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     Volume 4 Issue 60 |August 26, 2005 |

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The Journey of
Matiur Rahman

Born in 1946, Matiur Rahman found himself in the midst of an environment where ideas of socialism were entwined with the thoughts of greater good of the society. "I was brought up in a radical atmosphere, and since my early days at school, I was inspired by Marxist ideology that professes the unshackling of the masses from exploitation through revolution," says the 59 year old Matiur Rahman while sitting at his office at Prothom Alo. From this desk, since 1998, he has been steering the office of the most successful Bangla daily. Rahman is a winner of this year's Ramon Magsaysay award for Journalism.

Back in the 1960s, in the tumultuous environment of political activism, Rahman was a member of the then banned Communist Party. "The 60s were the days when not only the students but also a cross section of people joined hands against the military rule," Rahman Recalls. By the time he left his student days behind him, the nation was on the threshold of independence. "It was in the year 1970 that the permission for a newspaper that was envisaged as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party was obtained. The fact that Ekota, the weekly, would be a paper of the Communist Party was kept under wrap, as in the year 1970 the ban still stayed on the party activities," remembers Rahman who first entered the domain of journalism as the acting editor of the party mouthpiece.

Rahman had twin responsibilities on his shoulders; he was an editor of the party newspaper as well as a party leader, and was equally active on both the fronts. Rahman's involvement with publications goes back to the days of his student politics. "I took pleasure in taking care of the printing of booklets and other literatures concerning party ideology and policies," Rahman discloses. But even before he set out to become a member of the student front of the Communist Party he was in touch with the world of journalism.

"Our house was next to the famed newspaper Shangbad, and since 1958, when I was only a boy of class eight, I used to frequent the newspaper office. I had the opportunity to be in touch with giants in the field of journalism," Rahman attests. The renowned journalist like Ronesh Das Gupta, whom he later befriended, had left an impression in him. And when the time came to take over the charge as an acting editor of Ekota he could not say 'no'. "It wasn't I who decided a future course in journalism. It was the decision of the party, and I had to oblige," remembers Rahman. And by obliging he had forever attached himself to the world of journalism.

In 1973 he became the editor of Ekota, and for the next 19 years he remained in the same post while the paper went through it highs and lows. "It was banned twice, once in 1975, when after formation of BAKSAL all the independent newspapers were banned, and in 1986 when the autocratic regime of Ershad clamped down on it by putting a ban on its publication," recalls Rahman. Ekota had a decisive role to play during the Ershad period. It was one of the papers that helped shape the politics of the late 1980s that culminated into anti-autocratic movements.

The rift that became visible after glastnost made its appearance in the world socialist scene in the mid-1980s, also affected the communist movements in Bangladesh. The Communist Party of Bangladesh too had seen a number of leaders taking their cue from the writings of Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who launched glasnost that translated into a new way of looking at the communist past. And Rahman became a prolific writer who favoured the revisionist stance and wrote to question the old ways. "I was one of the major leaders who espoused the ideas of glasnost and perestroika," he says. "We started re-thinking the ideology and the effectiveness of communist system," he adds. The re-evaluation of the socialist successes and failures made many a party leader re-think their roles in the society. Rahman was one of the leaders who revised their roles at this point in time. By 1991Matiur Rahman had finally decided to take up journalism as his profession. While socialist parties were overwhelmed by reformist parties across Eastern Europe, at home Rahman decided that the best role for him to be played would in the domain of journalism.

"The fall of Soviet Union made me re-think my goals, it made me leave my favourite paper Ekota and launch a career in the mainstream news daily Bhorer Kakoj," Rahman recalls his divergence from the political arena.

"I realised that through journalism one could play a vital role in influencing public opinion, and in taking a stance against injustice, exploitation, and other social ills, says Rahman. In short the communist in him still inspired to take actions that had social consequences rather than political ones. And it is this ever-expanding role that earned him the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

Rahman recalls how he got entangled with activism that is usually thought of as beyond the domain of journalism. He says, "Newspaper has a role to play as far as social issues of the country is concerned, the rise in the number of acid throwing incidents in the onset of this millenium have stirred us to action."

Now at Prothom Alo there is a fund for the victims of acid violence, as well as a cell for the flood affected. It has paid for the treatment of journalist Tipu Sultan, a victim of political persecution. Today when Matiur Rahman has been awarded for his role as a journalist, he has donated the prize money to various funds at Prothom Alo. "One third of the award money would go to the fund for the victims of acid violence, another one third would go to the fund for anti-drug and HIV/Aids awareness campaign, and the rest would be used in rehabilitating injured journalists as well as the families of the journalists who died while carrying out their duties," says Rahman. He firmly believes that a newspaper's role extends beyond printing of news. "We can play a greater role in transforming the society, we reach millions of people on a daily basis, newspaper is a very serious weapon," he says.

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