Prestigious Oxford University Press (OUP) has denied imposing a gag order on mentions of pigs or pig products in its children’s books so as to avoid offending Muslims and/or Jews.
OUP is the largest university press in the world and the second oldest, so one might say — or not say — that it has a history of bringing home the bacon.
In a discussion of free speech vs. censorship in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, British radio presenter Jim Naughtie on Radio 4, claimed that the publishing arm of Oxford University issued certain pig-related guidelines in question, as the London Telegraph reported.
“I’ve got a letter here that was sent out by OUP to an author doing something for young people. Among the things prohibited in the text that was commissioned by OUP was the following: Pigs plus sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork. 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.”
Naughtie’s wife is reportedly negotiating with Oxford University Press about writing a series of educational books, and perhaps that’s how these guidelines surfaced.
The alleged politically correct pig prohibition has not gone over well in the British media.
“It has been branded ‘a joke’ and ‘utter nonsense’ by critics — including Muslims and Jews — though OUP says that the ban is part of standard guidelines used by international publishers,” the U.K. Daily Mirror explained.
OUP executive Jane Harley has denied that her organization has banned books or language about pigs, however.
Writing in The Guardian, she asserted that the publisher was just balancing cultural sensitivities where appropriate given that it sells textbooks and educational materials to about 200 countries.
“To clarify, OUP does not have a blanket ban on pork products in its titles, and we do still publish books about pigs. Although there have been no recent changes to our guidance on this topic, these articles highlighted the fine balance needed when considering students’ cultural and learning needs… What we do, however, is consider avoiding references to a range of topics that could be considered sensitive — in a way that does not compromise quality, or negatively impact learning…”
Responding to the controversy, a free speech advocate in the U.K. noted that “it is difficult to imagine any context in which images of everyday objects — like pigs — or the word itself should be banned from being used in a children’s book,” London’s Daily Mail reported. A spokesman for the country’s Jewish Leadership Council added that “Jewish law prohibits eating pork, not the mention of the word, or the animal from which it derives.”
[image credit: Szajci]