At this year’s Leipzig Book Fair, IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee chairman, Kristenn Einarsson, joined Hungarian publisher and IPA 2018 Prix Voltaire nominee, Tamas Miklos, as well as German publisher Christoph Links to discuss Europe and Freedom of Expression. Freedom to Publish was a visible issue at the Congress with the Börsenverein promoting its “Für das Wort und die Freiheit” campaign and putting a giant #FreeGuiMinhai hashtag on the central staircase.
While the conversation didn’t stop at the borders of Europe it was interesting to hear that some freedom to publish challenges are closer to home than many Europeans think.
Mr Einarsson started off by underlining the duty that publishers have to publish works that they feel need to be read, even if they do not necessarily agree with their content. The speakers all agreed that in the context of ‘fake news’, publishers must help readers distinguish between reliable and unreliable information.
Mr Miklos spoke of how regime change can have an impact on a national publishing ecosystem. In Hungary, in earlier times, publishing projects were often supported with public money, sometimes as a way of ensuring pro-government messages were published. Now, however, government funding is drying up, leaving independent academic publishers to rely on foreign money or support from readers. Mr Einarsson followed up with the example of school books where governments are increasingly interfering with the private sector, to the point of shutting it down and imposing text books that present a certain version of a national history.
All the speakers agreed that, in such difficult national contexts, book fairs were a great way to give access to a broader range of publications than are otherwise available, but not without challenges. Mr Links shared his experiences of book fairs in Turkey and Cuba where books would mysteriously disappear or be openly confiscated, leaving his stands completely empty in one instance! Even in Germany events around books can raise questions, with examples of politicians refusing access to public venues for readings from books they dislike.
The importance of dialogue and not censoring
Mr Links shared the view of the Börsenverein’s Freedom to Publish Committee that discussions at book fairs, book shop events, or public readings should be encouraged. Within the limits of the law, differences of opinion should be accepted and encouraged as long as they are conducted in a calm spirit of debate. Mr Einarsson agreed that dialogue is an essential way of preventing self-censorship - a form of censorship that is also growing as publishers and authors consider reactions to their works. Mr Miklos sees his book shop in Hungary as a refuge from some of the deep, possibly unbridgeable, divisions that exist within society.
During the course of the conversation, Mr. Miklos spoke of the need, in these difficult times, for publishers across Europe to work as allies, not just for one off events but for long-term partnerships. This is definitely a message that goes beyond Europe and the IPA has a vital role to play in building those long-term partnerships.
With contributions from Kristenn Einarsson and edited by James Taylor.