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Culture secretary Sajid Javid defends freedom of speech in the arts

Culture secretary Sajid Javid. Photo: Jed1357
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Culture secretary Sajid Javid has defended freedom of speech within the arts, labelling cultural boycotts as “needlessly divisive”.

He described protests that result in productions being pulled as “counter to the long history of cultural freedom that this country holds dear”.

In a speech at the Union of Jewish Students Annual Conference this weekend, Javid highlighted recent productions that were hit with protests about their content, including The City at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the National Theatre’s production of Jerry Springer the Opera.

He said: “I don’t believe in artistic and cultural boycotts…As we have said many times, a cultural boycott would achieve nothing. It would be needlessly divisive, and would run counter to the long history of cultural freedom that this country holds dear.”

He added that “culture is bigger than politics” and claimed it should “rise above what divides us, not be used to create that division”.

Javid said people should be able to protest peacefully but claimed “silencing artists…is simply wrong”.

“It was wrong when Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti came under siege from members of the Sikh community. It was wrong when Christian groups tried to drive Jerry Springer the Opera off the stage, and it’s wrong when Jewish artists are targeted simply because of their connection to Israel,” he said.

The culture secretary also highlighted the Tricycle Theatre’s decision to ban a Jewish film festival after the organisers accepted a grant from the Israeli embassy.

“It’s completely unacceptable for a theatre to act in this way, and I didn’t shy away from telling its directors that,” he said.

Javid, who is the latest high-profile figure to speak out on freedom of speech in the arts, also described working in the creative sector as a “serious career choice”.

“It’s worth more than £70 billion a year to the UK. That’s something like £8 million an hour. And the creative industries are growing faster than almost every other part of the economy,” he said.

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