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Guernsey venue denies “censorship” after blocking covid event

Guernsey venue denies “censorship” after blocking covid event

Monday 25 October 2021

Guernsey venue denies “censorship” after blocking covid event

Guernsey’s government has hit back at claims of “censorship” after a venue it runs declined to host a covid-themed event likely to contain commentary “contrary to public health guidance”.

The Channel Island Integrative Health Alliance wanted to book the 300-capacity Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts for its second 'Covid Conversations' event questioning the island’s response to the virus crisis, and exploring ways of "moving beyond the pandemic".

The island’s Education, Sport and Culture Department (ESC), which is responsible for the venue, said the centre's staff were in a "difficult position" whatever they decided to do. 

The Senior Operations Director for ESC told Express it would not have been "appropriate" for a States-owned venue to host an event seeking to promote "information contrary to government policy" during a pandemic. 

When the event’s organiser first emailed the centre on 10 October to enquire about hiring the theatre one evening in November, a member of staff responded promptly to say there was availability.

However, following correspondence in which the event’s subject matter was clarified, the centre confirmed after a six-day delay that it would not be accepting the booking.

les cotils website

Pictured: The proposed event was a follow-up to a previous presentation attended by around 150 people at Les Cotils' Harry Bound Room in September. 

Questions were then asked about the “undemocratic, perhaps authoritarian” decision not to host the event. It was asked whether the refusal was based on a formal policy or an interpretation of the centre’s policy. 

They also told the organiser that, without representation from Public Health or HSC at the event it “wasn't appropriate, as a States-funded venue, to host an event that was likely to not comply with Public Health guidance.”

They said there are other venues in the island where such an event could be hosted.

Unable to get the PRCPA to revisit their decision, the ‘Covid Conversations’ organiser has since raised their concern with local politicians, arguing that it was tantamount to “censorship”.

Responding, Education’s Operations Director Ed Ashton told Express: “This is not about freedom of speech or seeking to limit that, this is purely about whether it would appropriate for a States-owned venue to host an event which seeks to promote information contrary to government policy when we are in a pandemic. 

“Allowing the event to go ahead in a States-owned venue would have likely also caused criticism so those who run the Performing Arts Centre were in a difficult position either way.”

He also said that accepting the booking may have been misinterpreted as an endorsement from the Performing Arts Centre, and ESC by extension.

The venue said direction from a politician on the ESC committee would be able to override its decision.

However, ESC President Deputy Andrea Dudley Owen said the decision was already “made at the appropriate level” and that her committee would not be getting involved.

Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen

Pictured: ESC President Andrea Dudley-Owen said her committee would not be overturning the decision.

The centre’s new terms and conditions are currently being redrafted.

Express understands that advice is being sought from the Law Officers and Education Department about doing more ‘due diligence’ into events which go against States policy in future.

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Posted by Danny Moisan on
freedom of opinion and speech was a thing?!
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