As the G20 nations prepare to meet in St Petersburg, Russia in early September 2013, Index on Censorship is exploring the nations’ records on free expression. Their article about United Kingdom, headlined ‘United Kingdom: A tarnished reputation for free expression’ and published on 23 August 2013, contains the following paragraph about the artistic freedom of expression in the country:
The UK continues to produce challenging art in a free environment for artistic freedom of expression but a chill remains around social, religious and cultural pressures on the arts and inconsistent policing of art deemed to be offensive.
A lack of guidance on the policing of culture has on occasion created significant problems for artistic freedom of expression. Large demonstrations outside performances of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti led to the play being closed down after guidance from the police. Her play about this situation, Behud – Beyond Belief was treated as a potential threat to public order with the police in Coventry asking for a fee of £10,000 per night. Policing can also be arbitrary. In 2012, a police officer told a Mayfair art gallery to remove a photo-montaged image of ancient myth Leda and the Swan from its window, despite the fact no one had complained.
While direct censorship of the Arts remains uncommon, self-censorship by artists is more routine. Artists self-censor for a number of reasons including fear of causing controversy or offence combined with special interest group campaigns that put pressure on artists to censor, financial pressures with artistic institutions not wanting to court controversy, cultural diversity policies that may encourage self-censorship and a habit of risk aversion that leads cultural institutions to focus on worst case scenarios of what might happen when taking artistic risks.
» This article was published on 23 August 2013 at indexoncensorship.org