As the saying goes, "may you live in interesting times", and for the Association of American Publishers' International Freedom to Publish Committee, these are interesting times indeed. With governments falling one by one in the Middle East, and democracy taking root in China amid reports of internet censorship, the IFTPC is sure to have its hands full in the coming years.
Viking Penguin's Hal Fessenden, chair of IFTPC, told the London Fair Dealer that world events and digital developments raise a number of "extremely challenging and complex issues" for authors and publishers, which the committee is monitoring closely. "Our primary focus is still traditional book publishers and authors," Fessenden notes, "though, of course, we lend our support to campaigns spearheaded by organisations such as PEN, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch".
Founded by the AAP in 1975 to "defend and broaden the freedom of the written word, and to protect and promote the rights of book publishers and authors around the world," the committee monitors and publicises free-expression issues around the world; sends fact-finding missions to countries where free expression is under siege; and lobbies both in the US and overseas on behalf of persecuted book publishers. It also offers "moral support and practical assistance" to threatened publishers abroad.
In recent years, the IFTPC has been on a variety of missions, Fessenden says, most recently to Zimbabwe, Turkey, Egypt, and Cambodia. "In Cambodia, we identified Tararith Kho, the founder of the Nou Hach Literary Project, as a publisher in need," he recalls. Kho, a poet and short story writer, was under government threat for his work addressing Cambodia's societal and educational problems, as well as the environmental destruction in his country. For his work, Kho was awarded the IFTPC's 2008 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award, and with the help of PEN and Scholars at Risk, the IFTPC helped to bring Kho and his family to Brown University for a year of study.
Last year, New Century Press, a Hong Kong-based publisher, was awarded the Jeri Laber Award for its commitment to make available in Chinese books of historic and political interest banned on the mainland â€“ a virtually unprecedented initiative in the Chinese-language publishing world.
Currently, Fessenden adds, the IFTPC is coordinating a series of symposiums to bring together U.S. advocacy groups supporting democracy in Iran.
For more on the efforts of the AAP's IFTPC and to get involved, visit the committee's website: www.iftpc.org.