A legacy of independent media: Speakers say of Latifur Rahman
It took three whole decades of sacrifice, unimpeachable integrity and rigid determination -- but the legacy of Latifur Rahman is one of independent media. This is how speakers remembered the late business mogul at a virtual memorial session organised by The Daily Star and Prothom Alo today.
"If you want to create an independent media, in which you are a major investor, then you have to make yourself vulnerable to pressure. Most businesses leave room for leverage. When governments want to put pressure on newspapers, they do not need to pressurise the editors, they can simply go to the businesses and remind them of some unattended issues -- of their tax files, for example. The independence of a newspaper depends on the independence of the business financing it," said Dr Rehman Sobhan, Chairperson of Centre for Policy Dialogue.
"That such a possibility is possible in Bangladesh, is one of the achievements of our generation.
"Shamim [Latifur] used to say that this is one of the core parts of my business practices -- that because I own newspapers, I need to keep myself clean. He was giving you [the editors] a degree of protection, by taking on his back what should have gone on your [the editors'] shoulders," added Dr Sobhan.
Rokia Afzal Rahman, chairperson of Mediaworld Ltd, the owning company of The Daily Star, said, "One of the qualities that I admired in him [Latifur], was his decisiveness. He was never a fence-sitter -- he either agreed or disagreed and always with reasons and facts.
"And having chosen his side, he would vigorously defend that position."
Service to the clients and customer satisfaction was his obsession. Everything his companies produced would have to be of the highest standard. Every employee must have the highest level of training -- that was his fundamental commitment, she said.
"For him, paying taxes was a badge of honour -- the higher, the more honourable. I remember him as a symbol of ethical business and as a patriot who believed in the future of his country," Rokia added.
M Anis Ud Dowla, chairman of Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI), said that Latifur Rahman was many things to many people. "To his friends he was a charming and caring person, to the young he was a role model. To the beginners in business, his stories of struggle in initial years give them hope and for the established business houses, his policies and principles are examples to follow. To those who are in leadership positions, his style is worth copying and to those who are already successful in some measures, he inspires them to create a vision that will last beyond them," he said.
Asaduzzaman Noor, lawmaker and trustee of the Liberation War Museum, said that Latifur once said to him and others that having an independent Bangladesh through the liberation war is a great asset.
"In all my exchanges with him, he never uttered a word about politics, except this one time. He added people who had opposed Bangladesh in the liberation war, raped women, killed freedom fighters and general people and later killed Bangabandhu should be punished for their acts," Noor quoted Latifur as saying.
Brac Chairperson Hossain Zillur Rahman termed Latifur a gentleman who had adverse attitudes toward publicity and said that the country had lost an ethical businessman. "He had proved that a person can become successful by doing business ethically. Youths can take lessons from his life and imitate his life," he said.
Md Mahbub-ur Rahman, CEO of HSBC, narrated an incident to illustrate Latifur Rahman's sense of ethics. "In 2005, we were the bankers for Eskayef Pharmaceuticals. We had told him many times to also let us handle their beverage business. He said he cannot because when it was in a bad position, when he was struggling to make it flourish, some local banks came to his aid. He said he cannot take that business away from them, but told me that if they ever expand, I will get the business. Five years later, when Transcom expanded to Aquafina, he lived up to his word."
Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, editor-in-chief of Ekushey TV, remembered Latifur Rahman as a pillar of independent media. "Latifur Rahman is a rare person who had never impeded the independence of his media for his own gain. In all discussions, we are calling him an idol for the younger generation, but may I humbly suggest to other businessmen to also learn from him? Can all our businessmen say that they will not go about with two passports in their pockets? That they will ethically pay their taxes? Our media world needs more people like Latifur Rahman."
Rupali Chowdhury, managing director of Berger, said, "He made the choice to remain honest forever. This value is extremely difficult to maintain in Bangladesh. We believe that the next generation will maintain these values. We believe that his descendants will carry on his legacy."
AK Azad, president of the Newspapers Owner's Association of Bangladesh, spoke of how Latifur Rahman used to get many phones calls every day regarding the content of the newspapers, but he used to say that he does not know, and instructed the callers to talk to the editors.
"The person who started his life in 1971 with rented furniture, this person has left behind a legacy, including two independent editors, who are unwavering in their positions," he said.
Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, described how Latifur Rahman never once discussed the content of newspapers during board meetings. "The discussions were always about the business."
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said, "He used to refer to the Star [The Daily Star] as 'your newspaper' when talking to me. He never told me, never once mentioned to me, that 'you wrote this and now I will be affected.'"
Latifur's daughter Simeen Hossain, managing director and chief executive officer of Eskayef Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said there have actually been multiple instances over the years that a certain news report had a negative impact on some of their Transcom Group businesses, and she went to her father expecting some resolution. But Latifur responded by saying the paper is just doing their job and carrying out their responsibilities.
"He never wanted to get any intangible benefit from the newspapers," Simeen said.
Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) President Sheikh Fazle Fahim said that each of his conversations with Latifur had touched him one way or the other in a value adding aspect of life.
Rajiv Shaha, managing director of Kumudini, recalled how he was always allowed a voice during board meetings, in spite of being the youngest.
Kutubuddin Ahmed, chairman of the Envoy Group, and Rezwana Choudhury Bannya, also paid their respects.
While others spoke of the strides made by Latifur Rahman in the business world, his cousin and former ambassador to India, Tareq Karim, remembered him as a child he played with.
"I remember sneaking off with Shamim to go to see a Tarzan movie at the Lion cinema in Armanitola. Shamim was allowed to go because he was going with his elder brother, Tareq bhaia," he reminisced.
"Shamim steadfastly refused to complete his studies in England. His parents asked my father to convince him to go for higher studies -- but Shamim wanted to start his own business. He lived up to his family's expectations and much, much more.
"I, as his elder, should have left earth first," said Karim, breaking down in tears. "We are all created from dust, and ultimately the body must return to the dust, but the soul goes on to the supreme being, leaving behind a legacy on earth," he ended.