Arif Nizami’s passing

A towering figure in journalism leaves behind a vacuum that will be tough to fill

The passing of Arif Nizami does not just mean the end of one of the most distinguished careers of post-Partition journalism, but that this newspaper has lost its founding Editor. It is a measure of the man that this was not the only paper of which he was the founding Editor, for he had previously been Editor of The Nation from its founding in 1986 until 2009. He was also rare in having been a bilingual journalist, fluent in both English and Urdu, for that period, for he had been Executive Editor of Nawa-i-Waqt, the Urdu daily his father, Hameed Nizami, had founded. He was a paragon of innovation, for after The Nation, which his father had conceived, he played a leading role in the founding of Waqt News, which he headed until he left the Group. However, this did not end his association with the electronic media, and he was an anchor with 92 News, until his death. Even this newspaper is a departure from the more traditional broadsheet, being in the Berliner size. One of the practices of his entire career, recruiting young people fresh out of college, and then not just training them, but giving them independence and agency, may well be attributed to this spirit of innovation.

The many who were trained by him will testify that he never tried to impose an organisational template on anyone, giving them the space to develop themselves. It is perhaps because of this that so many of those who worked for him have reached the commanding heights of journalism.

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He was not just a journalist, but had been destined to be one. Son of Hameed Nizami, he did a masters in mass communications, and served the as President All-Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) several times, and was also President of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) at the time of his death. Both his professional training and organisational responsibilities made it inevitable that he would be such an outstanding fighter for press freedom. Over the years and until his untimely demise he confronted them all; military dictatorships, civilian governments and any force that challenged and undermined freedom of press.

It was not that he was naturally confrontational. A true Lahori, firm friendship was also one of his qualities, and he would go out of his way to use his good offices if he could. His friendships were subordinated to his being a newsman. His appetite for scoops remained undiminished even after he left the hurlyburly of daily reporting, which is where he started in Nawa-i-Waqt. Indeed, there he received hands-on training in every branch of the production process.

Arif Nizami never waved a flag, but was always a careful guardian of the national interest, or rather custodian, for he did not really try to define it, leaving facts to do so. His engagement with the national interest made him accept in 2013 the Ministry of Information in the caretaker government that conducted the election that year. This engagement also made him disinclined to accept any dictation as to what it constituted. One of the remarkable things about him was the fact that while he worked very hard at the task of editing whatever newspaper he was responsible for, he managed a balance with family life.

He never let his family feel neglected, and he was able to take out time for the finer things in life, such as art and films. Having been bred and brought up in Lahore, he was not so much a hearty trencherman, as a discriminating one. Perhaps it is to this sense of taste that he made one departure from the journalistic norm, which was of sloppy dressing: he was a careful dresser, even a natty one. His contribution to the field of journalism in Pakistan must be seen in two contexts, not just that of a key profession, but one of service to the country as a whole, and that of carrying on the tradition of his illustrious father. In both aspects, he did not lag and carried forward both the principles he had imbibed, and those that his own experience had taught him. He had to fill a gap, and did so successfully, only to leave one in his turn. He will be sorely missed.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]


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