It's COVID time. The world is almost upside down with everything in tatters. All heads, be they holding the rein of families or organisations, are finding it difficult to keep their boats steady. They are a bunch of worried individuals who are eagerly awaiting the end of the pandemic.
I do often wonder had Moazzem Bhai been alive, how he would have handled the on-going pressure as editor and managing director of The Financial Express (FE), country's first English financial daily he led from the beginning. Three issues---quality, circulation and revenue of the paper---kept his mind preoccupied, always. The pandemic has put all these on the line. Newspapers are going through a tough time---a few have ceased publication and many others are limping, financially.
During my career in journalism for long 47 years, I have found few editors so serious about his/her job. His seriousness, however, paid him dividend---he had proved wrong the predictions that an English financial daily would be an unviable enterprise in Bangladesh's newspaper industry. The FE has been a success story and is among a handful of newspapers that are considered financially stable. It has never defaulted on paying the legal dues of journalists and employees on time. That legacy is still intact under the leadership of our incumbent editor.
Thus, the FE is a living testimony that late Moazzem Bhai was a good corporate manager, a quality found rarely among journalists.
He, however, had never compromised the professional ethics and integrity while addressing the management issues of the FE. He was committed to upholding the independence of the editorial institution and journalistic objectivity. Moazzem Bhai always used to tell his colleagues to be objective and fair in news presentation and editorial writing in particular.
I met him for the first time in 1974 when I was working in the now-defunct Morning News, a government-owned trust newspaper, as a junior reporter. Moazzem Bhai was also in the reporting section of the now-defunct Bangladesh Observer, then a state-owned publication. Both of us were a part of a media team taken to a tour of some districts by a non-governmental organisation.
The first time I met Moazzem Bhai, I started liking him because of his modesty, amiability and friendliness. My liking and respect for him deepened further as I started working with him as a close associate since July 2000 in the FE. He used to engage himself in extensive consultations with key personnel before taking a decision on any management or professional issue.
Moazzem Bhai was a truly professional editor, who, consciously, wanted to maintain a low-profile.
That was why he had, politely, declined an offer to be on the council of advisers of the last caretaker government. Before going for a meeting with the man-in-charge of the state affairs at that time, he said," Zahid Saheb, I am a professional man, this kind of job does not suit me. I am content with what I have".
I don't know how many of us could have resisted the lure of becoming an adviser.
I am, personally, indebted to Moazzem Bhai, that he had helped me and others in every step in organising the Economic Reporters Forum (ERF) in the early part of the 1990s. We, nearly 10 to 12 reporters, involved in economic reporting held a meeting in 1993 with a plan to float a platform of ours. Most of the attendees wanted involvement of Moazzem Bhai, but they knew he would not agree. He was very sceptical about a few media platforms because of their rent-seeking nature. The reporters present at the meeting requested me to persuade Moazzem Bhai to join our endeavour. I was working as Chief Reporter of the now-defunct Bangladesh Times at that time.
He, however, agreed to be a part of our effort when I had approached him. Later, he was elected unopposed the first president of the ERF and made great contributions to its growth over the years.
The people who had been on the board of directors of some state-owned and private banks and financial institutions with Moazzem Bhai would bear out how strict he wanted to be on loan issues. Most finance ministers, irrespective of their political affiliation, held him in high esteem. The incumbent finance minister is no exception.
Undeniably, Moazzem Bhai led an invisible movement to make financial journalism popular in this country. He, however, often expressed his deep frustration over, what he would describe as, fiscal illiteracy among a section of journalists writing on financial issues.
He, thus, wanted the ERF to play a proactive role in helping the financial journalists overcome such deficiencies and understand the monetary, fiscal and investment issues better.
Moazzem Bhai, the doyen of financial journalism in Bangladesh, would always be remembered in the newspaper industry for his professional integrity and humility. He will be an infinite source of inspiration for journalists at the FE and beyond. It would be a worthwhile exercise on our part to make a pause and see, from time to time, whether the FE is on the path as envisioned by this iconic journalist.
Shamsul Huq Zahid is Joint Editor, The Financial Express.