Challenges Before Urdu Journalism

A large number of journalists spoke of the many challenges and pitfalls before the Urdu media in the country today, at a seminar jointly conducted by the Delhi Union of Journalists, the National Alliance of Journalists(NAJ) and the India Islamic Cultural Centre on January 22, 2019.The seminar not only spotlighted the plight of journalists but also brought into sharp focus the present situation, and recalled the historical role played by Urdu journalism during the freedom struggle. It called for serious introspection both from the government and practitioners to evolve steps to save secular Urdu journalism for tomorrow and also the rich diverse Urdu language spread throughout the country in many states.

Several luminaries were among the speakers at the seminar that was co-sponsored by the National Alliance of Journalists, chief among them political commentator and editor Shahid Siddiqui editor, Farooq Argali veteran writer and author, Masoom Moradabadi veteran journalist , Mohd. Ahmed Kazmi journalist and critique, UNI editor Abdul Salam Asim and Wadood Sajid, who also helped anchor the function. The function was coordinated by the DUJ secretariat, headed by Sujata Madhok (general secretary ), the National Alliance of Journalists , along with key functionaries , including journalists specialists associated with the India Islamic Cultural Center and Urdu Press functionaries connected with DUJ.

In his opening remarks SK Pande, President of the NAJ and DUJ, recalled the Union’s long association with Urdu journalists and its activist leaders like Mohd. Ikram and Santosh Kumar who struggled valiantly to improve the working conditions of katibs and others working in the Urdu press. The press area on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, he pointed out, was once a cosmopolitan place from which dailies in several languages were published and journalists from these mingled to exchange news and views. He regretted that several dailies have closed down while the greed of newspaper owners for high rents has led them to shift offices to outlying areas, destroying the ethos of the press area. He fondly recalled the lifelong association of journalist, poet and member Fikhr Taunsvi , journalist crusader and lawyer , MK Ramamurthy and of course the dramatic reception given to international poet and journalist, Faiz Ahmad Faiz in the DUJ, where he addressed a gathering with his famous poem: ‘Speak your lips are still free’ in the seventies.

Speakers raised several issues, ranging from the closure of many small Urdu papers because of adverse government policies, to the decline in the content and quality of journalism today. While some spoke of grave dangers today others spoke of dangers which were a continuum of the previous regime. The targeting of some papers from reemerging today too like the Qaumi Awaaz was also mentioned.

Masoom Moradabadi pointed out that the Urdu readership in north India had declined but a new readership was emerging in south India and also in states like Maharashtra where there are many Urdu medium schools. He condemned the harsh advertisement policy introduced by DAVP in 2016 that has led to closure of many Urdu papers. He said even medium sized newspapers are finding it impossible to meet the DAVP criteria. He pointed out that since Urdu papers are published in 16 states, DAVP should acknowledge the national status of the language and allocate an adequate budget for Urdu media. ‘Don’t treat Urdu as just a regional language it is a national language’ , he said.

Farooq Argali observed frankly that the corrupt practice of bringing out dummy papers to grab government advertising had led to the new policy and the resultant collapse of many genuine publications.

Suhail Anjum raised the issue of the closure of many papers. He also spoke of declining standards of journalism and language used, saying that while publications are now more snazzily packaged they lack content. He said since the old tradition of ustaadi and shagirdi is dying out, there is a need for training of young people to become competent journalists.

Shahid Siddiqui said that in many ways the Urdu media is better off today and adapting to new technology. However the necessary backing from captains of industry and add persons were checks. However, there are not enough jobs and even those trained in Urdu journalism take up journalism in other languages as it is better paid. He said training should not be restricted to content but include technical, job oriented computer skills.

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Siddiqui also point out the need to adapt to the new markets. He said instead of being Urdu purists and catering to a non-existent middle class north Indian market, journalists should accept and use the different kinds of Urdu spoken today, such as the Urdu spoken in Bihar, that spoken in Bengal and other dialects. He said it is time for the Urdu press to reinvent itself, by even using the Roman script to capture the interest of the youth. He advocated strong marketing and advertising policies to enable the Urdu media to grow further.

Mohd.Ahmed Kazmi said that while today private TV channels in Urdu are garnering an audience, Doordarshan still treats Urdu shabbily, does not employ permanent staff for Urdu and continues to limit Urdu programmes to mere transmission of official views. Doordarshan and the entire Urdu TV media needs to live up to its social responsibilities and promote progressive news and views, through better and more varied programming, he observed.

A paper on the problems of the Urdu press in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana along with flashes of history was narrated by Chandrakanth senior journalist and editor from Andhra Pradesh now an editor in Delhi and secretary of the National Alliance of Journalists(NAJ).

Others who spoke included A.U. Asif Chaothi Duniya , Siraj Naqvi and Shakeel Shamsi. The meeting ended with a few remarks by veteran Urdu journalist activist Santosh Kumar who recalled the heydays of Urdu journalism, his book ‘Lahorenama’ and his role in the journalists movement.

The Director of the India Islamic Cultural Center Sirajuddin Qureshi, graced the seminar, briefly interacted with press persons and the gathering.

Among the messages received was the call by former Vice President Hamid Ansari stating “I am afraid that I will not be able to avail of your invitation since I would be out of Delhi on that day.

Urdu is one of our major languages and Urdu speakers are to be found in all parts of the country. It has a very rich literary tradition. It is also well known that Urdu journalism played a very significant role in our Freedom Movement. Despite this, Urdu journalism today faces a number of problems, some in common with the rest of the print media and some uniquely to itself. The latter relate to resources and technology; both can be addressed given the support of the readership and of Urdu-lovers.

I am confident that your seminar will shed useful light on these problems and suggest ways of addressing them. I wish you all success in this noble endeavor.”

A small note by veteran journalist Sheik Manzoor Ahmed and another on young journalists training was also tabled.

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