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Books for book fair not censored: Official
BY SALMA ALALEM November 04, 2015
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SHARJAH: A deliberation on the contribution of the freedom to publish in guaranteeing freedom of expression was one of the first sessions on the second day of the 3rd Arab Publishers Conference. The debate was moderated by Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al Qasimi, an Emirati activist, writer, and former board chairman of the UAE branch of the Young Arab Leaders (YAL), with Ibrahim Al Moallem, Ola Wallin, and Ibrahim Al Abed as panellists.

Al Abed, adviser to the chairman of the National Media Council in the United Arab Emirates, who founded the Emirates News Agency (WAM) in 1977, said the UAE’s Vision 2021 focuses on the freedom of expression and publishing. He cited the Arab Publishers’ Conference as an example of observation of such freedom.

Speaking about censorship, Al Abed said the Sharjah International Book Fair does not censor the books for exhibition; however, he disagreed with the notion of complete freedom. “I don’t think there’s anything such as absolute freedom, there are limitations in every society. There isn’t one formula that fits all countries,” he said.

Dr Chokri Mabkhout, a Tunisian writer, who won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, 2015 session, for his novel “Al-Talyani” (The Italian), said events of such nature demonstrate that the UAE backs projects that enlighten the public. When commenting on censorship, Dr Mabkhout stressed that sometimes the problem is not with the official government censor. “What’s more dangerous is the network of censors that may impede the freedom of expression,” said Dr Mabkhout.

Prominent Egyptian publisher Al Moallem, founder and chairman of Al Shorouk Group in Egypt, chairman of the Committee of Children’s Books in the International Publishers Association, who was honoured by His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, said the freedom of publishing is nobler than the freedom of expression. “This is because as a publisher you may not agree with the ideas that are being presented, but you provide the author the platform to publish his thoughts.”

Al Moallem spoke about the importance of not only freedom of expression but also the freedom to obtain information, to know the truth and to disseminate it with no boundaries. He also said publishing is important to document the present and to provide trustworthy sources for future historians. Speaking about the digital age, he said: “The digital age is very open and the result is that during the last decade people are reading more, though they are reading ebooks instead of traditional books.”

Speaking about freedom of expression from a European perspective, Wallin, CEO of two independent publishing houses in Sweden and chair of the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said there is no difference between online publishing and print publishing. “On the internet there’s more hate perhaps and rightwing extremists who attack journalists defending multicultural societies. Publishing houses don’t advocate hate speech. There are laws against defamation and inciting hatred,” he explained.

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