OBITUARY: Dr Mehdi Hasan breathes his last

Dr Mehdi Hasan's legacy in Pakistan will always remain that of a staunchly principled professional, a progressive journalist, and a deep critic of those who clamped down upon freedom of expression and freedom of press

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February 23, 2022

By Xari Jalil


LAHORE

After a long spell of illness, eminent veteran journalist, Professor of Mass Communication and Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Dr Mehdi Hasan passed away on Wednesday, February 23 at his residence. He was 85 years old and is survived by his wife Rakhshanda Hasan, sons, grandchildren, brothers, nieces, nephews and thousands of students.

‘A FRIENDLY MAN; A PRINCIPLED PROFESSIONAL’

Dr Mehdi Hasan always had a very ‘hectic’ life, says veteran journalist, and human rights activist, Husain Naqi who has long been associated with HRCP. “He was a student, an activist, a teacher, and in every way he had a successful and a rich life,” he said. “He not only taught thousands of people as a teacher, but he also taught them a better perspective of life – something which is immensely difficult in this country.”

Mr Naqi added that Dr Mehdi Hasan’s family moved to Pakistan from Panipat and had even been quite involved in the Pakistan movement – they settled in Sahiwal.

“I had an excellent relationship with him; when we came from Karachi, we were always a guest at his house in Sahiwal, and even when he came to Lahore,” said Mr Naqi. “He was a very friendly person; very approachable for students and others alike. He was always helpful. He never gave up on what he believed in. He took great umbrage on the ban of students unions and in fact, former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani was his student and he promised to reinstate unions – even though down the line it didn’t happen!”

Dr Mehdi Hasan never compromised on his principles, and was a champion of freedom of expression, said Mr Naqi. For this, he often faced hard resistance.

“He faced stiff opposition by Jamiat and its allies and was persecuted while he was teaching in Punjab Univerisity, among other things, but he successfully tolerated them,” he added. “He even received death threats. He was over 80 years, but he remained strong within. Till the end of his life, he stood beside his principles.”

His qualification included a Ph.D. in mass communication, from the Punjab University, titled, “The Role of Press in Formation of Public Opinion 1857-1947”, and an M.A. in journalism, Punjab University. He was a Fulbright Scholar (1990) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he conducted research on “Coverage of Third World Countries in the American Mass Media”.

As a journalist, he served as Pakistan Press International sub-editor and reporter between 1961-67.

Dr Mehdi was also a news commentator and analyst for Pakistani television since 1964 for Radio Pakistan since 1962. National and international mass media outlets including Voice of America, BBC News, Deutsche Welle regularly sought his opinion on political developments in Pakistan. He contributed articles in all major newspapers of Pakistan.

JOURNALIST PAR EXCELLENCE

Secretary-General of the PFUJ Nasir Zaidi also concurred with this and said that Pakistan as a country had lost too much just by losing Dr Mehdi Hasan and before him, Mr I.A Rehman, Mr Ahfaz ur Rehman, and Mr Muhammad Ziauddin, who have been our ideals for human rights and freedom of press.

“In that sense also Dr Mehdi Hasan was our guiding light,” he said. “He had an esteemed role in the world of journalism. In fact, when the department of journalism was formed in Punjab University, he played a very progressive role in its development. Even with dictator Zia-ul-Haq in power, he managed to courageously organize so many seminars when there were curbs on the press,” he said.

What was always at the forefront at every gathering for him, was the right to freedom of press and expression and he always mentioned this at all PFUJ seminars and meetings, said Mr Zaidi.  “In the early 60s he was also part of the PFUJ, and his principle stand was the rights of workers, as well as press freedom principles and how they must be taken side by side.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan remained a staunchly progressive journalist till the end. He was Dean of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Beaconhouse National University and a Professor of Mass Communication at the Punjab University. His teaching career spanned over 50 years.

He remained elected an office-bearer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) five times during the 1960s.

HRCP

On Wednesday, human rights lawyer, and chairperson of HRCP released a statement on behalf of the organization, saying that Dr Hasan had always been a ‘proudly secular man and the courage of his convictions had long warned that Pakistan could not hope to become a true democracy so long as it pandered to religious nationalism’.

“His unwavering commitment to freedom of religion, expression and opinion gave direction to human rights defenders and progressive journalists across Pakistan, scores of whom would congregate at his home in Lahore out of a shared love of poetry and political anecdotes.

Dr Hasan will be sorely missed and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

AUTHOR, ANALYST, PHOTOGRAPHER, 

He specialized in political analysis and was one of the few media historians of Pakistan. He was a regular commentator and panellist for TV news channels and radio stations.

Besides being a working journalist, he also authored many books on history, journalism, mass communication and political parties.

His book ‘The Political History of Pakistan’, is a widely used source of reference by journalists and producers.

Nephew Haider Hasan, said that Dr Mehdi Hasan’s long-held personal view was that distortion of facts by news media was distorting Pakistan’s history.

“Photography was his hobby and passion,” said Haider. “His worldly possessions included many 35 mm cameras including a couple of Rolleiflex cameras, according to Haider Hasan. His passion for photography took him to the frontline of the Lahore war zone in 1965, although he was not a professional photographer.”

For his services for journalism in Pakistan, he was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan in 2012.

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