Engagement and freedom of expression

1. We represent a broad spectrum of UK opinion – particularly in the arts and education.

2. We are for engagement and freedom of expression.

3. We are a people-to-people organisation first and foremost, but respect other governments and cultures.

 

We represent a broad spectrum of UK opinion – particularly in the arts

  • Our Royal Charter directs us to share the UK’s achievements in education, the arts and the English language internationally. Wherever possible, we will seek to represent a range of UK achievement and expression.
  • In the UK, the boundaries of what is acceptable are very broad, particularly in the arts and education. This reflects the diversity, freedom of expression and celebration of difference that characterise UK society. Other countries and cultures draw these boundaries differently and, in common with analogue organisations, we take this into account when planning the detail of our work.
  • In the arts, we respect the right of other governments, cultures and individuals to reject a particular work of art. However, it is inevitable that British Council-supported art work may at times be challenging and, on rare occasions, may cause offence.
  • We curate arts events in a way that allows a range of perspectives to be presented and explored. We aim to achieve a balance in perspectives across our arts programmes over time. The same is true of our education and society programmes.
  • Where we are working with individuals who hold strong personal views about a particular country, we seek to balance that with alternative voices and points of view.

We are for engagement and free expression

  • We are for engagement and against isolation, boycotts and censorship. We seek to create space for the free expression of ideas.
  • As a body that champions the values of the UK, we are deeply uncomfortable when freedom and human rights are compromised, but we do not support educational or cultural boycotts. We believe that continuing engagement and connecting people provides a better way forward than isolation.
  • In many countries, our work gives ordinary people a lifeline to the outside world, and sometimes their only way to connect and contribute beyond their own borders.
  • We reflect and respect a broad spectrum of UK opinion. We understand that some people may not wish to engage with certain regimes and we respect their individual choices. We also respect the fact that others will want to engage.
  • We listen to different views and seek to understand the opinions and reasons of those who support boycotts, just as we hope that those who favour boycotts can understand our position. We are open to other points of view and we encourage people to engage with us, not least to ensure we represent a broad spectrum of UK opinion.

People-to-people, first and foremost

  • We are first and foremost a people-to-people organisation. We work with governments, ministries and cultural and educational institutions, but above all, we seek to build trust and opportunity between people.
  • We believe that people-to-people links – whatever the government-to-government relations – make a powerful and lasting contribution to a more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous world.
  • We acknowledge the right of other governments and institutions to draw different boundaries for artistic and academic expression than the UK does, but we will always want to represent the broadest possible range of UK arts, education and society and promote freedom of expression as part of our responsibility to fully represent the UK.

Facts

  • Our work with China has divided opinion. We seek to work with the broadest possible spectrum of Chinese writers and artists while presenting the broadest possible range of UK arts to Chinese audiences.
  • Our work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel divides opinion there and in the UK. We oppose boycotts, but some of the people and organisations differ and challenge our continuing engagement with people and institutions from either Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
  • Despite (and because of) the challenging political relationship betweeen the UK and Russia, we have maintained our engagement and we delivered almost all the events planned for the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014 and it received hugely positive responses from the Russian public and media.
  • In Zimbabwe, we partner with local festivals, such as the Harare International Festival of the Arts, Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo and SHOKO Festival, as well as UK arts institutions, to engage Zimbabwean arts groups and connect them with the UK arts sector.
  • In Burma, during its years of isolation we offered uncensored access to the internet, with a quarter of a million users coming to our libraries each year. Here, people could learn English and experience UK and international culture and freedom of expression in a safe, open environment.