One year ago I sat in an airport lounge writing my TNS column for that week — the last column of the year. It was about the need to create a memorial within Pakistani journalism for editor Razia Bhatti.
Razia, who died almost more than two decades ago, was one of the true greats of journalism: a dedicated professional, a perfectionist who was able to bring out the best in any number of diverse individuals, hone their talents, guide their reporting and generally turn their copy into a thing of beauty. She was completely committed to serious, meaningful journalism, and she turned Herald into a magazine of style and substance, before going on to leading a team of us staffers to start our own independent journalist-owned venture, Newsline.
Razia is gone, we no longer own Newsline, but there now exists a memorial to Razia Bhatti at the country’s premier journalism training centre, the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi.
CEJ/IBA along with our group the Razia Bhatti Memorial Initiative announced the memorial programme last summer. At the ceremony a short video about Bhatti’s life and career (made by her daughter Sara Bhatti who is also in the media field) was screened and speakers, including Kamal Siddiqi, Zaffar Abbas, Huma Baqai and myself spoke briefly about what the rationale for the memorial was. An annual Razia Bhatti gold medal and award for the best masters student at the CEJ was announced as was an internship programme at Newsline, and a series of annual memorial lectures. A seminar room at CEJ was named after Bhatti and the plaque was unveiled.
It was a fairly emotional moment — not just because of our personal connection to Razia but because a dedicated, committed and outstanding journalist had been honoured by a journalism programme in her own country. Thanks to the wonderful team at the CEJ and the IBA Board and Dean, the name of Razia Bhatti has now become a permanent presence in that training institution. Her name lives on in any reference to the classroom and in the announcement of the gold medal every year at the convocation. The hope is that a new generation of journalists will be inspired by her journalistic spirit, editorial excellence and willingness to innovate and try out new ideas — without losing sight of the plot.
The timing of this is also important, as this is an odd sort of time for journalism in Pakistan. On a superficial level, the existence of multiple TV ‘news’ channels gives the illusion that lots is happening and freedom of expression is greater than before. However, the reality is that these outlets are actually under immense pressure to toe the (establishment) line.
Older media groups like Jang/Geo and Dawn are under immense financial and political pressure, and continue to be demonised by the ruling party, PTI. The tone for this was set by the PM himself. Other channels who are in the establishment’s good books, continue to speak of journalists or channels who might criticise the PTI or the army as ‘haters’ and ‘enemies’. The role of editors with spines, principles and diplomatic skills is particularly important in times like these otherwise young journalists get no guidance or navigation skills at all. This is why the CEJ memorial is so very important.
And so in this memorial there lies a new hope as well as a fitting tribute. It is Razia Bhatti’s birthday on the last day of this year, and this memorial is something that those of us who believe in journalism have gifted to our profession and ourselves.