At London Book Fair: ‘A Trinity of Freedoms’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

London Book Fair is the launch point for a new five-organization international statement on freedom of expression and publishing.

The International Rights Center at the 2024 London Book Fair, Olympia London Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Give Full Meaning to the Freedom to Read’
At 2:30 p.m. today (March 14), a program closing the Main Stage series of events on this, the final day of the 2024 London Book Fair is titled A Trinity of Freedoms at Risk: Expression, Publishing and Reading.

The event will bring together:

  • PEN International’s interim international secretary Tanja Tuma
  • University of London researcher Aziz Isa Elkun
  • The Booksellers Association’s Laura McCormack
  • Nick Poole, a former CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
  • The Guardian’s Claire Armistead

During the event, five organizations will issue a joint “call for key freedoms to be respected” in a statement, the latest in an attempt to bring together a cohesive message “in recognition of the increasing efforts to restrict books, those who write them, publish them, or make them available to readers.”

The five organizations:

Pansa: ‘Our Book Sector Stands At Together’

Today’s session is seen by the organizers as a first occasion this year, with more such events to come, “in which ‘individual authors, publishers, booksellers and librarians [will be] encouraged to sign the statement, which will be presented at a number of international book-sector events throughout the year.’

If it seems that the target of the effort is a bit hard to see—as in who is this statement being directed toward?—that may be a product of the fact that this is, in a sense, a campaign targeting the campaigners: the publishing-related freedom-of-expression organizations are talking to each other about aligning with each other and providing solidarity to each other.

Karine Pansa. Image: Nabs Ahmedi

As Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), puts it, “It is so important that our book sector stands together.

“Publishers need authors who feel they can write freely and we need booksellers and libraries who can stand up for the books we publish and help them find readers.”

A copy of the joint statement can be read here with available text in English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese.

People and institutions are invited to sign the statement here.

‘Fostering Informed Debate’

PEN International executive director Romana Cacchioli says, “PEN International reaffirms its commitment to freedom of expression, publishing, and reading.

Romana Cacchioli

“In societies where these liberties thrive, diverse voices can freely contribute to public discourse, fostering informed debate, critical thinking, and civic engagement. Let us stand united in preserving these essential liberties, for they are the lifeblood of our democracies.”

The president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions is Vicki McDonald.

Vicki McDonald

Libraries globally advocate for the freedom to read,” McDonald says, “not only as a goal in itself but also as a key driver of a world of informed, enabled people. We also deliver on this every day, to all members of our communities.

“But this freedom can only happen if there is also freedom of expression, and the freedom for publishers to support the creation and dissemination of new ideas. I’m therefore happy to join with our friends at IPA, EIBF, IAF and PEN International in setting out this statement.”

John Degen

For the writers’ corps, the International Authors Federation’s John Degen says, “Free expression and the freedom to read are driven by individual choice and individual responsibility.

“While combating hate speech, harassment, and deliberate disinformation—undeniable challenges on the rise—lawmakers and governments must carefully protect and balance individual rights.”

Jean-Luc Treutenaere

And Jean-Luc Treutenere, co-president at the European and International Booksellers Federation, says, “We’re proud to be co-signing this important and timely statement on behalf of the international bookselling sector, and standing alongside authors, publishers and libraries.

“At a time when censorship is on the rise, the book sector must stand firm and united in its mission to provide access to all kinds of books for the ultimate benefit of readers.”

Text of the Statement

“With the core purpose of providing access to a wide variety of written works for all, we have come together to support the freedoms to express, publish and read. It is our belief that society needs enlightened citizens who, based on accurate knowledge and information, make choices and participate in democratic progress. Authors, publishers, booksellers and libraries have a role to play in this which should be recognized, valued, and enabled.

“True freedom to read means being able to choose from the broadest range of books sharing the widest range of ideas. Unrestrained communication is essential to a free society and a creative culture but carries with it the responsibility to resist hate speech, deliberate falsehoods and distortion of facts. Authors, publishers, booksellers and libraries make an essential contribution to guaranteeing this freedom.

“Subject to the limits set by international human rights law and standards, authors must have guaranteed freedom of expression. Through their work we understand our societies, build empathy, overcome our prejudices and reflect on provocative ideas.

“Equally, booksellers and librarians must be free to present the full range of works, across the ideological spectrum, to all. They should not have that freedom constrained by governments or local authorities, individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large, even when this is done in the name of the ‘community’ or of its majority.

“For booksellers and librarians to present the broadest range of written works, there must be the freedom to publish. Publishers must be free to publish those works which they believe important, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or might even be considered offensive by some in particular groups.

“It is the responsibility and mission of publishers, booksellers and librarians, through their professional judgement, to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing everyone with access to authors’ works. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not necessarily endorse every work they make available. While individual publishers and booksellers make their own editorial decisions and selections, access to writings should not be limited on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.

“The risk of self-censorship due to social, political or economic pressures remains high, affecting every part of the chain from writer to reader. Society must create the environment for authors, publishers, booksellers and librarians to fulfil their missions freely.

“We therefore call on governments and all other stakeholders to help protect, uphold and promote the three above freedoms – of expression, and to publish and read – in law and in practice.”

Background on the Statement

On 25 June 2023, the American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Association of American Publishers and Authors Guild issued a statement and republished a joint statement from 1953 on the freedom to read as part of work to resist a wave of book bans in different parts of the United States. That document was originally written by the Association of American Publishers and the American Libraries Association.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) makes the basis for these actions clear, reading, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In coming months and in varisous international publishing forums, the new effort to embrace and promote the “trinity of freedoms” will be evident in many events in which publishing professionals can participate.

Update: Bologna Programming Notes

Kristenn Einarsson, Enrica Manenti (center), and Barbara Hoepli speak on April 8 at the Bologna Book Plus stage of Bologna Children’s Book Fair on the “trinity of freedoms” that international publishing professionals are coming together to promote

One event in which publishing professionals can engage is set for Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 8 to 11) at the Bologna Book Plus theater in Hall 29, on April 8 at 4 p.m.

In that event, Publishing Perspectives will moderate a discussion titled Supporting a Trinity of Freedoms: To Express; To Publish; To Read.

Speaking will be:

  • Kristenn Einarsson, chair IPA Freedom to Publish committee and WEXFO CEO
  • Enrica Manenti, librarian, Modena
  • Barbara Hoepli, Hoepli bookshop, Milan

The session will look at the joint action of these five international organizations and at the pressures that authors, booksellers, librarians, and publishers are encountering. The question is what the book-business sector can do to ensure these freedoms are preserved, protected, and employed by people throughout the world.

Karine Pansa and, from left, Kristenn Einarsson, Christoph Bläsi, Luis González, and moderator Miha Kovač speak on April 8 at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Authors Café on the Ljubljana Reading Manifesto

Another Bologna event in the WEXFO and IPA Trinity of Freedoms context is also set for late on April 8, this one at 5:30 p.m. and presented by the Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Slovenia program from Slovenian Book Agency, JAK, and Aldus Up and set in the Authors Café in Hall 30.

This discussion is titled Higher-Level Reading, AI, and Book Publishing: The Ljubljana Reading Manifesto.

Speaking will be:

  • Karine Pansa, IPA president
  • Kristenn Einarsson, chair IPA Freedom to Publish committee
  • Christoph Bläsi, University of Mainz and Aldus Up
  • Luis González, Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, Aldus Up
  • Miha Kovač, Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Slovenia curator

From text provided to Publishing Perspectives about this session: “Digitization is one of the fastest accelerators of change in human history. But we also live in a time when stupidity and vulgarity are not only on public display but are becoming a political virtue, and social media enclose us in bubbles. How can we communicate all these complexities in book formats without getting lost in simplifications? And what role does higher level reading play in understanding the complexity of today’s world? Is it an obscure intellectual technique that is becoming obsolete, or is it something that cannot be replaced by a range of new media activities? Do we need to rethink its position both in publishing and in the cultural landscape as a whole?”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here; more on the International Publishers Association is here; and more on London Book Fair is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

More of our coverage of the 2024 London Book Fair:

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.