The printing press in the subcontinent was first established by the Portuguese Christian missionaries at Goa with the sole objective of propagating the Christian faith. Little did they know that the same printing press would later become a tool in the hands of the ruled classes to voice their dissent towards the ruling class. Later, when the British firmly established themselves in the subcontinent after successfully suppressing the Indian Revolt in 1857, almost all the newspapers were printed in English, satisfying the top bureaucrats and officers in India. At that time, the focus of journalism was not to let the government know about the wishes of the public, but to let to the public know about the wishes of the government. This stands in sharp contrast to the democratic principles of journalism today in which the media acts as the voice of the people.

The East India Company made sure that it tolerated no opposition by passing the Adams Regulation in 1823 which bound the press to a licensing system. No person could print or publish a newspaper without a duly issued license of the Governor General in Council. Britain which is one of the strongest advocates of free speech today can only be ashamed of its history; suppressing dissenting voices in its colonies throughout the world. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan made several efforts at this time to bridge the wedge between the Muslims and the British. He produced a pamphlet called the ‘The Causes of the Indian Revolt’ to let the British know that the mutiny was due to the frustration, oppression and economic marginalization of the Muslims and not because of a natural prejudice against the British.

With renowned figures like Mawlana Zafar Ali Khan, Mawlana Mohammad Ali Johar, Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad & Mawlana Hasrat Mohani occupying Muslim Journalism in the first half of the twentieth century, the world was to see a new form of militant journalism come into existence. After the 1857 revolt, the Indians in general and the Muslims in particular had decided that they had had enough of the barbarism of the colonists. They lacked the physical means to rise against the British so they turned to the media to voice their hatred. Mawlana Zafar Ali Khan in his infamous newspaper ‘Zamindar’ clamored against British imperialism with all force. He got arrested several times but that did not change his stance. During World War I, he published the victories of the German and Ottoman forces against the British, which angered the British further. Mawlana Mohammad Ali Johar on the other hand, with his newspaper, ‘The Comrade,’ signified a remarkable turning point in Muslim journalism.

Before this time, Muslim journalism was primarily submissive. With Comrade, the Muslims dared to be more open about their impatience with British policies. He held adamantly in support of the Congress, but with the publishing of the Nehru Report in 1928 which denied the Muslims separate electoral status and provincial autonomy in the Muslim majority provinces, he joined the Muslim League. Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad published the weekly journal ‘The Crescent Moon’ in 1912 which called for a moderate interpretation of religion amongst the religious classes while at the same time trying to instil a new form of reverence of religion amongst the educated and liberal Muslim class. This newspaper too, focused mainly on the situation of the Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey. Mawlana Hasrat Mohani on the other hand, was more concerned about the fate of Urdu journalism and published a literary magazine called ‘Urdu-e-Moalla’ which condemned the nefarious designs of British rulers and their treacherous policies in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Such militant journalism blended classical literature with revolutionary politics.

With increasing separation from the Hindus, the Muslim press was awakened to a new reality to protect the identity of the Muslims in the events that unfolded. The British were the victors in World War I, but had suffered huge economic losses which meant that they were soon going to leave the colonized lands. At this time, the Muslim press functioned primarily to awaken a nationalistic sense amongst the Muslims, pressing for the two-nation theory. With the defeat of the Muslim League in the 1937 elections however, the Muslim League leaders and intellectuals had to plan a new strategy to mould public opinion in their favour. In the period from 1938 to 1947, many English and Urdu newspapers vociferously voiced Muslim political aspirations. It was at this time that the eminent journalist Altaf Husain contributed articles concerning Muslim politics in the ‘Statesman.’ Newspapers like ‘Millat’ and ‘Tanzeem’ worked to counter the arguments of the Congress. The representative Dawn was started by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1942 from Delhi, to support the Muslim League and its demands. Nawa-i-Waqt started by Hamid Nizami and Hamid Mahmud also fully supported the Muslim League. Before this time, most Muslim newspapers were anti-British, not anti-Congress. It was only after 1940 when the Pakistan Resolution was passed, that newspapers adopted a pro-Muslim League stance. In other words, the Muslim press began to stress the two-nation theory and did not voice the concerns of Muslims who objected to the notion.

But this is not to say that the demand for a separate state did not exist before. Indeed, one of the journals named ‘Muhazzib’ edited by Abdul Alam Sharar, did propose a partition of the subcontinent into two separate dominions long ago in 1890. Mawlana Mohammad Ali Johar too once suggested in his humorous column in 1913 of the separation of the subcontinent into two independent dominions. But the real push towards independence by the media was made after the Pakistan Resolution was passed when the Hindu press wrote against the very idea of Pakistan. The more the Hindu Press published articles against the two-nation theory, the more the Muslim press felt charged to defend the idea of separatism.

Conclusively, the Muslim press has throughout the ages adopted a reactionary approach to world events rather than following a fixed agenda. Turning enemies into friends and friends into enemies was just a matter of political expediency. It sided with the British at times, and turned against them at other times, moulding Muslim public opinion along the way. It seems that the same uncertainty characterizes the media landscape in Pakistan today, when many television channels and newspapers criticize the US. when the politics of the situation find it favourable, but appreciate its policies when it is politically convenient. Unless such dichotomy is resolved, the media in Pakistan will fail to have a voice of its own, and serve primarily to be a voice for the elite who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The writer is a status quo critic by habit and a marketing scientist by profession.

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