Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Just hours after the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Media denied rumours that Abdo Khal’s novel ‘Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles’ was withdrawn from the Riyadh International Book Fair, Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja also dismissed other rumours about the fair via his personal Facebook page.
There are rumours that books by the prominent Saudi intellect Turki al Hamad have been banned at the fair and that the Al Jamal publishing house has been shut, which was denied by Khoja who said, “Al Jamal publishing house has not been shut, and I have just returned from visiting it. It has also been rumoured that Dr. Turki al Hamad’s books have all been banned, but the truth of the matter is that the publishing house that publishes his work did not bring his books to the fair. Therefore, this rumour is false.”
Despite that the Ministry immediately reacted by denying the successive rumours about the fair, they continued to spread. There are two possible sources of the rumours; the owners of publishing houses who use rumours to market a specific book, and internet websites that contribute to spreading false news about the book fair.
Mousa al Mousawi, owner of Faradis publishing house told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that what some publishing houses are doing has a negative impact on the publisher’s credibility. “By spreading the rumour that a specific book is banned, they are harming both the writer and the publisher. But when I visited the book fair, I discovered that the book [in question] is available, and so a reader can see that it was just a rumour used for propaganda,” al Mousawi said.
Khaled Zaghloul, director of Misr al Mahrusa publishing house, believes that the Saudi reader is responsible for this first and foremost, as many readers enquire directly about banned books, which encourages some publishers to focus on this and exploit visitors to the fair.
Zaghloul stressed that not a single box of his books “was open for inspection.” He went on to explain that if there is controversy over a specific book, we are asked “very politely” about its content and the media exaggerates in this regard.
Ministry of Culture and Information spokesman Abdul Rahman al Hazaa requested that media organs must be accurate in what they publishe and should keep away from false news that only aims to cause confusion and disrupt the fair. He added that among the Ministry’s targets of this fair is to make available the latest books in all fields to intellectuals and visitors and this does not necessarily have to contradict the censorship rules stipulated by Saudi media policy and the printing and publishing system.
Though the controversial “censorship” issue is raised every year with the event of the Riyadh International Book Fair, a number of owners of publishing houses who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat emphasized that there is more freedom this year in comparison to previous years.
The owner of Faradis publishing house, Musa al Mousawi said, “I found that censorship was very flexible,” and when asked about what distinguished this year’s fair, al Mousawi answered “the number of visitors this year is much greater than before.”
The Riyadh International Book Fair will be open until Friday with over 600 local, Arab and international publishing houses. Senegal is the guest country at the Riyadh International Book Fair this year, which has received a large number of visitors from all over Saudi and some Gulf states.