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Last week the Daily Mail published an article saying the Oxford University Press had banned the mention of sausages, pigs or anything deemed pork related from their children’s books. Shock, horror! What monster would demand that our children can’t read books like Peppa Pig or Olivia anymore? On its own this might seem ludicrous but this is by no means a new censorship. It has not only been in the OUP’s guidelines for some time already but this topic has been in and out of the newspapers for years. For example this 2003 article in the Guardian talks of pig books being banned in schools for exactly this reason and it was the Muslim Council of Britain who was quoted as trying to stop the “well-intentioned but misguided” ban.
Furthermore The Express in 2007 reported a Church of England school was told by a music festival panel that they could not perform the Three Little Pigs unless they changed it to Three Little Puppies for fear of offending any Muslims in the audience, (anyone familiar with Islamic teachings on the subject of dogs would understand the irony of that one!). Again it was Muslim Groups who were quoted as saying “their religion only stops them eating pork or touching a pig – not singing or talking about them.”
Of course last weeks revelation again prompted a whole barrage of articles from several newspapers on how ridiculous this sounded and in the OUP’s defence the Telegraph reported “a spokesman for the OUP said” (hang on shouldn’t that be spokesperson!) it was introduced to “encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”
Ok, let’s look at this from the publisher’s point of view. Why do publishers “consider cultural differences and sensitivities” and not allow complete freedom of speech? The mere nature of the publishing role demands that a book should not only be well written, interesting and entertaining but also needs to be a marketable product. This means that for it to be financially worth publishing it needs to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and remain eligible for selling with foreign language rights. It makes logical sense that a book will only be produced if it is likely to be bought. So it is inevitable that these topics have to be considered from both a moralistic and practical point of view if each book is to remain a positive experience for all potential readers, opposed to a negative one. It’s classic censorship, upholding the publisher’s responsibility to our children. The point being that of course individual beliefs and values should be taken into consideration, but nobody is questioning that. What is being questioned is where the line should be drawn and has it been taken too far in this instance? From the reaction received from many Muslims and Jews it makes me wonder whether this kind of ban is respecting their beliefs or inadvertently trivialising them. Perhaps these bans have touched the fine line between respecting cultural differences to that of being overly cautious and ending up making a huge issue over something that was never there in the first place.
To my mind (as quoted in the Daily Mail article above) a spokesperson for the Jewish Leadership Council put it perfectly.
“Jewish law prohibits eating pork, not the mention of the word, or the animal from which it derives.”
Banishing the word pig or sausage from a book is not going to eradicate its existence from our world and as far as I know they haven’t started eating Peppa Pig in the stories yet – which incidentally would be horrific – I know she likes spaghetti but I very much doubt she likes sausages! Anyway isn’t it a bit like me saying it’s against my ethics to eat a dog so maybe I’ll stop my children reading books which mention the word dog? Then again perhaps I should suggest meat-based cookery books should be banned on grounds of being offensive to vegetarians!
So I will leave you to ponder over some well-known and much loved classics which at some point have been banned or challenged over a politically correct debate either prior or post publication.