Publishers Criticize Districts' Policies on Ties to South Africa
Citing the threat of a form of censorship, the Association of American Publishers has asked school districts and municipalities to reverse "misguided" anti-apartheid policies that bar them from dealings with book sellers in the Republic of South Africa.
In a strongly worded resolution adopted unanimously by the association's board of directors last month, the publishers argue that while such efforts have the "laudable objective" of applying economic sanctions against a repressive government, they are counterproductive and inimical to freedom.
In all, 75 cities and school boards have policies that in some way limit dealings with companies that do business in South Africa, according to Robert Jones, a researcher with the American Committee on Africa, a New York-based anti-apartheid group.
The publishers assert in their statement that such policies impose a de facto censorship on U.S. publishers by forcing them either to stop selling books to South Africans or risk restricting the availability of textbooks and library volumes to Americans.
As a result, the resolution states, such policies "play into [the] hands" of those the districts wish to condemn.
"If the government of South Africa were to ban all foreign books from being sold there, the world community, led by the United States, would unleash a storm of criticism," it states. "Indeed, this may be the major inhibition to such censorship."
"The aap is opposed to efforts, no matter how well intentioned, to force American publishers to serve tyranny by providing this censorship."
Rather than restrict the access to books and educational materials, policymakers should encourage their dissemination as a way of facilitating change in South Africa's political system, the publishers maintain.
"We are convinced ... that the free communication of ideas is more likely to lead to that change than a ban on selling American books," the resolution states.
But George L. Vaughn, a member of the Detroit Board of Education and sponsor of its anti-apartheid policy, said last week that "we ought to hold the line, as a nation and as a school board," in condemning the South African regime. Such economic pressure, he said, is a necessary signal to students that the apartheid system is abhorrent to human values.
"Sometimes, trying to do the right thing has negative implications initially," he added. "But you cannot deny that the long-term effect [of the policy] is to promote democratic principles and practices in that nation."
Range of Policies
The types of sanctions being utilized by cities and school districts range from prohibitions on investment in companies with South African ties to bans on the purchase of goods and services from them.
Where policies prohibit purchases from such firms, such as in Detroit and Pittsburgh, contractors mustsign an affidavit asserting that they do not do business in South Africa in order to sell products to the district.
The failure to sign such an affidavit does not necessarily disqualify a company in some districts. For example, Cincinnati's South Africa policy does not override a state law requiring districts to buy from the lowest bidder, according to Harry Skiff, director of purchasing for the Cincinnati Public Schools.
But he noted that "if two companies come in with the same price, we go with the one that does not do business in South Africa, or with a minority contractor."
'A Sizable Market'
Representatives of publishing firms declined to divulge how much of their business is done in South Africa, or which firms might be affected by the districts' policies.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the industry overall4exported $7 million in books, including $700,000 in textbooks, to South Africa in 1986, the last year for which data are available.
South Africa was the 16th-largest importer of American books, ahead of Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, and most Latin American countries, according to William Lofquist, a publishing-industry analyst for the department.
"I can't say [South Africa] is a major market for U.S. books, but it is a sizable market," he said.
By contrast, however, publishers sell about $1.5 billion in elementary- and secondary-school textbooks in this country.
"The American publishing industry is not export-oriented," said Nicholas A. Veliotes, the aap's president. "We are not talking about lots of money here."
"But it's a different matter if school books are blacklisted in a school district," he added. "That does strike at the heart of an economic balance sheet. If your business is predicated on selling elementary- and high-school texts to school districts, you can't afford not to be able to sell your books."
City policies barring dealings with companies doing business in South Africa could also eliminate many books from library shelves, noted Judith F. Krug, director of the American Library Association's office for intellectual freedom.
"The effect is much farther reaching than one would anticipate at first blush," she said. "We are talking about ... publishers publishing materials that are absolutely essential if public libraries are going to fulfill their role."
An anti-apartheid law in Houston, adopted in 1987, could have forced that city's libraries to stop buying the Wall Street Journal, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, according to David Henington, director of the Houston Public Library.
While he supported the goal of the law, he said, he recognized that its effect would hinder his ability to make materials available to the public.
"These are tools basic to the operation of any library," he said. ''I suddenly realized that I'm in a pickle here."
Mr. Henington successfully appealed to the city council to grant the library an exemption from the policy.
Mr. Veliotes of the aap said he hoped the association's resolution would encourage districts to reconsider their policies.
"I hope that people insisting that publishers sign affidavits take a second look and understand what they are trying to force book publishers to do," he said.