x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

France mars publishers' bid for global inclusion

The president of the Emirates Publishers Association is disappointed that the prestigious International Publishers Association did not accept its bid for full membership in the global organisation.

DUBAI // The president of the Emirates Publishers Association (Epa) has told of her disappointment that its bid for full membership of a prestigious global trade body has been blocked.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi said the decision, made after France forced a vote on the issue in a meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair, was based on "assumptions".

Epa, formed in Sharjah in 2009 to represent publishers across the UAE, has been an affiliate member of the International Publishers Association (Ipa) for two years.

Members expected their application for full membership to be accepted as a formality.

But France accused the UAE of banning certain books and questioned the country's record on tackling copyright theft.

"Two years ago, we became an affiliate member of the Ipa and we were told that it would take two years and then automatically we would become full members," Sheikha Bodour said on Monday, after her return from Frankfurt.

"I was prepared for them to say, 'We accept you now as full members', so we were all a bit shocked to hear that the vote went against us.

"It was a bit of a surprise and obviously I'm really disappointed, especially as we've taken all the steps necessary for the past two years to become full members."

The vote tally was six nations against the UAE's membership application, with five in favour and five abstaining.

Germany, Spain, Belgium and Portugal were believed to be among the countries that supported the Epa's bid. The list of countries voting for and against was not made public.

Sheikha Bodour, a daughter of Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, Ruler of Sharjah, said the Epa had modified a number of its statutes to meet requirements for full membership.

"We sent our documents back and they said, 'Yup, it looks really good', and they discussed our reports and said everything looked great and they'd be happy to welcome us, so it was a big, big surprise," she said.

"The decision was not based on facts, it was based on assumptions. Somebody said the UAE was not an open book market and this caused a lot of problems.

"It was France that got everybody nervous and started this discussion."

Sheikha Bodour also said the Epa was not given a chance to defend itself at the meeting.

"This was done before I arrived," she said. "The UAE is an open book market and actually we've really taken tremendous strides in publishing in the UAE.

"If you look at the laws in the UAE, we have freedom of expression and it's an open book market. There are no laws to prevent books coming into the UAE.

"There is no censorship of the books that come into the country and this was a tremendous step as a lot of other Arab countries have not reached this level yet, and we are very proud that the UAE is at this level.

"Also, the UAE has tremendous copyright policy. If you look at our rules and regulations, we protect copyright better than any other Arab country."

Although the Ipa is a global organisation a third of its members are from Europe. Egypt and Lebanon are the only Arab countries with full membership.

France previously opposed the election of the Ipa vice president Ibrahim El Moallem, the chairman of Egyptian publishing giant Dar El Shorouk, as president of the group.

"This is a publishing association, and I don't know why politics have to come into play here," Sheikha Bodour said.

"It's quite sad that it's very closed to accepting members from other parts of the world."

The Epa, which represents UAE publishers at international events and runs training programmes, plans to reapply for full membership next year. It has commissioned independent research into the industry to support its bid.

"I hope the research will help to answer a lot of questions that they have," Sheikha Bodour said.

"Once they have the information, they'll be able to base their decision on facts."

csimpson@thenational.ae