LAHORE, Jan 19: Minhaj Barna laid down his life for a free press and newspaper workers` rights in Pakistan, said friends and colleagues at a condolence reference they had arranged at the Lahore Press Club on Wednesday.
Senior journalists I.A. Rehman, Hussain Naqi and I H Raashed shared some memories of the late Mr Barna with the participants and described his death as a loss to journalists` cause in the country. Columnist Shafqat Tanvir Mirza and Prof Dr Mehdi Hasan called for continuing his struggle.
Mr Rehman said the fatal ailment of Mr Barna started during a month-long hunger strike in Khairpur jail in 1978 during the regime of late Gen Ziaul Haq. “The authorities released one of our colleagues, Nisar Osmani, and asked him to persuade Mr Barna to end the hunger strike. Mr Osmani advised the authorities to accept the demands of Mr Barna, as it was the only way to convince him to end the protest. Eventually, the authorities had to accept (Mr Barna`s demands).
“Mr Barna was a tireless soul and knew how to take along all, especially the workers. All the meetings of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists used to be stormy. There would be discussions, difference of opinion but the meeting would conclude after a consensus and all would abide by the decision taken during it,” recalled Mr Rehman.
The late Mr Barna played a pivotal role in the first 10-day strike in the newspaper industry of united Pakistan in 1970 for better wages and inclusion of non-journalist employees in the wage structure. However, no newspaper benefited from the experience of Mr Barna during his last years, he said.Hussain Naqi said Mr Barna was a fulltime trade unionist and a role model for journalists of all time. He was unanimously elected by journalists of united Pakistan the PFUJ secretary-general with K.G. Mustafa from the then-East Pakistan as president.
“We used to get meagre salaries and that too in instalments. We were few in numbers but had people like Minhaj Barna and Nisar Osmani and no one could dare to challenge their stance on workers` rights. Lahore now has 1,000 or so working journalists, but there has been deterioration and a lack of stability like other professions.”
Calling Mr Barna a role model for all working journalists, Mr Naqi said he was never afraid of fighting back the bosses. He was always defended by journalists whenever he was victimised by the bosses for trade union rights.
Prof Mehdi Hasan said that present day journalism required men like Mr Barna whose main contribution was to defend freedom of expression in Pakistan. He was a fulltime trade union activist who fought against the military dictators.
The PFUJ succeeded in achieving freedom of expression but still the right to access to information has been a dream. “The contributions of Mr Barna, Ahmad Ali Khan, Nisar Osmani and others should be documented for the next generations. Even most journalists are unaware of the fact that they owe their freedom and pay packages to men like Mr Barna. It would help the journalists fulfil their social responsibility. There are many ways to make money but journalism is not one of them. Ironically, the present day journalism is not playing its role of a watchdog. Rather, a majority has become a lapdog,” he said.
I H Raashed said Mr Barna and other colleagues struggled for the repeal of the obnoxious Press and Public Ordinance promulgated by Gen Ayub Khan. “The freedom enjoyed by the press, especially electronic media, is the result of tireless struggle of journalists like Mr Barna,” he said, recalling the days when he and men like Akhtar Ali Khan, son of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, used to stand in queues to get their wages in instalments.
Shafqat Tanvir Mirza said that absence of the institution of editor from the press was to blame for the present state of affairs. “The proprietor-editor does not bother to write two sentences even if a worker dies. We journalists are also responsible, as we remained silent when two newspapers â€“ daily Imroz and The Pakistan Times â€“ were closed down,” he said.
Journalist Raja Aurangzeb, Asama Tariq of Pakistan Workers Federation, People`s Party`s Ghulam Abbass, former presidents of Punjab Union of Journalist Bukhtgir Chaudhry, Khalid Chaudry and Arif Bhatti, former vice-president Nawaz Tahir and ex-secretary Rana Azeem and Lahore Press Club president Sarmad Bashir also spoke on the occasion.
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