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Guidelines drawn up to help productions under threat from protest

Incubator Theatres show The City had its Edinburgh Fringe run cancelled after escalating protests in 2014 Incubator Theatres show The City had its Edinburgh Fringe run cancelled after escalating protests in 2014
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Guidelines aimed at empowering arts organisations staging controversial productions have been drawn up by freedom of expression campaigners.

Following the closure of controversial shows including Exhibit B and The City due to public pressure, the guidelines have been created by Index on Censorship and advocacy group Vivarta up to inform artists of their legal rights in such situations.

In total, three guides have been published on the Index on Censorship website, covering free speech laws relating to terrorism, child protection and public order.

Julia Farrington, who heads the arts division at Index on Censorship, said free expression was “crucial” to the arts, but performers were often unsure of their rights under the law.

She explained the guides would help artists “approach controversy with more confidence”.

“The Exhibit B closure demonstrates clearly the power the police have over decisions about art that offends,” she added. “These packs set out to explain the powers of the police and the rights and responsibilities of arts organisations in this area.”

In 2004, a violent protest against Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti at Birmingham Repertory Theatre led to the play being pulled from the venue’s programming.

Explaining the necessity of artists being well-versed in free speech law, Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg said: “The police, prosecutors and courts have a duty to defend free speech. But, as we have seen with cases such as Exhibit B and Behzti, police will go along with a ‘heckler’s veto’ and advise that artistic productions shut down when threatened with protest.”

Two further guides covering ‘race and religion’ and ‘obscene publication’ will be published in September.

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