April 21, 2017:
“Publishing is a powerful mechanism by which humanity has for centuries circulated works of the mind, information, ideas, beliefs and opinions. Many international treaties and declarations* enshrine freedom of expression as an inalienable human right and affirm media freedom as fundamental to liberty.”
This month, the International Publishers Association (IPA) released its first manifesto to, “Uphold and defend the right to publish.” It is, on the face of it, a surprising move, however the IPA’s documented instances in which publishers the world over are being attacked, imprisoned and killed, makes this manifesto a significant statement of intent.
The Freedom to Publish Manifesto has four action points to unite the international publishing community in the face of human rights abuses: 1) helping members to fight for the freedom to publish, 2) challenging violations of this freedom, 3) driving a dialogue on the freedom to publish and 4) celebrating ‘Freedom to Publish’ champions – those who have put their own safety on the line in order to publish.
The IPA’s work covers supporting members through legal advice and opposition to laws that restrict publishers’ rights, shining a spotlight on abuses and supporting members who are facing prosecution and persecution, as well as “fostering continuous international conversations” (IPA’s words) and honoring those who defy the odds to publish in ‘inhospitable’ climates.
Were we in any doubt that publishing carries significant risk in parts of the world, the IPA’s publicity material at the time of launch reminds us of: “The state shuttering of 30 publishing houses in Turkey; the ongoing incommunicado detention in China of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai; and the violent arrests and interrogations of Belarusian publisher Miraslau Lazouski and bookseller Ales Jaudaha – who were seized by masked officers at a literature festival last month in Minsk.” So it would seem the IPA has a great deal of work ahead of it.
As IPA Freedom to Publish committee chair and director of Norway’s publishing association Kristenn Einarsson comments: “The IPA is making a firm pledge to monitor and flag abuses, and mobilize its global network of diplomatic contacts, civil society organizations, and its own members to challenge violations wherever they occur.” But just how effective will the IPA be in its pledge? After all, the 60-nation strong organization has no governmental or legal power. Beyond raising the profile of human rights abuses and providing legal support for those in need, its role is pretty impotent in the face of strong-arm tactics from undemocratic governments.
Actually, this is where the power lies. The IPA’s extensive network of international non-governmental organizations and agencies such as the United Nations, as well as direct access to the world’s publishers (its members), make it a formidable force.
As the manifesto points out, “Human rights are safeguards of human dignity.” Raising the profile of human rights abuses through these channels and can magnify public outcry and force international governments to challenge the actions of the government in question. This often exerts enough pressure for the government to back down in its prosecution and persecution. Given the importance of the freedom of expression, this is good news for everyone – not just publishers.
As an organisation, Amnet Systems fully supports the work of the IPA and the freedom to publish for all, without exception.