The Heritage Timeline - Aga Khan speech - 771118b.html


National Press Club Reception
Dacca, Bangladesh
November 18, 1977

President and members of the Jatiya Press Club, honourable members of His Excellency, the President's Advisory Council, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you Mr. President for your kind and most eloquent words of introduction. My wife and I have been very touched by the warmth of the welcome given to us by the people of Bangladesh during this brief visit. His Excellency, the President of the Republic, his hard working government and civil service, the officers of your armed forces and police, notables of commerce and industry as well as the Press itself have combined to make this a most memorable and happy visit for both of us. We thank you one and all.

You have described some of the natural as well as the human hazards which have afflicted this club over the years. I have read that these hazards included nothing less than a thunderbolt which descended from the skies on to your premises shortly before my arrival in this country. The two events, of course, were quite unconnected. At least, however, they are confirmation of the stability and sheer staying power of your famous institution and I trust you were well insured. I am aware in any case that you have quite an ambitious programme to rebuild this Press Club, and I am happy to announce a personal contribution of 1,000,000 Taka towards its construction.

Bangladesh deserves to be studied in greater depth by those who are genuinely concerned with the future of developing nations. It has found its place on the map of the globe. It has embarked on the challenging course of charting a new nation state and is doing this against odds which would daunt much older and wealthier countries than your own. Indeed I can recollect a number of independent nations which obtained their freedom years ago through an orderly constitutional process and yet which are today very far from the steadily expanding economy which you begin to see in Bangladesh.

Mr. President, you have vividly depicted the historic perspective of your country's birth, the creation of a young, dynamic nation holding a key position in South East Asia and in the Muslim world. You have described some of the difficulties which face Bangladesh today and you have indicated the resolve with which your Government and people are determined to overcome them.

I can assure you of the Ismaili community's support as loyal citizens of this country. They will assist in its material and social development to the fullest extent of their means and even if those means are necessarily limited by numbers and resources, the contribution will be positive and sincere.

For myself, as the leader of an International Muslim Community which has had so many past associations with this land, I can assure you of my continued concern with your country's future and with its well being.

Because I head a community of many millions in more than 20 countries across the globe and have done so for nearly 20 years, I thought I might share with you some thoughts that this visit to Bangladesh has brought forth. One of the most important lessons I have drawn from my experience of all manner of different countries in different stages of economic development and following different policies is the need, everywhere, for consistent management, in a stable framework.

All human endeavour, whether it be Government or private, economic, professional, social or artistic has three quite simple imperatives if it is to achieve results:-

First, it needs to define its goals or objectives;

Second, it must identify the means by which those goals can be attained and the time within which they should be accomplished;

Third, and most important of all, it is necessary to monitor objectively and consistently the actual performance and measure it against the original targets.

It is in this last respect that I suggest the media can perform a particularly constructive role in the building of young nations and at the same time assert the media's traditional independence.

From a journalistic point of view, it is often assumed that the best news is bad news because bad news sells well. This is the yardstick of many of the media in western countries. I do not believe it should nor need be the yardstick in the developing world.

When I began publishing a newspaper in Kenya in 1960, I suggested that management should conduct a readership survey in which we asked the readers what they like best in the paper. The high proportion of expatriates we still had in those days training the African staff were surprised to discover that foreign news, especially news of other countries in Africa, came near the top of the list. Indeed, the results of the questionnaire showed conclusively that the average reader in Kenya wanted a more serious newspaper than his counterpart in Europe or America. He wanted, in other words, to be informed and educated and not just to be entertained.

Whether this is also true in Bangladesh, as it might well be I think, you will agree that journalists in developing countries have some rather special responsibilities. Their task is not simply to report the mistakes, the failures and the inconsistencies. They also have a duty to explain the policies of their Government in simple language, in the reasoning behind the priorities of official planning and decision making and to report objectively on progress or otherwise towards declared objectives.

There is an additional responsibility for journalists in young and developing nations where the basic infrastructure of major institutions such as the civil service, the judiciary, the universities, the financial institutions, state and private enterprises are in the formative stages. To assist the Government constructively in its complex task of managing and directing the activities of the nations I have just mentioned, the media themselves must be well informed so, when constructive criticism has to be made, it is from highly trained and specialized journalists who, when results are not being achieved, can reduce the causes, explain them and sometimes, even recommend solutions.

I would like therefore to emphasize the importance I attach to proper personal training in this sensitive and influential field, and express the hope that this will be a priority in the activities of you club.

A free Press is not simply a Press free to criticize as an end in itself. In many developed countries, freedom of the Press has often come to mean licence to behave irresponsibly. It is a contradiction, but nevertheless, a practical requirement, that in developing countries, with the youngest media and Press traditions, newspapers and their journalists must, in the national and universal interest, behave substantially more responsibly than their counterpart in the west.

Criticism will seldom be resented if it is reasoned, based on provable facts and in the context of the stability and maturity of the readership and the institutions which form the very fabric of a new nation. Criticism which sets out deliberately to destroy this fabric can never be in the national interest. There is inevitably, of course, a gray area between criticism which is clearly unacceptable or irresponsible and comment which is critical but remains objective, well informed, responsible and constructive.

The President and Government have established the goal of a mixed economy for the country.. Here is a fundamental decision reversing partially an early, and unsuccessful experiment. Their new course is unknown to this young country, yet it is a course which has been followed in a number of other newly independent states with considerable success. It is one which requires consistency of purpose and patience. The consistency is necessary for there will be numerous occasions when events could lead the policy astray, including those requiring that the "unacceptable face of capitalism" be kept in check. Patience is required because results must of necessity be slow. Most new industries in today's complex world where technology develops new equipment before the old is anywhere near obsolete and administrative procedures can be as complex as the machinery itself, require a year to two years to plan, then two years to build, then probably an average of three to five years to break even. This cycle represents some seven years, yet results do come and they begin to multiply and then they begin to multiply again and again.

It seems to me that here is an area of national life, the development of a sound mixed economy, where the media can play a determining role, by explaining what are the goals, the problems, the successes and, when necessary, by criticising constructively the failures of this approach.

For indeed the success of such a course really depends on it being understood and adopted by every Bangladeshi wherever he may be. Given stability of leadership and a dynamic sense of purpose among the people as a whole, I am confident that your country will receive the support it deserves, as well as the justified fruits of your work and friendships.

Allah has given each of my Bangladeshi brothers a soul, he has also blessed him with a mind. A consistent collective effort of 80,000,000 minds to achieve a common goal gave you your freedom. It can now give you the means to make this freedom, secure, strong and creative. If this is your determination, then I will be one of your friends who will accompany you on this exciting journey.

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