Obituary: Saif-ur-Rehman, The Intrepid News-breaker
By Malik Siraj Akbar
SAIF BALOCH was pretty sure that he would one day make it as a big journalist. He was fully cognizant of his abilities at times when the rest of us, his fellow journalist colleagues in Quetta, thought he was too dumb to commit some much time and energy to journalism. We mocked him for his profound obsession with breaking stories.
“When I get married,” said a witty journalist one day, “I won’t print invitation cards. I will inform Saif and he will inform the whole country within minutes. So why should I print cards?”.
Saif was among the few courageous journalists who would take only a few minutes from his Wadat Colony (Brewery Road) residence to reach anywhere in Quetta to report live on a major story. He was quick, fearless and confident enough to immediately collect information and share it with his news channel.
When Saif moved from Karachi to Quetta in order to start a career in the conflict-stricken Balochistan as a journalist, he worked for an obscure Karachi-based Urdu daily called Al-Sharq. He very soon became popular with the journalists in Quetta because of his friendly disposition and appreciable hard work. There was one major problem for him in the initial days of work. He was a very good reporter but worked for a relatively unknown organization which meant it was hard to get interviews from top politicians for his newspaper.
So, he felt that he was not in competition with any senior journalist in the city. Instead, he used this settling time to cultivate relationships and lasting contacts with local journalists and editors. Since he worked for a small newspaper, he did what many other journalists never do in our competitive news industry: He’d regularly call up both senior and junior reporters, “Bahi Jan, apko koi khabir chaiey [brother, do you need a news story?]. I am not kidding; he would really provide story ideas and, sometimes, real stories, to junior reporters so that they could established their mark as good reporters in the field. Understandably, he also shared stories with senior journalists in an effort to establish good relationships with them and convince them of his ability to dig out major stories.
Saif, while providing news stories to fellow journalists, was not stupid. He knew what he was doing. I met him for the first time at Quetta Press Club in 2007-08 when I was working for the Daily Times as the Quetta Bureau chief. He said journalism was all about cultivating contacts and that is what he had thought of doing for some time. He said he was certain that one day his hard work would pay off and a major news organization would offer him a job based on his professional skills.
In his passion for journalism and telling stories, he agreed to work for a private news channel, News One, as an unpaid correspondent based in Quetta. For News One, he worked harder than many other journalists who were paid more handsome salaries. He was overworked and under-paid. In response, a clam saif would ask, “don’t you think my work will ultimately be noticed and appreciated and I will get a job with a mainstream news channel?”.
Although his brother-in-law, Munir Ahmed Jan, worked as the Press Secretary of the Chief Minister of Balochistan as well as the Director of Public Relations, Saif never used family connections to acquire a better job. He was confident about his abilities and wanted to achieve his professional goals without anyone’s recommendations.
When he finally got a job with Samma TV, worked very tirelessly and got himself recognized as a highly credible and well-informed journalist. His hard work was valued in his news organization so much that Samaa TV promoted him as a senior reporter and also asked him to continue to work on his position even after the channel drastically cut staff in its Quetta bureau.
Among his colleagues, Saif was not a mere journalist. He had a remarkable sense of humor. With him, he carried a stock of hilarious jokes, most of them real life bloopers related to journalists and the field of journalism. At times when journalists remained jaded while waiting for hours for a press conference, or a V.I.P. visit, Saif would entertain fellow reporters, photographers and cameramen with amusing jokes.
Journalism was our profession but not our whole life. Media owners and publishers do not realize how closely we journalists live our lives even at times when we are not reporting in the field. One staffer at The Baloch Hal rightly pointed out how various news channels in Pakistan were covering Saif’s killing as that of a reporter from ‘one private news channel’. These media owners have their own politics of business but they do not realize that we always work as a family.
As members of the Quetta Press Club, we ate food together and travelled together. In fact, we accumulated a world of fond memories. We held each other’s hands while covering tragedies like earthquakes and floods and, during the peak of our naughtiness, stole pieces of meat from each other’s plate at Iftar parties in the month of Ramazan. Very few professions, journalism being one of them, provide such amazing opportunities that leave behind lifelong memories.
Saif, as seen in the title picture of this article, was always on the forefront of struggle for the rights of journalists. He actively participated in every protest rally journalists in Quetta organized to protest against attacks on correspondents anywhere in Pakistan.
Saif’s tragic death in Thursday’s deadly blasts in Quetta has not only taken away a fine colleague from us but it has snatched one of the most unselfish, helpful and hardworking persons I ‘d ever known.
This obituary was originally published in The Baloch Hal on January 10, 2013