WISEHOUSE POSITION PAPER
VERSUS MALPRACTICES OF THE SWEDISH ARTS COUNCIL (STATENS KULTURRÅDET)
IN THE AREA OF LITERATURE GRANT TO MINORITY LANGUAGES
- On Reviewers and Reviewing Procedures
- On Publishers
- On Governance
The Literature Grant of the Swedish Arts Council (SAC) has been over the decades one of the most impressive and sophisticated programs contributing to the promotion of literature in Sweden. As part of this widely successful program not only literature in Swedish language has been promoted but also literature in minority languages. Wisehouse Publishing frequently participates in this part of the program too, mainly as a matter of high prestige and support of its authors, to whom we fairly redirect a good portion of the financial support, received from SAC.
The latter, an extensive approach of SAC to the support of minority languages in times of turbulent global migration, has been without any doubt one of the most ambitious literary programs worldwide, supporting readers, publishers, and authors. At the same time, the program has demanded continuous commitment to high content and publishing standards, as well as fair ethical practices and codes of conduct.
This position paper, investigating reasonable ground for risk of malpractices of some stakeholders in association with SAC within the last years is ONLY PER SAMPLE regarding the promotion of literature in the language of Farsi (referring to skönliteratur), and is explicitly made under such motivation to allow SAC to take early advantage to proceeding with own reassessment of those stakeholders as well as its procedures and lack of independent governance. Hence, this first position paper is due specific to the minority literature grants and has not the intention to question or criticize yet the literature program yet as a whole.
We, as a participating publisher, reckon such an independent public disclosure of our standpoint as a duty to conform with our own ethical codes and commitment to our stakeholders and author’s very rights and integrity. This paper does not aim at settling accusations to individuals, and as a matter of confidentiality does not point to any individuals by name. However, all issues reflected here have been diligently investigated, grounded by very facts, respectively well formulated.
On Reviewers and Reviewing Procedures
- In the recent periods of SAC’s literature program regarding minority languages, we have been confronted with several cases, where our assessment, supported by third-party auditors, who we engaged, raises substantial evidence that reviewers’ professionality and basic knowledge of the Farsi language in literary context is being less assured. While within the past decades, highly decorated and fairly professional reviewers were engaged, we have recently observed individuals assigned as reviewer to Farsi literature, who do not possess even the necessary fluency and background education. In one specific case for instance, which we already brought to the very attention of the Council, an editor native Kurdish language, with no proficiency of Farsi literature was assigned to the review of modern Farsi literature with almost catastrophic results, which, we believe, would seriously harm the reputation of SAC as well as the author. Indeed, the practice of assigning a third independent reviewer and independent audit of the curriculum of the questioned reviewer are worldwide state-of-the-art practices to unveil fake reviewers and delisting them.
- When reviewers with their reviews are being disclosed to us publishers, we believe that the reviewers should not be represented by hidden pseudonyms, nor should they hide themselves behind pseudonyms when presenting themselves to SAC.
- Reviews by reviewers, we believe, should be kept confidential. Such reviews are a matter between SAC and the reviewer. It makes sense that if the Council deems fair, to disclose it to the same author/publisher with the correct name of the reviewer, however, such reviews should NOT be disclosed neither in written, nor orally (no-gossip policy), to the public, neither by SAC employees nor by the reviewer. We experienced that at least in one case this has been seriously neglected, and we brought this to the attention of the council. We recommend that the council establishes strict non-disclosure agreements with its reviewers and take decisive action against those who disclose reviews to the public.
- The independence and assurance of non-conflict of interests is key when it comes to the assignment of reviewers by SAC. Presently we have one case under investigation, where according to our information, the editor of a publisher is assigned by SAC as reviewer of a book published by that publisher, while the life partner of that reviewer is the author of the same book. We did indicate this possible to the responsible SAC coordinator without receiving a response, what makes us seriously doubting whether there would be even deeper dependency and conflict of interest in the comfort zone of the SAC employees.
- As regarding 1-4 we do question whether SAC has established strict compliance and non-disclosure agreements with its reviewers as well as publishers and whether SAC takes decisive actions by delisting reviewers and/or publishers conflicted in malpractices. Questionable is, furthermore, why the responsible SAC coordinators or involved working group members do not apply a simple quality check to avoid situations 1-4, considering that not less than five books of minority language are being listed in average per period, this would be effective practice and not much time-consuming.
- According to SAC’s explicit guidelines: “professional publisher means one whose titles are available to the GENERAL PUBLIC through, for example, LIBRARIES, BOOKSELLERS and ESTABLISHED distribution channels. The publisher shall be responsible for ensuring that the book is characterized by PROFESSIONAL EDITORIAL work and is TEXT-CRITICALLY REVIEWED, and that there are AGREEMENTS that REGULATE REMUNERATION between publishers and authors.” – Our assessment for over the last two decades supports the fact that with few exceptions (and even those exceptions mostly fixed à posterior to received grants) the majority of the Farsi publisher applicants have never possessed ESTABLISHED, state-of-the-art, distribution channels to GENERAL public neither to libraries, and major booksellers. In reality, the information whether a publisher is well-connected to distributors’ networks in Sweden and internationally (if publisher claims international presence) can be checked by either requesting for distributor contracts or checking via ESTABLISHED — As a publisher, we should emphasize through own experience that any argument stating that world distribution channels would generally decline the distribution of Farsi literature is incorrect, unacceptable and unreasonable, however, of course professional distributors dislike to work with unprofessional publishers and low qualities. Indeed there are not more than a handful of established distributors worldwide for literature printed in Farsi language. We question whether SAC has investigated ever the Farsi publishers’ distribution practices due diligently within the last two decades? Our observations underscore that (a) print runs are often low and limited, (b) substantial orders on stock not just-in-time available (even not as assured POD, called in-stock protection), and (c) sales primarily performed by those publishers through one-man selling over the publishers’ front desk or a less trusted website or private amazon shop (which is not the same as the amazon book selling distribution channel). Evidently, state-of-the-art distribution channels in Sweden and internationally are established channels and well known by the industry, meanwhile also accessible through POD to smallest professional and solid publishers. We doubt why many Farsi publishers participating in the SAC program are not being audited by the SAC over many years in this respect.
- Moreover, our investigations do display that various Farsi publishers have not had fair legally binding contracts established with their own authors whom they have published over the last decades, lacking seriously regulation of fair RENUMERATION as well as a documented rights management of authors in written – authors, mostly immigrants in exile, who we have seen struggling for their daily bread. The information hereby has been gathered through interviewing dozens of authors over the years, also residents of countries OUTSIDE of Sweden and not even well aware of their rights and the practices of their Farsi publishers in Sweden and vs SAC. We also were reported by authors who were squeezed or conditioned by the Farsi publishers TO PAY for their books to be published, while at the same time the publisher has applied/received support from SAC. Of course, the latter practice is in the professional publishing world a no-go for any professional publisher worldwide, and we believe that it does not comply to the high standards of SAC too. The SAC independent governance (which we doubt yet to exist functional at this level and t in this respect) could avoid this type of non-compliance by requiring from the publishers at least a copy of their contracts and rights management documentation. Latter is indeed what also ESTABLISHED distributors request frequently from PROFESSIONAL publishers in order to check per sample their compliance.
- Furthermore, at least with one Farsi publisher our investigations firmly indicate that over the last two decades, “professional editorial work” and “text-critically reviewed” has not been substantially part of the publication process at all.
- Regarding item 6-8 we question, why SAC trusted in a comfort zone and has not audited due diligently the Farsi publishers over the last two decades? Isn’t managing for maintaining in comfort zone and avoiding critical assessments a possible reason, considering that such checks are easy and not much time/cost consuming at all?
- Recently, we asked SAC by sending an email to their customer support for the contact of an independent governing body, such as a governing board spokesman or even an ombudsman or walking delegate. Until today, we have not received any response. Moreover, the tone of SAC has been yet self-directed, must-trust-me and closed circle with no reference to any independent third party. We clearly made the experience that for an average author with no potential lobby, it is almost impossible to set decisions of SAC through an independent instance into question, because such formally either fails to exist or will be not communicated, while the same author may fear the future of own carrier in case of an escalating conflict with SAC bureaucracy and working lobbies. This lets us further believe that not only governance within the SAC regarding our abovementioned cases has failed over the years, but also governance and transparent communication in general is an overall issue.
As side remark, we further could not find any publicly available Code of Conduct on the Web pages of SAC, this might be somewhere, however yet inaccessible to us.
- While we understand that SAC may also support with the very limited budget for the literature of minorities, books in minority languages by authors who are neither Swedish nationals nor resident or immigrant in Sweden, we may seriously question the fact, why those publications are being de facto prioritized increasingly versus books of strong authors who themselves belong to minorities or exiled in Sweden. The latest rounds in 2021 may serve as paramount example.
- At the same time, we may question that why de facto the main part of the SAC grants’ budget for literature of minorities is being directed to Farsi language and abovementioned Farsi publishers? – We believe that this practice over long time would be discrimination unfair and would contribute to the futile cycle where: less support other minority languages receive, less they can develop and attract their readers, less they develop publishing, less they apply and less they get support… Isn’t it time that SAC commits to an improved diversity and updates and balances its list of minority languages based on the real readers’ demand and cultural diversity development in Sweden; and if budget is small, to rather ensure a higher focus on quality publishers and motivate them financially towards diversity of our minority languages?
While issues regarding 1-5 has been increasingly observed in the very last periods, issues regarding 6-12 are historically and demand an investigation of publishers’ malpractices vs SAC and lack of governance at SAC back in time of over a decade.
As our investigations continue we will fairly pause to submit any new applications for any grants to SAC in a first iteration for the next 90 days.
We hope that this first public position paper would lead to a sound debate, self-assessment, fair investigations, and resolution of the issues by SAC as it has been in the very tradition of the organization and its administration. We also hope that governing instances will be assigned and communicated soon who can act independently and dialogue with stakeholders, questioning SAC’s practices when necessary. Our paper should be, hence, understood as an honest and ethically serious rollout of points for improvement and not stiff negative judgements.
Finally, we do believe that every organization, and this includes our organization well too, is in progress and never perfect. We should, however, remain committed to positive progress and take feedback by our stakeholders seriously to ensure further trust building rather than unnecessary escalations.
THIS FIRST POSITION PAPER HAS BEEN PUBLICLY DISCLOSED BY WISEHOUSE PUBLISHING