Freedom of Artistic Expression and Creativity

This week I spoke at an event where Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights for the United Nations, presented her report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity.

The report addresses the many ways in which the right to the freedom of artistic expression and creativity can be curtailed around the world. Ms Shaheed discussed the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices are being silenced. The report addresses laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms. The underlying motivations are most often political, religious, cultural or moral, or lie in economic interests, or are a combination of those.

The report encouraged States to critically review their legislation and practices imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, taking into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

In her report, Ms Shaheed has a number of specific recommendations to help combat the problem.

(a)   Artists and all those engaged in artistic activities should only be subject to general laws that apply to all people. Such laws shall be formulated with sufficient precision and in accordance with international human rights standards.

(b)   States should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist.  Prior censorship should be a highly exceptional measure, undertaken only to prevent the imminent threat of grave irreparable harm to human life or property.

(c)    Classification bodies or procedures may be resorted to for the sole purpose of informing parents and regulating unsupervised access by children to particular content, and only in the areas of artistic creation where this is strictly necessary due in particular to easy access by children.

(d)   Decision makers, including judges, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, should take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity (as opposed to its value or merit), as well as the right of artists to dissent

(e)   States should abide by their obligation to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities or dissemination of artistic expressions and creations from violence by third parties.

(f)     States should address issues regarding the use of public space for artistic performances or displays. Regulation of public art may be acceptable where it conflicts with other public uses of the space, but such regulation should not discriminate arbitrarily against specific artists or content.

(g)   States should review their visa issuance system and adjust it to the specific difficulties encountered by touring artists, their host organizations and tour organizers;

(h)   States should ensure the participation of representatives of independent associations of artists in decision-making related to art, and refrain from nominating or appointing cultural administrators or directors of cultural institutions on the basis of their political, religious or corporate affiliation.

What is striking about these recommendations and the report in general, is that it shows that restrictions on artists are not limited to authoritarian regimes.  Though the worst cases of artistic oppression happen in countries such as Iran and China, there is still a lot more we can do in Europe to ensure a vibrant and unrestricted culture.  It was a very interesting event and if you would like to read the full report, you can do so by following the link here.

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