The Education Department has denied claims of "censorship" after the Perfoming Arts Centre declined to host an event that was likely to contain commentary "contrary to public health guidance" about covid-19.
A group calling itself 'The Channel Island Integrative Health Alliance' wanted to book the 300-capacity theatre for its second 'Covid Conversations' event questioning the Government's response to covid-19 and exploring ways of "moving beyond the pandemic".
Education, Sport & Culture, which runs the Princess Royal Centre for Performing Arts [PRCPA], 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 which seeks to promote "information contrary to government policy" during a pandemic.
The event's organiser first emailed the Performing Arts Centre on 10 October to enquire about hiring the theatre one evening in November.
A member of staff from the PRCPA responded promptly to say there was availability, before requesting extra details around tickets, expected attendance and other details needed for the centre’s insurance.
“The event is in the format of live stream of interviews with different individuals by a number of local people,” said the organiser, who had not specified the subject matter at this point.
She described it as a “community-led event” and confirmed she would like to book the theatre on the evening of 15 November.
Theatre staff then asked for the event name and the topic of the interviews.
It was at this point that the subject matter became clearer. “It is a public presentation by CIIHA (the Channel Island Integrative Health Alliance) with speakers including Nick Hudson, Dr Ros Jones, Dr Clare Craig and the UK politician Richard Tice,” said the organiser.
“A wide and diverse and global array of presenters talking about a wide array of topics to do with the Pandemic and moving beyond it.”
Pictured: ESC President Andrea Dudley-Owen said the refusal to host the event was an operational decision. While she would not give a personal, political opinion on the decision, she did say that staff were put in a "challenging position" and that she "can understand the reasons for the decision reached".
There are few details about the ‘Health Alliance’ online, however the group held its first event at Les Cotils in September, advertised mainly through flyers. At that event, speakers questioned the roll-out of vaccinations to the wider population.
It was attended by more than 150 people and the organisers were looking for a bigger venue – one of the prime considerations when seeking to book the 300-capacity theatre at the PRCPA.
There was a six-day delay before the PRCPA notified the organisers that they would not be accepting the booking.
“Sadly, as a States-funded centre I'm not sure we can host this event as some of its content will be counter to Public Health guidance. I'm sorry we can't help in this instance.”
Questions were 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.
The staff member said the matter had been discussed with their line manager and the decision taken “is our interpretation of the situation”.
Pictured: Organisers wanted to host the event at the Princess Royal Centre for Performing Arts, saying they needed more space following their previous event at Les Cotils.
The centre’s new terms and conditions are currently being re-drafted and Express understands the PRCPA will now seek advice from Law Officers and the Education Department about doing more ‘due diligence’ into events which may go against States policy.
The PRCPA 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.”
The organiser has not responded to questions from Express, asking whether any professionals from Public Health Services had been invited to speak and, if not, whether they would be willing to extend that invitation.
Unable to get the PRCPA to revisit their decision, the ‘Covid Conversations’ organiser raised their grievance with States Deputies, arguing that a dangerous precedent was being set.
“It would be a travesty if we are unable to host this event due to, in effect, political intervention and censorship from the States. The main premise of free and democratic society is freedom of speech.”
Responding to questions from Express, the Director of Operations for Education, Ed Ashton, rebutted those remarks.
“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.”
Pictured: The proposed event was a follow-up to a presentation at Les Cotils' Harry Bound Room in September. The organisers, contacted by Express on Friday morning, have not responded to questions about the event and whether anyone from HSC had been or would be invited to represent Public Health Services in the 'Covid Conversations'.
Mr Ashton said that accepting the booking could have led to suggestions that the event was supported by the Performing Arts Centre, and by association the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture.
“The decision taken by the Performing Arts Centre was based on a range of factors,” he reiterated.
“While the organisers of the event are of course free to hold it in any private venue, it was considered inappropriate for it to be held in a States-owned building given the subject matter and content.”
In their exchange with the organiser, the staff member at the PRCPA told them: “If you would like to get a deputy, especially from the ESC committee, to direct us to take this booking then obviously that would override our interpretation and the event can be booked in.”
Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, President of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, said it was “an operational decision made at the appropriate level”.
“The Committee does not get involved in such decisions,” she said.
“I fully understand the challenging position this presented for the Performing Arts Centre and understand the reasons for the decision its staff reached.”
A States spokesperson said Public Health could not comment on the decision made by the Performing Arts Centre as the facility is run by Education, Sport & Culture.
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