Writing for First News over the last few years has been quite a fascinating experience for me. Of course, it has to do with the editor and me. We are both named, through sheer coincidence, Badrul Ahsan. The difference, though, is there. It is slight, it is something that anyone hardly notices. But, again, it is a difference of momentous proportions even if not many care to notice it or simply miss out on in their peregrinations through the world of the media and specifically the First News part of it.
The editor of First News has Mohammad appended to his side of the Badrul Ahsan story. And this scribe begins his part of the tale with the term Syed. And there you have it, this little world of our journalism with room for this Mohammad and that Syed, both ending up being Badrul Ahsan. Where First News is concerned, both these Ahsans, or Badruls if you may, share space, one as its leading light, the other as a weekly contributor to it. All too often, readers or those who flip through the pages of the magazine tend to think it is one and the same person. The Badrul with the Mohammad attached to his name is often pelted with messages meant for the Syed. As for the Syed, he is often mistaken for the Mohammad, to a point where he is often the recipient of praise for the way First News is being run.
And that is the whole point. First News, in all the years it has been in circulation, has been a source of pleasure for those who not only like to keep abreast of what goes on around the world but also would like to see the issues presented in simple and yet intellectual manner. First News, from that point of view, has been different from other journals in that it has every week given readers not a bird’s eye view but a close-up of the world. One could always argue that it can do better or could have done better. That is what we always say about any newspaper or news magazine. Room for improvement is a concept common to any media outlet anywhere. It is therefore much a similar thought around First News.
That said, one cannot but notice the rather large canvas that First News has consistently worked on. The canvas is, yes, one that gives a wide berth to discussions of Bangladesh’s sociopolitical culture. In a country where politics has traditionally been a staple of conversation, alongside poetry, it is but natural that First News would have its pulse on the national mood, swinging and changing though it were. First News has not been neutral. It does not, from all indications, believe that the media need to exercise neutrality in their observations. Which is why its perceptions of national politics has been bold and, more importantly, objective. Sometimes it has irritated, at other times it has gladdened. But it has never been pusillanimous in its view of political realities in Bangladesh. You could say a similar thing about the journal’s views on social issues, especially those where the state has appeared to falter through its inaction in light of all the incidents that make dents on the structure of the state.
At First News, criticism has been a weapon used against the inequities which have increasingly come to polarize society. The weekly has spared none where questioning them on matters of public interest has been the dominant theme. That is not what you can say about others. First News has parted company with others every time the matter of moral integrity has come to the fore. That attitude certainly did not endear it to the neo-capitalist classes dominating society today. It surely did not cause good cheer among those inhabiting the club of politicians. No, First News has not been a maverick. Neither has it propagated ideas of a radical transformation of society. Hardly any sign of the sensational has undermined its base. But it has been a claimant to something else. And that is pragmatism riding on the wings of objectivity.
And then there is the matter of the subjects it has covered on its weekly journey. Issues of an international dimension, health, the environment and climate change, workers’ rights, women’s empowerment have given First News the depth that a journal of this genre ought to have. Add to that the snippets out of life as it is lived, that dash of humor, the anecdotal derived from history which have kept it going. What more could one ask for? Much more, to be sure. But the point is that First News has done, through the years, what it originally set out to do. It did not succumb to pretence. It has stayed away from blandishments of all kinds. In other words, it has had a sober --- and sobering --- presence in our media world.
That makes you feel good.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age