Literary Notes: Why teaching history of journalism is inevitable

Pakistan Press Foundation

THERE is good news and bad news, but first the bad news.

The sad news that Prof Dr Tahir Masood announces in the intro to a new book is that history of journalism and press has been axed from the syllabi of the mass communication, a subject taught at almost every university of the country. And if the history of journalism is taught at all at the universities these days, writes Dr Tahir Masood, it is cursory.

The good news is that Tahir Masood has edited and annotated a century-old Urdu book on the history of journalism, newspapers and their editors. Just published by Karachi’s Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Pakistan, the book is titled Akhbaar naveeson ke haalaat. Sub-titled Qadeem sahafiyon aur akhbaaraat-o-rasaael ka nadir tazkirah, the book — describing the history of some century-old newspapers and magazines as well as the lives of their editors — was written by Muham­maduddin Fauq and was published over a century ago.

The result of eliminating history of journalism from curricula is that, as put by Tahir Masood, “the students passing out from these educational institutes are not only unaware of the role played by some great Urdu newspapers and their editors, but it is pitiable that these students have no idea about when and how the printing presses were introduced in the South Asia and what role these presses and newspapers played in creating awareness among the masses of our region. They know nothing about the great sacrifices that journalists put in to emancipate the nation from a colonial power.”

Dr Tahir Masood sarcastically says that those “great philosophers” who are responsible for revising the Mass Communication syllabus perhaps believe that the modern era communication techniques have rendered the old-fashioned journalism and journalists of the yore years “irrelevant” and “unnecessary”. These so-called experts, he adds, feel that telling students about the services of the journalists of the past is useless and to waste their time. But this thinking is so shallow and childish that even discussing it is a waste of time, says Tahir Masood. However, it is pertinent to mention that the nations responsible for great developments in the field of communications still value the history of journalism and new research works and books on the history of printing press, history of journalism and their influence keep on pouring in.

Then he lists the reasons that make the teaching of journalism’s history absolutely inevitable. He goes on to highlight some peculiarities of our media, saying that journalism used to be a mission, but no more so. It has simply become a business activity, but it does not mean that media is not expected to follow any code of conduct. This lack of following a strict code of conduct has stripped our media of its credibility, he says.

In his useful and scholarly preface, Tahir Masood has shed light on Muhammaduddin Fauq (1877-1945), author of the book that was first published from Lahore in October 1912. According to Tahir Masood, Fauq was a Kashmiri writer and journalist and had penned over 100 books on history, mysticism, poetry, travelogue and biography. A good many of them were on Kashmir. Fauq launched several newspapers and magazines, including Kashmir Magazine. Because of Fauq’s services to Kashmir and the people of Kashmir, Allama Iqbal, himself a Kashmiri by descent, used to call him ‘Mujaddid-i-Kashmir’, a revivalist or renewalist of Kashmir.

Fauq brought out a special issue of Kashmir Magazine. Dubbed Editor Number, the issue was published in book form in 1912 as well, under the title of Akhbaar naveeson ke haalaat. Now edited and adorned with some valuable annotations, the book includes the biographical sketches of 37 Hindu and Muslim journalists, the services they rendered and their contribution towards journalistic and national causes. The book contains some rare information and Tahir Masood has rightly concluded that it is one of the most important sources on the history of journalism and lives of working journalists in British India.

The original book carried pen-portraits of editors and journalists but they were too sketchy to be reproduced, so they have been re-drawn in colour and included in this new edition. These new, colour pen-portraits have been drawn by Khalil Qaiser. A very useful addition is the index in alphabetical order at the back of the book, a rarity in Urdu books.

One sincerely hopes that the students are taught history of journalism and this book could be included in the reading list of Mass Communication’s syllabi.

Dawn