Government says no to artists' plea for creative freedom protection

Home affairs chief says setting principles of governance for arts bodies would be inappropriate, despite pleas from artists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 5:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 5:29am

Arts professionals say they will step up efforts to improve the governance of local arts bodies after the government ruled out forcing such groups to adopt a set of principles to protect creative freedom.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing yesterday told a Legislative Council panel meeting that the administration would not impose governance rules on the boards of government-supported arts groups to protect creative freedom, despite a petition signed by more than 240 professionals and arts groups.

The idea was floated by Arts3plus1, a concern group formed by three newly elected members of the Arts Development Council in the wake of claims of censorship by the Hong Kong Ballet. The group, one of the "big nine" arts bodies that share about HK$300 million in annual government subsidies, was accused of cutting a sequence referencing the Cultural Revolution from a production.

Ng Mei-kwan, of Arts3plus1, said the purpose of arts group boards should be to help deliver artistic excellence without interfering in creative independence.

"It is a global trend for arts groups to work on a covenant of governance. Now is the time for Hong Kong arts groups to look at the idea, as the arts scene matures," Ng said. "Hong Kong's arts scene needs professional governance."

She said many board members confused their role with that of directors of commercial businesses and thought they were the bosses, when, in fact, "Hongkongers are stakeholders of Hong Kong's arts groups".

But Tsang told Legco's home affairs panel yesterday that the government had no plans to tighten control of arts groups.

"It is inappropriate to interfere," he told lawmakers at a discussion of the ballet row.

Tsang did not directly address the question of whether his bureau investigated the ballet company's alleged censorship of The Dream of The Red Chamber, but said there was "no evidence to prove" the changes were made after the head of Beijing's liaison office attended the premiere.

Democrat Helena Wong Pik-wan said the boards of some arts groups lacked self-discipline and did not respect creativity. She feared some bodies would become nothing more than recreational groups for the rich.

Tsang said her comments were unfair.