The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

TMID Editorial: The European Union Prize for Literature - A not so easy to tackle issue

Saturday, 15 May 2021, 07:27 Last update: about 2 months ago

The news that a Maltese author has been disqualified from taking part in this year's European Union Prize for Literature because his book was published by a media house with a political affiliation caused an uproar in the literary community this week.

While one questions whether it is right for political parties to have such affiliations with media houses in the first place, one must not impinge on an author’s right to decide who to publish their works with. At the same time, those handing out such a prize would likely need to ensure that the books are not, effectively, propaganda influenced by a party.

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So the question becomes, should authors linked to publishing houses tied to political parties be banned outright?

This is not an easy question to answer.

Malta is a highly politicised landscape and as such, both main political parties have their own media. In the case of the above, Aleks Farrugia, the author who was disqualified, had published his book through SKS Publishers, which is affiliated with the Labour Party.

Many authors publish books with this publishing house. Will those of a political nature have a PL slant… likely so.

But at the same time, shouldn’t authors feel free to publish with whomever they like? They should.

Perhaps the better choice by the EUPL would be to determine if the book has anything which can be considered to be propaganda and, if so, take a decisions based on that, rather than take the decision solely based on the affiliations of a media house.

The EUPL has said that the prize they award is “apolitical”, and so while many in Malta criticise the decision, from their standpoint the decision they took makes sense.

Labour Party MEP Alfred Sant brought up an interesting point. “Using similar criteria, you could in the future disqualify writers whose publishers are affiliated to Churches, trade unions and so on. Indeed, I am really surprised that this position has been endorsed by the European Writers’ Council.”

It is a tricky topic from which both sides of the coin have valid arguments to make. It also gives a valid insight into how those outside Malta view politically affiliated media.

This decision will also likely have certain repercussions here in Malta. Will authors who strive to win such awards reconsider who they publish their works with? That, of course, remains to be seen.

This whole situation will likely spur on a debate over political party media ownership and affiliation. Turning to a slightly different but related topic, that of political party news media, one must question for example the kind of party radicalisation it has created over the years. Growing up watching nothing but ONE News or Net News will surely warp the way people view the reality in the country for instance. Is that healthy for democracy?

But before such an issue can be tackled, the Public Broadcasting Service must be given far more autonomy than it has now in order to remove concerns of it favouring whichever party is in government.

 

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