Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2019

Every single day of his 12-year service in DAWN, Jamil Akhtar sahab made sure that he would fulfil a promise: he would leave no stone unturned to maintain the quality of journalism that over the decades, had become synonymous with DAWN. Ahmad Ali Khan, the iconic Chief Editor, had trusted him with the job of News Editor with this single request.

Every day, his colleagues saw Jamil sahab work hard to uphold DAWN’s traditions – be it the selection of news stories, how the front page looked the next morning, flawless language, unbiased coverage of critical issues and relationships with co-workers. His dedication to duty was exemplary.

Jamil sahab knew the art of turning conversations into something that almost always touched upon some aspect of current affairs, history, journalism or literature. Perhaps the years he spent studying for a Master's in Psychology had honed this skill to breathe life into ordinary conversation. Whenever my turn came to speak, he kept puffing on his Gold Leaf, not interrupting the flow. He ensured a friendly atmosphere, thus encouraging me to freely speak my mind. However, he didn’t hold back if he needed clarity on some point and candidly put forth subsequent queries.

In 2006, Jamil sahab asked if I could come to his home. He was the News Editor and I, a sub-editor – much junior to him. It was an honour. The visit to his comfortable apartment in Clifton, Karachi, on the second day of Eid-ul-Fitr went very well. I enjoyed the delicious food and Mrs Jamil, a graceful lady with a kind heart, never let me feel like a stranger during my visit. Regarding the purpose of the visit, I had a gut feeling that it was a sort of interview, because a few months later, I was given the responsibilities of Edition in-Charge.

This visit changed the first impression I had formed about him in 1998 when I was in Dubai for a few days and upon the suggestion of Tahir Mirza (a former colleague of Jamil sahab who had since returned to Pakistan and later became Editor, DAWN), I went to the offices of the Khaleej Times (KT) where Jamil sahab supervised the main news desk.

Everyone spoken to at KT was full of praise for his integrity and professionalism. Among the reporters there were a few British nationals as well. Yet, according to the KT staff, Jamil sahab was so good that sometimes even the copies of those English-speaking reporters failed to pass his high standards for language and structure. Clearly, long years of devotion, hard work and zero tolerance for compromise on quality had made him a perfectionist.

I was at KT trying my luck at finding a job. But I had no experience of presenting myself before the desk head of an international publication. This, plus the apprehension that a tough criterion was awaiting me, shattered whatever confidence I had. Thus, when I was allowed an audience by Jamil sahab, it only lasted a few uneasy minutes during which I couldn’t even muster the courage to inform him clearly why Tahir Mirza had suggested that if I was looking for a job in KT, I should see him. The meeting ended sooner than expected because it was evening and the deadline for an edition [KT prints several editions] was approaching and Jamil sahab – first and foremost a committed worker – could not have the luxury to spare much of his precious time on a stranger. Therefore, my first impression of Jamil sahab was of a strict principal. Little did I know that one day, I would change my opinion.

Jamil sahab was born in Kolkata [formerly Calcutta] in 1940. After Partition, he migrated to East Pakistan with his elder brother and settled in Khulna, where he obtained his education before moving to Rajshahi University. He must have developed an interest in politics since his university days, if not earlier, as is evident from the fact that soon after joining the University, he became an active member of the students’ society. Another fact indicating his willingness to serve the cause of the community was the fact that he chose to be a journalist instead of joining a profession related to his qualification and was soon elected president of the Dhaka Press Club.


Jamil sahab joined DAWN in 2004. He made improvements to the story revision system. It is a widely held view that he was instrumental in the installation of the printer that produced printouts of the news pages in A3 size. Let it sink in. Before that, proofreading of the final pages was done on A4 size. The font on A4 is far smaller than on A3, leaving a big margin for errors to escape the checker’s eye.


Jamil sahab started his career in one of Pakistan’s best-known English newspapers of yore, Morning News, and after working there for six years, moved to China to join a radio network. For 10 years, he served there as an Urdu news reader. He then came to Karachi and after a stint as a freelancer in 1979, he joined KT where he spent the longest period of his professional life – almost 24 years.

“Abbu used to recall that Khaleej Times was not an easy newspaper to work for as far as impartiality was concerned,” says Muhammad Altamash, his youngest son. There was a large number of both Pakistanis and Indians living in the UAE. Whenever there was a tense situation between India and Pakistan (which happened quite often), Indian journalists believed that since the News Editor was a Pakistani, he was promoting Pakistan’s point of view, while Pakistani journalists complained that even though the News Editor was `theirs’, the Indian stance was receiving equal coverage.

“If both sides are accusing you of favouring the other, then it means that you are maintaining the balance and doing your job with objectivity,” says Altamash, quoting his father.

Jamil sahab joined DAWN in 2004. He made improvements to the story revision system. It is a widely held view that he was instrumental in the installation of the printer that produced printouts of the news pages in A3 size. Let it sink in. Before that, proofreading of the final pages was done on A4 size. The font on A4 is far smaller than on A3, leaving a big margin for errors to escape the checker’s eye.

For me, the time I really got to know how nice a human being and how competent a journalist Jamil sahab was began in late 2006, when as an Edition in-Charge, I had the opportunity to work in close coordination with him.

For about nine years, Jamil sahab was my boss, although he never behaved like one. He always spoke in soft tones, even when an error had been committed by one of his juniors. During the daily meetings he conducted with the section heads, he was in command, always aware of the key developments of the day, be they about politics, business, sports or international affairs.

Like a coach, he used to point out why a particular story which I believed could be used as the anchor on the front page deserved no better treatment than a single column on the back page. He made the layout of the front page while I sat in front of him, thus teaching me how the job should be done.

“Making a right decision is the first thing expected of you, but that is not enough. Adopting the right way to achieve the right goal is equally important,” says Altamash, quoting his father again.

Jamil sahab, an extraordinary professional and a thorough gentleman, passed away on March 24, 2019. Rest in peace, Sir.

Rafique Jalal is Edition-in-Charge Newsroom, Dawn Newspaper.