Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Books ... or Ikan Bilis?

The restricted books issue has gone quiet, hasn't it, after our initial outpourings of outrage and a brief flurry of press?

What happens next?

Well, Animah's letter has gone to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture, and many more individuals and agencies. I am waiting for her go ahead before I paste it up on the Manuscripts Don't Burn blog. We need to give all these bodies time to digest and respond to it.

Meanwhile we wait and see.

Raman says
We have been told that this matter was actually raised in the parliament but it was neatly sidestepped and ignored. Truth is, very few in the Government, and in the opposition, actually care. There are more 'important' issues.
Frankly, this cannot be a fight for book lovers alone. Those in the book industry must also express their dismay over the bannings.

I was talking to one of the larger local publishers the other day, with two of the books on the restricted list - two of the extremely innocent titles we all were joking about.
"Any idea why your books were restricted?"
"None at all."
"Have you tried appealing?"
"Can we?"
Oh yes. Didn't Deputy Internal Security Minister, Datuk Fu Ah Kiow say the other day:
If the distributors feel that any of the restrictions are unfair, they can always appeal by sending the book to our Putrajaya headquarters for review. We will see what the problem is and correct it if necessary.
Perhaps there is inertia in the book industry. (Raman goes as far as suggesting those involved might feel more comfortable "selling rice, ikan bilis and sugar instead"). One book restricted, never mind there are plenty more books on the shelves.

Perhaps also there is fear. Raman reports that another book distributor had promised to give Raman a list of books which had been restricted, but was told:
No lah, my boss does not want to get involved, he said. After they stop all our shipment from Singapore, susah lah.
As Raman says:
This is precisely what book banners and book burners thrive on: fear. And book banning and book burning is where it all starts.
(Do read Raman's post in full as he works up a better head of outrage than I'm capable of.)

The books that are restricted, by the way, are not the only books missing from our shelves. There are now the books the distributors aren't even attempting to bring in.

I spoke to a distributor recently who said that he had brought in just a handful of copies of a book published in Singapore which contained three memoirs by individuals involved in the Emergency. (I have the book and it is of definite historical interest.)

He was sure that if he brought in copies in larger quantities to supply the bookshops, his books would be confiscated in Johor.

How many more books don't even make it here?

But he did say that with any title he feels might be considered controversial, he submits a copy to the Ministry headquarters in Putrajaya. And that so far he has had no trouble getting approval. Who said the KKDN are all bad guys?

Postscript (10 mins later!)

I just read Midnight Lily's earlier post on our Manuscripts Don't Burn blog. She picked up an article from the Sun which very nicely highlights the inconsistencies in the system. But clearly something is happening as a result of all the publicity. Deputy Minister of Internal Security Datuk Fu Ah Kiow acknowledges that there is a problem and says that the Minsitry will set out to address it:

While there is a guideline, the interpretation has not been consistent across the different entry points to the country and the ministry is trying to address this.

He said the ministry is improving the procedure and guidelines on the approval of permits to bring in foreign publications.

This includes streamlining the procedure at the entry points and creating better understanding between the ministry and local importers and publishers.

"The ministry's Publications and Quranic Text Control Division will meet book importers and publishers soon and if all goes well, we will have a better standardised guideline by March.

"We want a better understanding so that the industry will not incur unnecessary costs when they bring in books which will end up being banned and our officials will not have extra work for no reason," he said.

At present, he said, although there is a guideline, enforcement officers at different entry points tend to make different judgments when deciding on whether a particular book should be allowed into the country.

That is why we are also training our staff so that everyone will agree on the same thing when looking at a certain picture, he said.

We certainly hope so.


Madcap Machinist said...

Was just about to point out the article about the genies when i noticed that you have added the postscript.

The censored articles can be found online here and here.

Ari Miraj said...

did they lift the ban on Shalimar The Clown coz I saw the book on sale at the local MPH in JB. Was about to get it when my eye caught "Train Man" instead :P

Eternal Wanderer said...

I've been spreading the word around regarding some books being banned and I just got the same typical response -"they are just books, why are you so all worked up about it?"

It's no wonder that with people like that, the Government gets away with making all kind of silly decisions and actions. Not many people really care about books anymore... *sniff!*

We can indeed rely on the book publishers, distributors, retailers and also booklovers such as yourself, myself and everyone that visits this blog, but at the end of the day, we are still pretty much in the minority and fat chance the government will listen to a bunch of minorities like us.

Of course, I'm not giving up yet, I'll still go around and make as much noise and complain as much as possible until people realise that book banning is seriously wrong.

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - am gobsmacked by the way the real news was buried in that article. i think the letter and the news articles and raman's protest paid off.

ari - there is no "ban" on "shalimar the clown" - it was "restricted". and the fact that you saw it on sale in JB just shows how bizarre this whole business is

let's see what happens now!

eternal wanderer - they will listen if we keep being loud enough!

Madcap Machinist said...

Sorry, here is the other article about the child in Bethlehem.

I really don't see any reason why the articles should be censored. And Datuk Fu, they're not like "nude photos".

animah said...

What I'd like to know is whether the reading public and writers would be consulted about the guidelines. OK, next thing to make noise about.

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - many thanks for the links

animah - now that IS the question. but am happy that the protest thus far has at least got something moving.

my apologies again for waking you up last night ... i forget that other people have demanding jobs to go to and go to bed early

bibliobibuli said...

i just cannot get online to post anything at the moment guys ...