Fear of public backlash and potential loss of funding is leading to direct and indirect forms of censorship, according to a new report.
Fear of losing funding and risk aversion are influencing decisions on what to commission at venues, according to a new report published by Index on Censorship. Based on issues raised at their conference ‘Taking the Offensive’ earlier this year, the report says organisations wish to see more debate on the value of presenting controversial work, and it highlights the need for greater support for artistic freedom of expression at senior management and board level.
Despite there being no implicit state censorship of the arts in the UK, the report claims speakers from across the sector confirmed that censorship is a major issue for the arts, in both direct and indirect forms and from subtle and overt sources. Concerns were raised that a focus on corporate philanthropy to fund arts could lead to “dull, safe and uncontentious work that is more easily fundable” especially in rural areas. The idea of ‘institutional self-censorship’ was also raised as a concern for venues and public authorities: editing work produced due to fear of the outcomes, such as loss of funding or a PR backlash. Financial pressures were also considered to be a cause of censorship, especially amongst smaller venues struggling to justify risk-taking and attract funding as they foster emerging talent.
Other dimensions of censorship covered by the day-long conference included the British Council’s work with countries with controversial censorship laws, and the issues ethnic minority artists can face when they have to operate within mainstream views of acceptability concerning their culture. The event was triggered by the isolation faced by artists and organisations that often accompanies controversy and attended by 220 people from the cultural sector, law, funders, and religious groups. Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, called for the sector to “stand together and make a cogent and responsible and sophisticated fist of this debate. We will persuade the media and the public that this is an arena in which we have the right to determine how we operate.”