Oxford University Press (OUP) recently announced to its authors that pigs or sausages should not be mentioned in their books to avoiding offending certain religious demographics.
As one of the largest education publishers in the world, OUP said other cultures must be taken into consideration in order to be able to sell books across the globe.
In order to not offend their Muslim or Jewish customers, the publisher issued guidance stating that writers should not mention pigs or “anything else which could be perceived as pork.”
The guideline was made public during a radio discussion pertaining to free speech after the Paris attacks. Presenter Jim Naughtie called the guideline ridiculous, saying: “Now, if a respectable publisher, tied to an academic institution, is saying you’ve got to write a book in which you cannot mention pigs because some people might be offended, it’s just ludicrous. It is just a joke.”
Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: “I absolutely agree. That’s absolute utter nonsense. And when people go too far, that brings the whole discussion into disrepute.”
While Naughtie’s wife is said to be in talks with the publisher concerning her own educational book series, it was not made clear whether or not she had leaked the information to Naughtie.
The publisher told The National Post that it was unaware of the book to which Naughtie was referring, but that they “provide this guidance to our UK authors for books that will be used for an international audience.”
Publishing insiders are standing up for OUP, saying they are merely an employee of a global publishing industry who must put together a book that will be read across the world, writes Tristin Hopper for The National Post.
It is “incorrect to ascribe this to self-censorship — it’s more a case of global market forces at work,” said Lydia Moëd, an agent with the Canadian literary agency The Rights Factory and a veteran of the U.K. children’s publishing industry.
In the end, said Moëd, many publishers will chose to create books with “as few cultural barriers as possible.”
Since Naughtie announced the guideline, they have faced much ridicule, with many doubting just how Muslims or Jewish people would be offended by the mention of a farm animal in a children’s book.
In response to the growing number of comments, a spokesman for OUP said: “Our materials are sold in nearly 200 countries, and as such, and without compromising our commitment in any way, we encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”