KARACHI: One of the country’s oldest newspapers, Dawn, saw a change of editors on Oct 4, with its printline (on the back page) formally changing to reflect the transfer to Zaffar Abbas. This is the fifth editor the newspaper has seen in the past decade, and hence this can be seen as a time of transformation for it given that prior to that period the paper had the same editor for almost 30 years.
Mr Abbas takes over from Abbas Nasir, who himself was appointed as editor in May 2006. Mr Nasir, a former head of the BBC Urdu Service, had taken over from Tahir Mirza, the last of what many thought were the old-style traditional editors of the paper.
Mr Nasir was approached for his comments for this report but declined to respond. He brought in change to the newspaper, particularly as far as salaries were concerned. However, he was also asked to take charge of Dawn News, at that time a fully English news channel, which was struggling. Mr Nasir was seen by many staffers as accessible but at least two rounds of dismissals at the television channel somewhat tainted his staff-friendly reputation.
Under Mr Nasir’s stewardship, changes were brought to the newspaper’s website, www.dawn.com, for which a separate staff and editor were hired. However, there were allegations of favouritism given that the editor, Musaddiq Sanwal, did not have editorial experience prior to this in Pakistan’s English print media, and also happened to be a good friend of Mr Nasir’s.
A staffer who has been working at the paper since 1987 said – he didn’t want to be quoted by name, for obvious reasons – this of Mr Nasir’s tenure: “The man perhaps had too much to do – he started off well by significantly raising staff salaries, but then got bogged down in the Dawn News fiasco, and then over time it seems that the inertia of the organisation overtook the editor and prevented him from doing all the things that we all thought he would do.”
Another staff member, who joined the organisation after Mr Nasir, said: “To his (Abbas’s) credit, he was accessible and encouraging, especially of the lower staff, and he did manage to get some of the deadwood out of the organisation by not renewing contracts of staffers who had reached retirement age.
Zaffar Abbas, the new editor, has previously worked at the monthly news magazine Herald and the BBC. In August 2006, he joined Dawn as resident editor of its Islamabad edition. He was also approached for comments for this report but did not respond. Mr Abbas made his mark as a reporter, first for Herald and later as a BBC correspondent in Karachi and then Islamabad.
Aamer Ahmed Khan, former editor of Herald, and currently the head of the BBC Urdu Service in London, has worked many years with Zaffar Abbas. Of his association with him he said: “Zaffar Abbas has been a key player in Dawn’s editorial strength for as long as I have known him. It is exciting to see a journalist of his experience take charge of one of Pakistan’s best known newspapers in today’s highly competitive environment.”
Another former colleague of Mr Abbas – he was editor of Herald and both him and Mr Abbas worked there at least for around 10 years – is the current editor of The News, Karachi, Talat Aslam. Mr Aslam said: “I have always found Zaffar a solid, reliable and dependable individual and it was very good to have him at the magazine. His feet are firmly on the ground and he would always give us very useful and realistic feedback and assessment. During my time at Herald, I saw Zaffar evolve and grow – though as a person, of course, he never changed. I think he will make a very good editor at Dawn – and it will be good to have a good friend as editor of a rival newspaper.”
Muhammad Ziauddin, Executive Editor of The Express Tribune, said: “I have been watching Zaffar’s career since the early 1980s – since he began at the Star. During his days with Herald in Islamabad we met frequently. He is a top professional and a man of integrity.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2010.