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Public Censorship; CCensorship due to public influence



Freedom of expression is essential to the arts. It needs to be actively sustained at the heart of artistic practice and mission, or it risks being undermined and diminished by competing concerns. It is a contentious right that triggers often divisive debate about the responsibility of the artist to balance between respecting and challenging society’s sensibilities.

Censorship and self-censorship are significant influences in the arts, creating a complex picture of the different ways society controls expression. In contrast to conventional state sponsored censorship which is direct and clearly demarcated, contemporary censorship in the UK is the result of a wide range of competing interests–public safety and public order, religious sensibilities, corporate interests. These constraints are often implemented without clear guidance or legal basis.

A key focus of this report is on how self-censorship manifests in arts organisations and institutions. The causes of self-censorship range from the fear of causing offence, losing financial support, violent public reaction or media storm, police intervention, prejudice, managing diversity and the impact of risk aversion. Participants acknowledged that these considerations influence many decisions about what work is commissioned or produced. Fear of prosecution for expression that might be considered to be criminal was also cited. Many admitted that a lack of knowledge around legal limits contributed to self-censorship.

Juggling the expectations and rights of the artist with those of audiences, funders, sponsors, media and the general public emerged as a difficult and demanding task. Many speakers from the platform and the floor felt strongly that, to reinforce support for artistic freedom of expression, arts organisations will have to be more transparent about the dilemmas they face and more willing to open up dialogue about critical decisions. There was a range of thought about the benefits of providing guidelines or policies, though there was strong support for developing guidance around policing.

Representatives of arts organizations raised common themes that would benefit from further discussion. There should be more debate with the audience, general public and young people about the positive value of controversy, disagreement and diversity of opinion as a means of understanding ourselves and our society. There is unequal access to exercising the right to artistic freedom of expression, with artists from ethnic minorities encountering additional obstacles. The size and funding of organisations will be a determining factor in how far they can go to support challenging work. Support for artistic freedom of expression at senior management and board level is absolutely central to developing an ethos that is able to defend artistic freedom when challenged.

Censorship and self-censorship
This report distinguishes between censorship and self-censorship. Self-censorship is the suppression of ideas by artists or institutions. It refers to work that has not yet been made.Censorship is used to describe the silencing of work that has been made. This includes the removal of work that is on display or in performance or the vetting of finished work before it is displayed or performed.