Report of Atty. Dominador D. Buhain on
the Regional Freedom to Publish Centers in Asia Pacific,
for the Freedom to Publish Committee, IPA,
Frankfurt Book Fair, 13 October 1999
The freedom of expression is one of the bulwarks of democracy; the freedom of expression is the freedom to publish and be published. The IPA’s Freedom to Publish Movement had stated it eloquently that one of the objectives of intellectual publishing is to uphold and defend the right of publishers to publish and distribute the works of the mind in complete freedom provided that in so doing they respect all legal rights attached to these works within their own countries and internationally.
We, the Asian publishers, members and non-members of the APPA alike, believe that all governments worldwide must support any publishing endeavor initiated within their national territories by and among their respective local publishers and book distributors. It is an inherent right of man to speak and be heard. To fetter this freedom is to fetter the human spirit itself. The freedom to publish has to be maintained and practiced by all; it is our solemn responsibility then as publishers to preserve this liberty in our part of the world and in our respective countries.
The Asia Pacific Publishers Associations has been around since 1992 and one of its tasks is to ensure that its member-publishers get to operate in a national and regional atmosphere conducive to book production and distribution. APPA’s utmost objective is to work toward securing the right of publishers to publish and distribute the works of the mind in complete freedom. And true to this objective, the Association has meaningfully arbitrated among its members’ respective governments in cases where such arbitration has been called for.
Almost all of the Asian nations are represented at the APPA. The cultural, social, religious and political diversity in the region however only compounds that task of the APPA in monitoring the publishing activities around the region. Asia is the largest and the most populous of all the continents with more than 60% of the world’s total population. The population is diverse and divided by language, race, religion, politics, economics, and cultural origins into a complex cultural mosaic. This diversity, though beneficial in some ways, does not very much contribute to the fulfillment of the desired plateau of regional publishing cooperation. The sphere of interest is so vast that a publication in a specific country may not be relevant and interesting to its immediate neighboring nation, thus limiting the market. The language barrier too stands as a mighty wall blocking regional publishing cooperation. Thousands of languages are spoken in the area and English is just not one of the lesser spoken ones.
In many parts of Asia, long-standing ethnic and religious rivalries have continued to threaten economic progress and political unity. Although most Asian nations are considered part of the Third World economy, Asia is no more monolithic economically than it is culturally or politically. It includes both poverty stricken agricultural Bangladesh and highly industrialized Japan. The gaps in publishing and printing technologies as well as principles in the freedom of publishing and book production in several cases are also worlds apart.
The Tokyo-based APPA has taken bold steps in unifying the publishers in the area for it to closely monitor the extent of freedom and support given by local governments to their respective publishing industries. Co-Publishing awards and projects are held annually during the Tokyo International Book Fair and by the Co-Publishing Committee. This year, the Committee was able to produce a children’s book titled Beautiful Asia which puts together a compendium of contemporary children’s literature from the countries represented in the APPA.
This year, the APPA held for the first time its General Assembly and Forum outside Japan and it was indeed a successful event. By rotating the venue, the APPA can actively promote international understanding and growth. Held at scenic Australia, one of the highlights of the agenda was the reading of the National Reports. It was during that time that members were given the chance to echo the advancements the publishing industry has had in their respective countries.
The Australian Publishers Association proved to be a deserving host for one of its objectives too is the freedom to publish. Its objectives explicitly states that it shall protect the freedom of expression.
The same object is upheld as well in Japan. The ultimate framework of various publishing associations around Asia is the promotion of the freedom to publish. With an average of 50,000 new titles every year, the Japan Book Publishers Association (JBPA) continuously promotes the development and growth of the publishing industry with the ultimate goal of contributing to the enrichment of society. The Association encourages cooperation and the exchange of information.
The Asian realm is not in the best of times at the moment. Regional currencies have taken a plunge and the regional stocks are not so healthy. Recently, the world has set its eyes on the current turmoil in East Timor and the disaster that hit Taiwan. I personally have tried several times to communicate with my friends at the Indonesian Publishers Associations to solicit an update on how the national crises had affected the publishing scene if indeed it was adversely affected. Unfortunately however, my communication was unsuccessful.
If given the chance and provided Indonesian publishers seek for assistance, the APPA, rest assuredly, shall extend whatever assistance it can offer provided the intervention remain confined with the allowable space provided by the national and government policies of Indonesia.
The Philippines through the Philippine Educational Publishers Association to which I am affiliated, has had momentous successes recently in the fight for freedom to publish. Although a Freedom to Publish Center has not yet been set up in the country, the entire Philippine publishing industry with its various agencies and representatives from different sectors, reverse highly the right and freedom to publish. Private publishers represented by the PEPA have dismantled the virtually existing government monopoly in the production and distribution of textbooks in the public schools. Although it was neither a fight against tyranny nor dictatorial control, it nonetheless paved the way to a freer and more liberalized book trade. The PEPA has fought hard through the years in combating any moves from the government sector that may cripple the private publishers – all in the spirit of freedom to publish. Taxes were cut, distribution was widened, and publishers and authors were provided with incentives.
Conferences and symposia on the book industry are held regularly throughout the country to ensure that the publishing community is well equipped in leading this industry which addresses and care for the works and products of the mind.
The freedom to Publish Committee of the IPA is an inspiration to all publishers and publishing associations the world over. The Committee concretizes a right that is innate in the human spirit and that without this right it is impossible to lead a life that is meaningful and worthwhile. In a region that has been hounded with colonial suppression and divided by diverse beliefs and cultures, publishers in the Asia Pacific realm have taken heart of their pivotal responsibility of upholding the right of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to publish. Besides my desire as President of the PEPA that an active Freedom to Publish Center be established in my country, it is also one of my hopes that, as a Member of the Working Level Committee of the APPA, Regional Freedom to Publish Centers be created within the member-countries of the APPA that the rights of Asian publishers be protected further and be ensured of future preservation. And that just as the Freedom to Publish Committee of the IPA, these regional centers shall police the area and safeguard Asians from persons and entities who plan of suppressing the basic right of an individual to be heard.