the decimal point with the one that the government had already arrived at and had kept the secret under lock and key. The Finance Ministry thought I had somehow broken into the ministry’s locker and copied the national secret. It had intelligence personnel shadow me for months together. One story, which made my day and is not that old, is the one I filed for Dawn from London in 2007 about the NRO negotiations between the PPP and the Musharraf government. ‘The Deal is done’ said the story as the People’s Party team led by Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf’s team led by the then ISI Chief Lt General Pervez Kiyani finalised deal in London. This story is quoted in the Supreme Court’s judgment documents in the NRO case.

Did you ever feel your family life or social life had taken a backseat at any point in your career or did you balance well?

Always. You need to have an understanding and cooperative spouse to be really successful in this profession. I rarely saw my children growing up. They still hold it against me. But they were and still are very understanding.

What according to you has been your biggest achievement so far?

When I look back, I find it almost impossible to put my fingers on anything I can call achievement. But I did try to test the limits during the worst form of censorship. I was the first one to disclose to the nation the IMF conditions at a time when even the official rate of inflation was being treated as national secret. I received the APNS Award for the best exclusive report. I also take pride in my contributions to the weekly economic section in Dawn, which later was turned into daily. SGM Badruddin was in-charge of this section and the staff included Babar Ayaz and Shaheen Sehbai and was later joined by late Sabihuddin Ghausi. Once the then chief of ISPR Brigadier Siddiqui telephoned me to caution me against the highly critical pieces I was doing on national economy. When I mumbled something in response he quickly added, “Okay, okay, carry on, these people do not understand economy”. Reporters Sans Borders of France designated me as one of the world’s 100 Information heroes in 2014. I still don’t know what criteria were used by the organisation to select these information heroes.

What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?

My understanding of Pakistan and its vision flow from Quaid-e-Azam’s August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly. A Pakistani is one who like the Quaid does not make his Pakistaniat subservient to his religious sect and is opposed to religious obscurantism that is holding up country’s progress towards the national goal of turning Pakistan into a social-welfare state.

Growing up, which journalists did you admire the most?

Ibnul Hasan, Sultan Ahmed, SR Ghauri, AT Chaudhry, Ahmed Ali Khan and Mazhar Ali Khan.

We at Daily Times consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?

Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr Abdus Salam, IA Rehman, Asma Jahangir, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pervez Hoodbhoy, AH Nayyar, Dr Adeeb Rizvi, Aitezaz Ahsan, Imran Khan as a sportsman and social worker but the jury is still out on his politics. The list is incomplete.

 

 

                               Achievements

 

 

GLOBAL RECOGNITION

Journalist and columnist Muhammad Ziauddin has received the APNS Award for Best Exclusive Report. In 2014, Reporters Sans Borders of France designated him as one of the world’s 100 Information Heroes.

WORKED WITH TOP DAILIES & WEEKLIES

Muhammad Ziauddin has worked in all the top newspapers and weekly publications including Express Tribune, Dawn, The News, Pakistan And Gulf Economist, Morning News, The Muslim, and Pakistan Press International.

AT THE HELM OF AFFAIRS

Ziauddin has served as the resident editor of the Express Tribune, assistant editor at Pakistan And Gulf Economist, commerce editor at The Muslim, resident editor at Dawn, editor at The News, president at South Asia Free Media Association and assistant general secretary at Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

 

 

Published in Daily Times, August 11th 2017.