By Thalif Deen
COLOMBO – The ‘Journey of a Journalist’ is the fascinating and inspiring life story of veteran Sri Lankan journalist and author Latheef Farook who started his journalistic career in 1966, with the now defunct Independent Newspapers Ltd., and went on to become a world renown journalist, respected author and expert on international affairs.
In the early days, the lives of journalists were no bed of roses as they did not enjoy the facilities journalists of today take for granted. Telephones were a rare commodity and news had to be gathered at the expense of shoe leather. Telephone journalism was not tolerated. Editors insisted journalists go out onto the streets to collect information. Public transport was the main means of travel and salaries of journalists were poor. At that time payment was four cents per published line!
Coming from a not very wealthy background and away from his home in the lush village in the hill country, Latheef had to acclimatize to the tough life in the chummeries of Colombo during his initial years in the city, where, as even today, the national newspapers in the country were based.
Despite the trying times he was forced to face in Colombo, and despite having to pay for his accommodation and meals with the mediocre income he earned, Latheef never forgot his family living in the village of Madawala Bazaar. Every month a portion of his income was set aside to be sent to his parents.
It was in these circumstances he built up a wide network of political contacts in the country from Prime Ministers to Leaders of the Opposition, ordinary members of Parliament, the business community and others.
This spirit of striving to do his best and sharing whatever he had, during even the most trying circumstances, has marked his life’s journey to this day.
Moving on from the Independent Newspapers group, Latheef joined the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ and the ‘Ceylon Observer’. He also worked as the Colombo-based correspondent for Iraqi, Libyan and Palestinian news agencies and was instrumental in setting up the Sri Lanka Society for Solidarity with Palestinian People.
In 1979 Latheef left for Dubai, with a team of Sri Lankan journalists, where he relaunched ‘Gulf News’. A year later he was recruited by Khaleej Times and was sent to India to cover election meetings of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Once again joining Gulf News he worked as the Bureau Chief in charge of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia during which period he interviewed visiting political leaders and others from all over the world.
Returning to Sri Lanka in 2002, he became a columnist specializing in Middle Eastern Affairs, exposing the true face of the United States-led European West towards third World and Muslim countries.
While continuing his feature writing on international affairs, Latheef also authored eleven books on local and international affairs. Malaysian former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed wrote the foreword of his first book ‘War on Terrorism-The Untold Truths’ which was first released in Malaysia in May 2006. Nobel Laureate -British Playwright Harold Pinter wrote comments to the publication.
Latheef has also been the winner of numerous local and international awards. This work on his life story needs to be required reading to all aspiring journalists and others