The Norwegian produced database presently contains bibliographic information on:
- publications on censorship and freedom of expression world wide
- censorship of books and newspapers world wide during the last decade
- censorship of books and newspapers from selected historical periods and countries
The huge amount of books written through the ages on the subject of censorship and freedom of expression constitutes an invaluable sum of knowledge. Thus this part of the database represents an essential reference collection, made possible thanks to the excellence of the international sources, in particular national and university libraries. For the convenience of users, all items are furnished with source and place of access.
Many of the books, published by universities, publishers or organisations, have long been out of print, but may still be obtained particularly through national libraries. The app. 6000 publications in a variety of languages listed in the database, cover all fields; drama, literature, film, artworks, radio, TV, Internet, libraries, the press etc., and all periods of time and countries, spanning a vast spectre of subjects; moral, political, religious etc., including various national government white papers on censorship legislation, all relevant reports and documents from the UN Human Rights Committee etc.
Still, although this collection is comprehensive, it hardly is complete. Hopefully, the ever expanding network of partners and sources will ensure the completion of this well of knowledge.
Censorship of books and newspapers world wide during the last decade
The daily global monitoring and documentation of abuses of freedom of expression has been expertly handled by independent freedom of expression organisations for half a century, P.E.N International representing the oldest, established already in 1921.
The excellent state of the monitoring may be attributed to the fact that the majority of freedom of expression organisations originate from press or authors organisations, engaged in the ongoing struggle against censorship of the media.
IFEX - International Freedom of Expression eXchange Clearing House, established in 1992 by some of the worlds leading freedom of expression organisations, run a daily electronic service of disseminating alerts and update reports from the member organisations on freedom of expression abuses. The scope of the information is extensive, ranging from reported killings of journalists or torture and physical abuses, violent attacks on publishing houses and newspapers, to the banning or prohibition of books and newspapers and the introduction of new media-laws.
The IFEX files naturally represents invaluable sources for the Beacon for freedom of expression database. However, the bibliographic data compiled from the reports of the member organisations have been restricted to banned and prohibited newspapers and books.
Censorship of books and newspapers from selected historical periods and countries
The majority of the more than 50.0000 items listed in the database consists of bibliographic data on individual books and newspapers that have been censored through the better half of the last millennium in selected countries and particular periods of time. The Roman Inquisition's lists Index Librorum Prohibitorum, are regarded as the earliest systematically kept records of prohibited literature. The first list was issued in 1559, the last of the voluminous 20 lists was published as late as 1948 and only suppressed in 1966. These lists are exceptional, inasmuch as comprehensive data on censored items from other parts of the world before the 19th century have proved hard to come by. Consequently, the pre-19th century records of censored items may hardly be expected to ever become complete.
After the 19th century and particularly from the 20th century, the recordings of censored items become infinitely more thorough and systematic, thus sources do exist that eventually will allow for near complete registration of data. However, there still are problems to encounter regarding accessing the data.
One problem has been to identify and actually make contact with the keepers of information. A great deal of time have been spent on quests - sometimes futile - for information on the whereabouts of national data on prohibited or banned books and newspapers. Governmental or influential religious bodies having most frequently been problematic, responding reluctantly or not at all, to queries on the subject of censorship. The proprietors, regarding the direct contact with official sources as a sound working principle, has in such cases resolved the problem through independent, professional sources. Nevertheless, the policy of secrecy still practised by some governmental or religious bodies, even concerning censorship of the past, remains a regrettable obstacle, not only to the purpose of the database, but also to the basic human rights principle of free access to information.
In a number of cases, information about the data has been easy to obtain, but the data itself has been more difficult to actually access; occasionally still kept as collections of banned books in special libraries, or as special paper archives. The amount of data on censored books and newspapers thus practically unobtainable to the public is staggering, and represents a painfully unresolved task in poor countries and countries in transition. Hence the project administration received very positive response to the offer of translating and transferring data free of charge. Regrettably, due to time and budget restraints, the administration has not been able to accept a number of interesting offers of paper archives of banned books and newspapers during the Soviet era.
To undertake the important task of making this information publicly available and thus rectifying to some extent the crimes, should be considered a main priority, not only for The International Board of the database, but for the world community.