A crusader for press freedom
In the death of Zamir Niazi, Pakistan has lost a relentless crusader for press freedom. Till the very last, and despite his failing health, Zamir Niazi remained dedicated to the pursuit of one single aim dear to him – the freedom of expression.
The chief merit of his first book, The Press in Chains, lay in the stupendous amount of facts he was able to gather. In its broad sweep, the book covers the period stretching from the late 18th century to the last one.
It begins with the arrest of James Augustus Hickey, whose Hickey’s Bengal Gazette exposed the evils of graft in the East India Company (circa 1780), and ends with the misfortunes of the press in Pakistan.
In the process the reader is taken through the ups and downs in the fate of the press and pressmen during the anti-colonial struggle, the birth of Pakistan, and the suffering under successive dictators.
The book records in detail the draconian laws meant to gag the press, the infamous Press and Publications Ordinance, the notorious Press Trust, the institution of “press advice”, the closure of newspapers, the hounding of journalists during the years of the anti-communist witch-hunt and finally the persecution of newspapers and newsmen under cover of the “ideology of Pakistan”.
The blackest day was, of course, May 13, 1978, during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship when journalists were whiplashed in public. Zamir Niazi never indulged in politics nor professed loyalty to any party.
He spared no one, because his yardstick was freedom. He noted with regret that there were some black sheep among journalists who cooperated with despots in persecuting the press and were rewarded in various ways, including the sale of newsprint in black market.
A modest man, Zamir Niazi began his career with this newspaper as a sub-editor in 1954. He retired from the profession in 1990 but continued to work on new books. In all he wrote and edited six books, and was working on two more. It is doubtful if anyone else would fill the void created by his death and continue the work of recording the travails of the press for posterity.