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Kristenn Einarsson


Kristenn Einarsson

Born and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland, you migrated to Norway and proceeded to study Economics at Leeds University in the UK. Quite a route! And this somehow led you to developing an interest in the film industry and book publishing.

Give us an overview of that fascinating journey.

All the way, I knew that I wanted to work with literature, music or film. Actually, I have managed to be involved in all these industries, although the main occupation for 42 years has been the publishing industry. Reading is a core value in Iceland and Norway, and I started early to visit libraries and my parents bought a lot of books. I knew that to be involved in making great story telling in different ways available to as many as possible was my mission in life!

In 2006, in your capacity as chairman of the Norwegian Film Fund, you proposed a new organisation of Norway’s film policy.

Why was this necessary and with what success was your proposal received?

I got involved in the Norwegian Film Industry in 2001. The major challenge was that Norwegian films were so greatly outnumbered by Hollywood films when it came to sales of tickets. The general impression was that we were not able to produce good films. Establishing the Norwegian Film Fund in 2001 was the start of the new policy. More funds for each project to improve quality was a key. In 2006, based on a committee hearing in Parliament, it was decided to have all government financed entities in the film industry placed in one organization, The Norwegian Film Council.

During the last year, Norwegian films have a marked share of about 25%, up from single digitals before.   

You are currently the managing director of the Norwegian Publishers Association.

Talk to us about the mandate of the association and highlight up to two important accomplishments in advancing this mission.

I retired from my job as CEO of The Norwegian Book Clubs in 2010. Shortly afterwards I was asked to take on the CEO position in the Norwegian Publisher Association for a short period, and I am still here after almost seven years. Our key mission is to work hard to keep up the high level of reading in Norway. More than 90% of the population reads at least one book a year (school books and learning materials excluded). More than 40% are heavy book readers, reading more than 10 books each year. But books are threatened by all the other ways of consuming story-telling through different platforms, so we have to keep encouraging reading. And those that read less tell us in surveys that they want to read more!

The Norwegian Government supports reading, authors and the publishing industry in many ways. A key task for the Norwegian Publisher Association is to see that the different policy instruments for literature are retained.

You are currently Chairman of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the International Publishers Association (IPA)

I suspect people know a lot less than they think, so what does freedom to publish actually mean?

The International Publishers Association is committed to defend and promote the freedom to publish, which is under worldwide siege today. Freedom to publish has been one of the IPA’s two primary policy drivers since the creation of the organization in 1896. The other one is the promotion of copyright. Our organization believes that the unique contribution of publishers to enabling freedom of expression, debate and dialogue, by disseminating the works of others, deserves recognition and protection.

If we are to create and maintain free, healthy societies, then publishers must have the will and the ability to challenge established thinking, preserve the history of our cultures, and make room for new knowledge, critical opposition and challenging artistic expression.

Publishing has always operated in a social and cultural environment that is constantly changing. Publishers — through their commissioning or selection of material and as a result of the works they decide to disseminate — influence both what is discussed in society and how those works are received. Freedom to publish means that publishers must be allowed to publish all that they deem worthy of publication, even and perhaps especially if those works challenge the boundaries established by the society they operate in. As the French Enlightenment philosopher and writer Voltaire is often credited with saying:

 â€˜I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Talk to us about your vision as a committee. What are the key drivers of your work?

The conditions governing and restricting freedom to publish vary around the world. In some places, it is governments and state regimes that prevent the publication of material or works deemed to be ‘dangerous’ or ‘inappropriate’. In other cases, there are pressure groups (religious, social, commercial) trying to prevent publication of certain information. Increasingly, large technology companies are influencing, often secretly or behind our screens, what we as readers and consumers can and can’t see. The significance of this sometimes overt and at other times insidious manipulation of what we are allowed to read is simple: laws that prevent freedom to publish must be constantly challenged — there are actually very few instances where public welfare is increased or maintained by the blocking, removal or censoring of information.

In the educational sector, a growing concern is the interference by government in the production of learning materials. The IPA’s Educational Publishers Forum is monitoring the rising trend of educational authorities aiming to produce one authorised book per subject per student. This is not only an impediment to the freedom to publish of educational publishers that could produce a number of competing textbooks in any given subject area, it is also a grave threat to the free exchange of ideas. The best performing education systems around the world, by and large, encourage educational publishers to compete in an open market, producing innovative solutions that meet local needs. This new trend of government interference, however, not only robs students and teachers of the opportunity of learning from the best possible resources, it also creates a state monopoly in the production, dissemination and accreditation of certain ideas and interpretations of history. Such a situation is inherently dangerous, authoritarian and susceptible to corruption. The IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee is working with the Educational Publishers Forum to monitor and respond to this worrying trend.

Another common challenge to publishers in all countries is the question of self-censorship. Even in countries with few regulations on freedom to publish, publishers might have to consider the negative consequences of producing and distributing certain content. Prime examples of this are the draconian libel or criminal defamation laws in some countries which take no account of the public interest when a critical statement is made about people or even corporations, and instead place an extraordinary legal burden on authors or publishers. Similarly, a growing number of jurisdictions are punishing whistle-blowers and investigative journalists who expose malpractice, corruption or official incompetence, when the public interest is more clearly served by the protection of these writers and their publishers. In this way, the same fears that affect publishers and lead them to self-censor can also infect authors, booksellers and librarians. In the end, if these fears delay or stop the creation or publication of such reports and works, then it is we the readers who are deprived.

You say that: “...there are actually very few instances where public welfare is increased or maintained by the blocking, removal or censoring of information”

Please shed more light on this very important and counter-intuitive statement.

An important part of public welfare is free access to information. Creativity and progress is based on broad knowledge to fuel increase in public welfare. This notion is, as we know not shared by all. Technology development makes more information available, but this fuels governments pressure on the technology giants but also on platform suppliers to “adapt to local conditions”, which means censorship. On the other hand, we have the challenge of un-edited material, which also contains what you might call the real “fake news”. Publishers have a vital role to play to keep a society well-informed.  

What about famous and highly controversial whistleblowers such as Julian Assange of Wiki Leaks and Edward Snowden who worked for the National Security Agency? Would they fall within the freedom to publish vision? Would there be no controversy within the committee about their freedom to publish?  What is the IPA’s position on such men?

If a publisher comes across manuscripts of this kind, they have a challenging task to decide on publishing or not. The key guideline, in my opinion, is to publish whatever you think is of public value. When a publisher decides that this is a work of public interest, it should be published. In the committee we do not discuss the works of a single author, we support the freedom of publishers to be able to make their own decision on what they deem to be worth publishing.

Young minds are impressionable minds.

Should those in authority not carefully curate what children imbibe in educational institutions and elsewhere? Isn’t censorship crucial where it concerns children?

As I mentioned, in the educational sector, a growing concern is the interference by government in the production of learning materials, even producing one textbook for each subject. The best performing education systems around the world, by and large, encourage educational publishers to compete in an open market, producing innovative solutions that meet local needs. There should of course be no censorship. Through the development of curriculum the educational authorities can do some form of curation, but the authorities should leave it to a responsible publishing industry to develop learning material accordingly. 

In the context of governmental information being made public, please shed light on what is meant by ‘sunshine laws’

Generally, sunshine laws (an American expression) “guarantee public access to meetings when a quorum of a group meets to discuss public business”. This is an important aspect of transparency which is a necessity in a free and open society. 

In the light of President Donald Trump's constant contention about the activities of 'fake news media'', (according to him: CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, inter alia) my question to you is: who reports on the reporters? 

First of all, they report on each other. But book publishers have a vital role in trying to analyze what goes on. The format of the book is such an opportunity to reflect on the development in society and to give the readers food for thought. Both non-fiction and fictions give input to reflection and understanding.

And how do or should the media houses in question defend themselves against this accusation?

These are disturbing times. And as the accusations escalate, I sometimes feel that I am brought back to the history classes in school, learning about the political communication in Europe in the nineteen thirties.  It is interesting to see the latest development, where other political institutions react and will not accept the notion that media are “the enemy of the people”.  We have to show solidarity with our colleagues in the press. It is of key importance that they are not isolated in these attacks on free speech and freedom of publishing. And we also have to support publishing houses. Like those who have been pressurized by letters from lawyers on behalf of the President of the USA on two books launches this year.

Which organizations do you work with in order to monitor the status of press freedom worldwide? And please cite key criteria these organizations use to evaluate press freedom in any given country.

There are a number of organizations doing a great job on monitoring the state of freedom of expression, especially the situation for the free press. Organisations like Reporters without Borders, Freedom House and others publish indexes. There is also published a number of special reports on certain countries and certain regions.  They use different criteria for but the resulting rankings are quite similar. We are considering making a separate index on Freedom to Publish, but there is not really a lack of facts. The grave concern is that, generally speaking, the situation is not improving, rather the opposite. 


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