Syed Fazl-e-Haider
Aug 17 - 23, 2009

It is undeniable fact that media has a deep and widespread impact on the masses. It serves as an agent of socio-political, economic, and cultural change in the present age. It can disrupt a society or can stabilize a society. The public participation cannot be ensured in the process of socio-economic development until and unless there is awareness among the masses about a policy, program, and action of the government regarding a problem. An effective media can only ensure such awareness in a given society. All this depends on the role of media- whether it is positive or negative.

Before independence, the resurrection of Muslim Press was brought almost by Sir Syed Ahamd Khan through his two journals namely the "Scientific Society Magazine" and "Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq". These papers were responsible for the Muslim renaissance and the promotion of the two-nation idea. Under their impact, several newspapers and magazines appeared throughout the sub-continent in English Urdu, Bengali and Sindhi. It was one of these journals namely "Muhazzib" edited by Abdul Halim Sharar that in 1890 proposed Partition of India and migration of populations.

The freedom struggle began with the 1857 National Struggle for Independence when the British liquidated almost the entire Muslim Press, shot dead the proprietor of Delhi Urdu Akhbar, issued warrants of arrest of its editor Muhammad Azad and sentenced Jamiluddin, editor of another paper to 3 years imprisonment. In the trial of Bahadur Shah, the Mughal Emperor, it was alleged that the Revolt was the outcome of Press-Palace conspiracy.

The annulment of the Partition of Bengal, the Cawnpore Mosque tragedy, the Italo-Turkish War and the Balkan Wars had deep impact on Muslim thinking that resulted in the emergence of militant journalist-cum-politicians like Zafar Ali Khan, Muhammad Ali and Abdul Kalam Azad. Their journals, "Zamindar", "The Comrade" and "Hamdard" and "Al-Hilal" created political consciousness among the people. Among these, Muhammad Ali was the major exponent of the two-nation theory who regarded Hindu-Muslim Problem, an international rather than a national problem, deserving solution under the International Law. The humorous column in his paper suggested Partition of the sub-continent on Hindu-Muslim basis in 1913.

The ideas of separation of Sind, reforms for Balochistan and re-assertion of the demand for Separate Electorate came in the wake of the unceremonious call-off of the Khilafat Movement. Quite a large number of Muslim papers emerged and their efforts led to the formulation of "Jinnah's Fourteen Points!" which contained the substance of Pakistan.

When the Hindu Press bitterly attacked Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal for his historic address at the Allahabad Session of the All India Muslim League, only three Muslim papers namely "Inqilab", "Muslim Outlook" of Lahore and "Hamdam" of Lucknow gave him full support and demanded the establishment of the Muslim state in the North-West India. The Muslim press in the late thirties gave considerable publicity to the various schemes for Partition and paved the way for the Lahore Resolution of the All India Muslim League.

In the middle forties emerged "Dawn", "Morning News", Nawai-Qaqt" and other papers, which played a notable role in the Pakistan Movement. The two leading journalists of the phase were Altaf Hussain and Hameed Nizami who by their pungent editorials deeply influenced the intelligentsia. The "Pakistan Times", was the last to come, just six and a half months before independence.

On the eve of independence, only four major Muslim-owned newspapers existed:

Pakistan Times, Zamindar, Nawa-i-Waqt, and Civil and Military Gazette, all located in Lahore. A number of Muslim newspapers moved to Pakistan. Dawn began publication as a daily in Karachi, then the federal capital, on the day of independence in 1947. Other publications were also shifted to Pakistan including the Morning News and the Urdu-language dailies Jang and Anjam.

The growth of electronic media is a universal phenomenon. Pakistan, where the new technologies are currently contributing to a transformation in the entire media landscape, the media had never enjoyed the freedom, it has been enjoying for the last five years.

Five years back, the print media including journals, magazines, and newspapers were the sole media channel in Pakistan. The news would not reach the majority of masses due to the higher illiteracy rate particularly in rural areas of the country. Hence, the media had less power to mobilize the people in the country. It was less effective to shape and reshape the people's opinions and perceptions. It was not a powerful opinion leader, to say the least.

Today, the country presents an entirely different scenario, as nearly everyone can watch or listen to a news item or story. Electronic media is really mobilizing the people today. It has assumed the role of a guide in daily life of everybody. It is used as instrument of policy by the government. Its power, influence, and impact know no bounds. The speed of information communication is just flabbergasting. The volume of output of print and electronic media is simply overwhelming. International electronic media brings latest news of events and developments instantly. It continuously shapes and reshapes the people's opinions, attitudes, and perceptions.

While reviewing the media's role in the country's pre-independence era, one may conclude that Muslim Press played a powerful and crucially important role in creating cohesion among the Muslims of the sub-continent who were united to sacrifice everything for a separate homeland. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, by sponsoring and running "Tahzib-ul-Akhliqî and the bilingual "Scientific Society Magazine" laid the foundations of press as an institution of society as he had a message to deliver and had no commercial motive. These two periodicals, financially sustained more by donors than by subscribers, aimed to bringing about a cultural revaluation in Muslim society and a complete re-thinking on age-old concepts unrelated to the real spirit of Islam. On the other hand, Press has become an industry today. It is no more than a business venture for earning money through publication of advertisements. It was earlier said that advertisements need and depend upon media, but today media entirely depend upon advertisements. It is no more committed to its role as free and fair media. The freedom of press implies the people's right to know and its fairness implies the duty of the press to be fair about information it is imparting to the people at large.

There is a dire need for redefining the role of media in bringing about stability in making Pakistan a strong and prosperous country. However, in view of the current situation and various problems, media must be far more productive and continuously orientate the people about various issues confronting us on national and international fronts.

A strong media policy needs to be formulated to cover the weak areas of the existing policy. A new code of ethics for promotion of responsible media coverage needs to be introduced for private TV channels. There is a need to promote healthy and positive competition among media organizations and the extraordinary nose-for-news tendencies of some TV channels or journalists should also be checked. The lack of professionalism in media organizations caused misuse of Press freedom.