ISLAMABAD: While friends and admirers continue to recount fond memories of iconic journalist and trade unionist Minhaj Barna and remember his struggle for the welfare of journalists and media workers, there are many among the younger entrants in the profession who do not know that the perks and privileges they are enjoying and the general betterment in their situation owes mainly to the sacrifices of men like the late Barna.
The fat salaries they are drawing today as reporters, feature writers and editors owe much to the hardships young newsmen like the late Barna underwent. He was remembered at a reference attended by senior journalists, poets, writers and scholars here on Thursday evening organised by South Asian Free Media Association at its Media Centre.
Journalist Afzal Khan in his tribute said he entered trade unionism by accident but Barna chose the travails of the risky job. He said Barna was transferred to Dhaka for writing against Nawab of Kalabagh but he used that opportunity to make Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) a link between the two wings of Pakistan. He said after becoming president of PFUJ in 1970 Barna brought revolutionary changes and tried coordination with other union movements. The 1978 movement was the biggest in the history of Pakistan journalism which resulted in the closure of many newspapers including Mussawwat. Deportation, arrests and even lashes were awarded to journalists. This led to worldwide support for Pakistani journalists.
Iftikhar Arif, Chairman National Language Authority, said that his friendship with Minhaj Barna started with the entry of Mairaj Mohammed Khan into politics. He said that at that time Karachi Press Club was the hub of activities of newspersons for the whole country including East Pakistan.
He lamented that electronic media was engaged in personal glorification instead of enlightening the common people on national issues.
Kishwar Naheed recalled a protest meeting at Regal Chowk in Lahore where all the greats were together – Faiz, Sibte Hassan, Barna, Nisar Usmani and others. She said someone should complete the autobiography that Minhaj had left unfinished.
Senior journalist M Ziauddin said that the institution of the Wage Board was an achievement of Barna Sahib. He said values set by Barna and Usmani in the 1970s were a lesson for the journalists who joined the profession later. He said PFUJ posts were something prestigious in those days due to their unquestionable character.
Baloch leader Hasil Bizenjo said that people of the era of Minhaj Barna played a role which will be remembered by all of them. He was a beacon of light in the dark era of Gen Ziaul Haq.
Farida Hafeez said that the hefty salaries of journalists today and the freedom they enjoy was the result of the untiring efforts of men like Minhaj Barna and his colleagues. She said that once nobody wanted to contest Barna Sahib in elections but he manoeuvred with Nisar Usmani and others to persuade someone to stand in the elections to strengthen trade unionism.
Harris Khalique said that APNEC was the major contribution of Barna Sahib as he cared for the non-journalist staff of the press industry also. He said that few are left amongst us who laid the foundation of principled journalism.
Ashfaq Salim Mirza recited the poetry of Barna Sahib on the occasion. Agha Nasir and Hasan Akhtar also spoke on the occasion.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2011.