Camilleri’s democratic revolution: Book Council boss announces election for top post

National Book Council head will run in election he is launching for CEO to prevent government from installing its chosen appointee

No messing about: Mark Camilleri
No messing about: Mark Camilleri

The National Book Council’s government-appointed chief executive Mark Camilleri, has announced he will organise an election for writers and publishers to appoint the next head of the NBC.

Camilleri said he will contest the position to earn himself a three-year tenure, having served since 2013 at the helm of the Council. “If I am reconfirmed at the headship of the NBC, the government will have a greater obligation to support the Council by implementing its legal mandate through the National Congress of Writers,” Camilleri said.

The surprise move by Camilleri is the latest in a series of attempts at forging a national book council that is independent of government whims.

The fiercely independent and outspoken anti-censorship activist, appointed in 2013 by the incoming Labour administration on the back of his campaign against obscenity rules, has privately spoken of resisting attempts to have him removed from the post.

“Government’s cultural entities cannot be in the hands of government appointees,” said Camilleri. “It must be artists and cultural stakeholders to decide who is best to run the entity that addresses their sector. I am asking all the heads of government-run cultural entities to take up my example and build their own democratic structures by announcing their own election.”

In a statement, Camilleri said he had won greater funds for the Council since 2013, turned a moribund book fair into a festival that registers record book sales every year, created the Public Lending Rights royalties system for writers, funded literary films, created new funds for publishing and translation, as well as creating the Writers Congress.

“I have ensured the Council will have no political interference and that freedom of expression will be ensured,” Camilleri said. “I have managed to build an institution that truly serves the interests of the book industry.”

Camilleri has also challenged the government on a host of issues, the most recent being the Mediterranean Conference Centre’s refusal to book the Malta Book Festival during the traditional November month by instead favouring the Cirque du Soleil spectacular.

“The government and my superiors do not necessarily with my mandate. Maybe some fear seeing writers and publishers having so much strength in our civil and economic society,” Camilleri said.