Journalist accuses book editors, publishers of censorship

A member of the Tribune’s editorial board and former media adviser to ex-Enugu and current Oyo State governors, Dr. Festus Adedayo, has said that government censorship of freedom of the press and freedom to publish were fast diminishing in the world and is being substituted by other forms of censorships, the most visible being internal censorship by book publishers and editors themselves.

He made this known while discussing the sub-theme “Addressing freedom to publish challenges in Africa” as one of the panelists at the recently concluded seminar of the International Publishers Association (IPA) held at the Eko Hotels & Suites with the general theme “Publishing for sustainable development: The role of publishers in Africa.”

Other members of the panel were Kristenn Einarsson, Managing Director of the Norwegian Publishers Association; Trevor Ncube, Chairman of Zimbabwe-based Alpha Media Holdings, with Folu Agoi, literary activist and teacher, as moderator.

According to Adedayo, gone were the days when state censorship of printed matters was the major threat to the written word, stating that the greatest threat today comes from what he called the tyranny of censorship inflicted on freedom of publication by the publisher.

He said that if a thousand books get published today, 100,000 manuscripts are censored from publication due to editors/publishers’ excuse of commercial unviability and unconventional content but maintaining that manuscripts are rejected solely due to failure of courage to publish them.

Citing a Times Literary Supplement and The New York Magazine essay on an inadvertently lost but recently discovered George Orwell essay with the title “Freedom of the Press” which he wrote as prologue to his book Animal Farm, Adedayo told the audience the sad tale of how Orwell’s manuscript was severally rejected from publication due to the publishers’ reluctance to offend the dominant pro-Soviet intellectual mood among British intellectuals of the time and the excuse that its “allegorical criticism of Soviet rulers was inappropriate.”

“How much of such tyranny of the Idi Amin Dada kind which was inflicted on Orwell are we practicing today as publishers and editors? We should search our minds and stop seeing governments alone as the sole bearers of the pall of censorship in Africa,” he said.

Stating that censorship stifles human creativity and makes hoarding of knowledge easy, Adedayo traced the history of freedom of speech from the Freedom of the Press Act passed in Sweden in December, 1766 which has become the cornerstone of democracies all over the world, the 15th century revolution of mechanized printing, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech.

He also traced the history of censorship from the time of Greek philosopher, Protagoras, down to ancient Greek city state of Athens and execution of Socrates, ancient China, former Soviet Union and how John Milton kicked off the revolt against institutional censorship. In his words, censorship today also includes corporate censorship, threat of libel, moral censorship (blocking internet websites that celebrate pornography and child sexual abuse) blasphemous publications and the censorship occasioned by the new age of terrorism.

In his own presentation, Einarsson gave global perspectives on freedom of speech while Ncube gave graphic picture of his ordeals in the hands of former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.

The seminar was attended by participants from all over the world which included Dr. Michiel Kolman, President of the International Publishers Association; Gbadega Adedapo, President of the Nigerian Publishers Association and the other panel discussions were moderated by Mr. Samuel Kolawole, Chairman of the African Network; Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, former Executive Director of The Guardian newspaper; Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, a Yale World fellow and Masennya Dikotla of the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy, South Africa.

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