As someone who has worked closely with Mahfuzur Rahman for the best part of a decade now, it filled me with great excitement to learn that he was finally getting around to writing a book on journalism. It was particularly needed at a time when the profession itself is going through challenging times, seemingly handing the onus to non-professionals to pronounce on the right direction for it to take in the face of some of the new frontiers opening up before it, that really presented as many opportunities as they did potential pitfalls. Coming at such a juncture, it needed someone personifying the dedication to professional excellence that Mahfuz bhai does to unambiguously restate its essential place in our society. By-and-large, in Raat Biraate Shangbadikota (Journalism Round the Clock), that is what he does.
Before getting to the main issues addressed in the book, given the introduction, a few words fall due on what makes the author the correct authority to address some of the burning questions on and around journalism in this day and age. In both his work for UNB, where he rose through the ranks to take charge and has led this vital news agency - that for three decades has served as the backbone of the English news industry - since 2013 (with stints in between at bdnews24 and the Daily Sun), as well as with the Dhaka Courier, part of the same house where he has been a columnist and frequent contributor on a variety of matters, Mahfuzur Rahman has stood out as a journalist’s journalist: the consummate professional. Journalists, thanks to the objective of their work, which is to inform the public, often have a tendency to get carried away about the influence they wield in societies.
We often hear of the editors who believe their words and actions can bring down governments. Such airs get short shrift from Mahfuz bhai. He is someone who is acutely aware of the tasks and responsibilities accruing to him, and the extent or indeed the limits of their influence. Even as editor, he still insists on signing off on the final copy of a substantial number of the news items that UNB journalists from a network that spans all 64 districts of the country churn out every day. This may be news to many readers, but that is actually very rare in today’s news environment.
Coming to the book itself, I was struck first of all by the name for how it resonates with the author’s own approach to his work. Mahfuzur Rahman is the archetype of the journalist who keeps no hours. He is famously available at all hours, and on a typical day has usually spent the morning working from home before making his way to the office around noon, where he then stays till late into the night. By his own admission, he is a workaholic. Journalism Round the Clock is almost a mantra for him.
These characteristics of the man make it all the more poignant therefore, when he poses the question, “Are we moving away from the principles of journalism?” It is almost in an exasperated tone, after surveying the present landscape of journalism in the country, with the proliferation of all the “onlines”, some regrettable incidents within the journalists’ community, and the new challenges posed by technology that are yet to be embraced, that he poses it on page 19. After weighing the relevant aspects, he concludes that the jury is still out.
The book is at its best when it examines the journalist’s role in society, and in doing so, distils it from a number of aspects. There is Mahfuzur Rahman’s own personal view, that shines through in a recurring disappointment with the diminishing effect on the figure of the journalist in the public imagination brought about by a proliferation in reality of ‘journalists’ - a term he clearly believes gets bandied about too often these days and too freely. It is also there in his suggestion to break up the Mass Communication and Journalism course typically offered in our universities these days into its constituent parts to achieve more effective results. A number of the early chapters in the book, including the Author’s Note at the start where he talks about his own beginnings, upto the chapter titled ‘Surreal Journalism’ carry this tone.
Thereafter, in what we may describe as the middle part of the book, it is more instructional. In a series of vignettes (the book clocks in at a breezy 128 pages, written in a very engaging, conversational style) he draws on his vast experience and sets out his thoughts on various tools of the trade, from news comprehension to investigative journalism to the value of a fetching headline. In this phase of the book, it is the ideal of the journalist, objective and dispassionate, unswayed by emotion, that he sets forth. No room for any new age fancy ‘transparent bias’ in his world. If Rahman is concerned with whether we are moving away from the principles of journalism, each of these chapters is a return to the principles of journalism, our most solid foundations. And they are expressed with a clarity and forthrightness that would make Journalism Round the Clock a handy guidebook for journalists, particularly those working the desks, to keep around for quick reference.
The final part of the book, that can be said to start from the chapter titled “The journalist’s conscience” and extends through to the final chapter, “The storm facing newspapers”, adopts a more hard-nosed, realistic view of the journalist. In ‘I am a journalist’, he punctures certain views journalists cultivate about themselves, and then proceeds to expose the shallow reasoning behind some of society’s expectations vis-a-vis journalists. The book ends with a resounding restatement of the principles of journalism, on which he predicates the future. Only “quality, trustworthy journalism”, bereft of “information distortion”, can assure the future. Anyone willing to walk that path, will find a resolute ally, voiced in “Journalism Round the Clock”.