University presses wary over editorial interference
01.01.70 | Philip Jones
University presses have stressed the importance of editorial independence from their educational establishments following the controversy surrounding the book The Cartoons That Shook the World.
The book by Jytte Klausen is being published by Yale University Press but all illustrations of the prophet Muhammed that were due to be included originally have been pulled at the last minute. The images dropped included a reproduction of the controversial Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that featured cartoons of Muhammed.
Klausen told The Bookseller that the decision to pull the pictures was effectively made by the university and not by the affiliated press. Klausen added: "Once the university had decided to collect these alarmist reports about the consequences [of including the pictures], there was very little the press could do. That is why I agreed to go ahead with it, [although] I disagree with it."
Edinburgh University Press chief executive, Timothy Wright, said the intervention was "highly unusual at such a late stage". He added: "There have been no instances where we have had to ask the university whether a certain book would be all right. We are a wholly-owned subsidiary, not a department, and as such we have pretty good autonomy."
Northumbria University Press head of publishing Andrew Peden Smith added: "Although I run what we're publishing by the university, there hasn't been an instance where they have got involved. It does say something about the freedom the press has to develop a commercial press, and how they want to move forward with that list."
A spokesperson for Cambridge University Press said that in the history of the press the university had "never become directly involved with operational editorial decisions like the withdrawal of certain information from our books which they consider to be controversial—that's not to say that situation couldn't arise in the future."
Yale University Press referred all media enquiries to the university. A spokesperson from Yale denied the decision had been taken by the institution. He said: "The director of the press [John Donatich] made the decision after receiving the outside advice collected by the university."
The university consulted experts including Ibrahim Gambari, the highest ranking Muslim at the UN, and Marcia Inhorn, chair of the council on Middle East studies at Yale. Inhorn said: "If Yale publishes this book with any of the proposed illustrations, it is likely to provoke a violent outcry."
Gambari warned: "It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria."