Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tate must release details of BP sponsorship

The ethics and sponsorship of art debate took a step forward on Monday. A campaign by a pressure group to force national art museums in the UK to give up sponsorship funding from BP took an interesting turn.

A Tribunal hearing an Appeal of a Freedom of Information Act case against the Tate brought by environmental campaigner Brendan Montague (supported by the arts and activism charity Platform) upheld part of his Appeal.

Tate Britain
The Tate Museum now has 35 days to disclose certain detailed information relating to BP Sponsorship Funding between 1990 and 2006 - but not from 2007 onwards.

You can read the Judgement online.

The lawyer for Mr Montague stated
“The long standing relationship between BP and the Tate is controversial. Only when the public are fully informed about how much money Tate actually receives from the company, can a properly informed debate take place about whether BP is an appropriate sponsor for the art gallery and its work.” 
The Museum had previously claimed exemption from disclosure citing the Freedom of Information Act exemption clauses
  • s41 (information provided in confidence) and 
  • s43(2) (prejudice to commercial interests) - which is subject to a public interest text
The Appeal has two parts as follows

  • by Mr Montague was against the continuing redaction of some of the information previously supplied. 
  • by the Tate was against supplying any of the redacted information

The Tribunal upheld some of the redactions and have allowed others to be unredacted "in the public interest".

The campaign group focuses on the social, economic and environmental impacts of the global oil industry.  I'm unclear whether it's associated with the Liberate Tate websites related to Tate Funding and its relationship with oil. These are
One of the issues about such campaign groups is whether their perspective represents a large enough constituency within the community at large to make oil really unpopular.  However, unlike tobacco, a lot of people use oil and oil based products on a daily basis.

Below is my summary of what seems to be the gist of the argument and responses by BP and the Tribunal - plus some comments on related matters.

Platform / Brendan Montague

  • oil money is tainted since the oil companies are responsible for damage to the ecosystems and climate change
  • when the figures are released it will be seen that the amount of sponsorship by BP is so small as to be easy to dispense with
  • then the debate about the value of the sponsorship in an ethical context can properly commence
  • An aside! The pressure group has developed one of the most inaccessible 'so-called' infographic I've ever seen! It purports to show how much the sponsorship money represents as a percentage of total funding. In reality the infographic is either far too small or far too big and in either case it's impossible to see the point they're trying to make. Which is rather odd given that in all other respects, this is a campaign group that has a surprisingly smart and sophisticated website.
I wondered who is funding the Campaign Group so took a look at their Funding Page.  Interestingly one of their sponsors is the Arts Council! Oddly enough, they don't say how much each of their sponsors actually provides by way of funding.......

    Tate

    • Tate considered that it ought to prevent BP having its sponsorship placed under scrutiny because:
      • the current sponsorship agreement contains a confidentiality clause
      • they don't want to prejudice their relationship with BP and hence jeopardise the relationship
    • “protests might intensify” which might then create a risk to public safety and wellbeing.

    Tribunal

    The Tribunal considered that
    • BP are perfectly capable of understanding the nature of the controversy generated by their activities in the public domain - and do not need to be protected by the Tate
    • the Tate's interpretation of some aspects of Freedom of Information Act have been :
      • “mistaken” - about the need for Tate to disclose information as a publicly funded FOI Act organisation; and 
      • “somewhat fanciful”- particularly with respect to health and safety issues associated with protests.
    • the nature of the relationship between Tate and BP was essentially a "win-win" situation since both stood to gain in the context of a purely commercial transaction
    We accept Mr Montague’s evidence that arts sponsorship can legitimately be understood as a means of maintaining BP’s ‘social licence’ to operate and of enhancing, maintaining or repairing BP’s brand. This was confirmed for us by Mr Aydon’s evidence. Mr Aydon’s explanations of how the sponsorship system operates show that it is understood on both sides as an essentially commercial relationship. In our view it was clear from the evidence that Tate needs financial support, that BP needs ways of enhancing, maintaining or repairing its brand, and that sponsorship brings these two needs together, via a commercial negotiation.
    • the exemption relating to disclosure of sums relating to 2007 onwards would be maintained - partly because "public curiosity" does not equate to "public good" and a lot is already known
    the extent to which disclosure would be in the public interest must be judged in the context of what is already publicly known, ie, that BP’s sponsorship is important to Tate, and that Tate is one of four cultural institutions which are together receiving £10 million from BP over a five year period. Weighing the limited contributions to the public interest that would be made by disclosure on one side and the potential importance to Tate of maintaining the exemption on the other side, we conclude that the Commissioner was correct to find that the balance was in favour of maintaining the exemption. 
    • more information needs to be disclosed - but not as much as Mr Montague would like. Tate have 35 days to provide details of sponsorship between 1990 and 2006

    What do you think?

    I don't see why we should let a little detail like the sums of money involved get in the way of starting a debate so here's some questions to ponder on:
    • Should BP be sponsoring the Arts in this country - and why (or why not)?
    • Do you think exhibitions/competitions etc would suffer if BP funding was no longer available?
    • Do you think another company would fill the gap if BP no longer funded art?
    • Do you think any substitute sponsor would be better or worse than BP?
    It's worth thinking about what the alternative might be. For example - supposing a Russian Oligarch whose money was generated by the oil industry were to invest in improving his profile in this country, might we back at where we came in - or worse?


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