A S Mahmud: A visionary's dream
The journey of The Daily Star started with two competent and committed men. One was an internationally known and well respected journalist and the other was an entrepreneur cum visionary who not only dared to dream, but rather dreamed too big, going by the standards of print and electronic media prevailing at that time. I had earlier shared my insights into the journalist Mr. S M Ali, the founder editor of The Daily Star. Being the editor, obviously, Mr. SM Ali was known better to all than the equally strong driving force behind the most successful English daily of today. The gentleman I am talking about is Mr. A S Mahmud, the founding Managing Editor of Mediaworld, the owning company of The Daily Star.
In addition, Mr. Mahmud was the pioneer of initiating the move to open the world of private TV channels in Bangladesh. When today's youngsters sitting on the sofa couch keep on conveniently switching between the so many options of private channels, very little they know of the time when BTV was the only option available to the people of this country. Through the launch of Ekushey TV, Mr. Mahmud opened an entirely new horizon in the arena of news and entertainment. Today, access to the private channels is expanding rapidly into the rural areas after the urban areas have been mostly covered. Sometimes when we are spending the evenings outside the cities where the only option is BTV, we realise how life would have been had the era of private channels not arrived. It is on those reflective moments, we come to appreciate better the contribution of people like Mr. A S Mahmud who challenged the status quo.
On a personal level, both Mr. S M Ali (we used to call him "Khasru Mama") and Mr. A S Mahmud (we used to call him "Noni Mama") are my maternal uncles coming from the bigger clan of families that have had the privilege of having literary giants like Syed Mujtaba Ali who himself was the uncle of these two gentlemen. If Mr. S M Ali had the intellect and journalistic aptitude, Mr. Mahmud had the entrepreneurial ambitions and visionary instincts to foresee a time for Bangladesh when people's insatiable hunger for reliable news and objective reporting would have to be met from the dynamic private sector. Although driven in his professional pursuits, Mr. Mahmud was an unassuming man with a gentle demeanor. He was as respectful and affectionate to everyone, regardless of his relationship to them.
Mr. Mahmud was a man with a modern outlook towards life and living which enabled him to look beyond the conventional wisdom and traditional values to be able to connect to the younger generation. His ability to mix with people of any age and background at ease, explains the reason why he was so successful in assembling a group of bright young professionals for jump starting ETV.
Many of today's media stars in the private TV channels have had their initial training and orientation through the well developed professional culture that Mr. Mahmud was able to nurture in the ETV. Had it not been for the initial success of ETV, there would not have been so many entrepreneurs and professionals investing in and joining the private television channel industry which was still at its infancy stage at that time.
The first movers always take the bigger portion of the risk and face the accompanying uncertainty. The thriving private TV channels of today have been rewarded most by the risk Mr. Mahmud undertook at that time when there were very few to do that. Unfortunately, the uncertainty entailing the risk and the corresponding price was paid mostly by none other than Mr. Mahmud as he spent his last few years in a foreign land far distant from the land which he wished to serve and which he felt betrayed him most. I guess for those dreaming big and dreaming much, the potent hard reality in a volatile country like us gets obscured in their missionary zeal to succeed. Well, then again, if there were no such risk takers, then we never would have made any progress as well.
Today, Mr. Mahmud's success is in the pleasure made available at our finger tips as we surf from one private TV channel to another and can make choices as rival channels compete to get our time and attention. Hence, even in the lonely days Mr. Mahmud spent away from home and in "obhiman" with his motherland, the gentle breeze of freedom of choices and the era of enlightenment that he championed have continued to serve us well far beyond his times and much beyond his expectations. A big thanks to the pioneer and may his soul rest in eternal peace.
This article was previously printed in 2011.
The writer is the founder of the Institute for Policy, Advocacy and Governance (IPAG) and Professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka.