Understanding the Baloch Press Part 2

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Of all my journalism professors, Dr. Seemi Naghmana Tahir, former chairperson of the Journalism Department at the University of Balochistan, impressed me the most with her knowledge about the history of media in Balochistan. I attended her “History of Balochistan media” class as Masters level student. Her book Balochistan Mein Ablagh-e-Aama: Aghaz wa Irteqa (1888-2005) (Mass Media in Balochistan: History and Evolution (188-2005) is in fact one of the most authentic research work ever done on the history of Balochistan’s media.

As a student, I always felt Dr. Seemi talked of Daily Intekhab with much admiration. As a non-Baloch, hers was a purely objective scholarly praise for that newspaper. Daily Intekhab occupies a very distinctive status in the modern history of Baloch journalism. Launched in the late 1980s, this newspaper for the first time provided a voice to the people of Balochistan. Edited by Anwar Sajidi, Intekhab inducted the idea of hyper localized news. It hit the markets in Balochistan at a time when Jang and Mashriq dominated the scene of the local media. Both these newspapers had not originated from Balochistan. Their head offices were based elsewhere and they only launched their local editions to make money with the help of the official advertisements.

While these two newspapers enjoyed the monopoly over the market, they also snubbed local issues. They barely deemed a local Baloch leader’s news report worthy of front page coverage. They never published editorials or Op-Ed pieces on Balochistan or issues concerning the province. With no space for the intellectuals and writers to debate, Balochistan badly needed a platform where journalists, writers and intellectuals could discuss various political, social and economic issues.  The dominant newspapers, which have always had a pro-government policy, also lacked a proper network of reporters in interior Balochistan.

When Intekhab was started from Hub, Balochistan’s sole industrial town near Karachi, it took full advantage of  facilities available in Karachi, the country’s largest city. It was the first time that a newspaper had been started with proper concentration on Balochistan and its socio-economic issues. The newspaper wrote editorials on Balochistan and filled its front page with news  and photos from/about Balochistan. Different political parties, non-government organization and even the government of Balochistan found sufficient breathing space in terms of asserting their points of views, polices and strategies.  A newspaper fully dedicated to Balochistan opened new windows of learning and information about different parts of Balochistan.

The newspaper gained enormous popularity in Mekran division comprising of Turbat, Gwadar and Panjgur. The newspaper quickly hit local news stands because of the the Karachi airport and the vast range of destinations it covered enabling the newspaper management to dispatch newspapers in different corners of the province. A network of reporters from all over Balochistan began to submit news reports in the newspaper while reports and photographs about social events taking place inside Balochistan got more coverage than the other newspapers.

Actually, Intekhab scared its rival newspapers published from Quetta, forcing them to hire reporters inside Balochistan and enhancing the coverage of local issues in order to avoid losing readership. Now, they also inducted local news pages to gain the attention of local readers.

Anwar Sajidi, editor and founder of the newspaper, had previously worked with Daily Jang in Quetta as a staff reporter. He was known as a brilliant reporter and a through professional journalist. With the launching of Intekhab, he proved the pundits wrong that Balochs could not write or speak good Urdu. The newspaper provided a platform to Baoch columnists and writers to express their views on outstanding local issues. This platform encouraged a lot of young writers to pick up the pen and start writing.

While Anwar Sajidi’s own column Afkhar-e-Parishan often triggered heated and, some times very serious, debates, the newspaper engaged the local intellectual circles with healthy literary discussions because of the columns written by respected and controversial columnists like Surat Khan Marri, Amanullah Gichki, Hakeem Baloch Professor Aziz Mohammad Bugti, Nargis Baloch, Sanaullah Baloch, Shakil Baloch and Khalid Waleed Saifi.

The newspaper is currently published from Karachi, Hub and Quetta. It is also available online.

No doubt that Intekhab has established itself is a standards newspaper vis-a-vis financially stronger papers like Jang, Mashriq and Express. However, the newspaper has lost the charm it had in 1990s because of its editorial page. Critics believe Intekhab used the Baloch card at the beginning to establish its mark as a Baloch newspaper but gradually became a  “national newspaper”. Hence, the coverage of local issues was balanced with the same level of coverage to the national issues.

The newspaper drew enormous criticism when it reported Nawab Bugti as “killed” against the other newspapers which used the word “martyred” in their headlines.  From a journalistic perspective, the newspaper’s editor surely had every reason to defend his decision but that particular headline on August 27th, 2006 greatly added to Intekhab’s unpopularity among the Baloch national and ultra-nationalist circles.

Today, Intekhab is still considered to be a very reliable and standard newspaper of Balochistan. What it has lost over the years is the highly extolled editorial pages. Neither the newspaper regularly publishes editorials on Balochistan nor does it encourage the same level of critical articles which were published in 1990s. Ironically, articles published on Intekhab’s editorial pages, which are normally taken from newspapers, discuss about the national politic, uprising in the Middle East and technology.

Intekhab also lost its monopoly over the “Baloch market” in the subsequent years after the launching of Baloch newspapers like Azadi, Asaap and Tawar. We will focus on those newspapers in the next columns.

The website of Intakhab, nonetheless, is still a remarkable source of Urdu news about Balochistan for those who can’t get a hard copy of the newspaper or live abroad. The newspaper and its editor will certainly be remembered in the history for pioneering an institutionalized Baloch media.

To read the first part of this article, click