Bristol’s Watershed Arts Centre was recently censured by the Charity Commission for failing to observe political balance in its programming.
From recent activity it’s not clear it’s learned the lesson.
Watershed is run as a charity which means it has to follow rules on political neutrality. It also receives substantial public funding from Bristol City Council, the Arts Council and the National Heritage Lottery Fund amongst others. It’s a substantial operation turning over £5 million per year.
The complaint that led to the reprimand focused on their ‘annual’ Palestine Film Festival which is actually more frequent than that; with subsidiary Palestine Film festivals during the year. The tone is monotonous anti-Israel activism.
The Senior Charity Commission Case Officer Mazeda Alam told Watershed that:
the charity has either strayed into political activity, or has enabled this perception to be reached, through events such as the opening night of the 2012 Palestinian Film Festival . We consider that the discussion as recorded on the transcript you provided was not representative of the divergent views on the subject, and that it strayed away from content related to the charity’s objects (film as visual art) into expressions of political views.
Watershed got off lightly; for some reason the charity commission chose not to engage with the following serious allegations:
- A curator who glamourises terrorists (Annemarie Jacir – see p.10 & p.16 of the dossier to the Charity Commission);
- A host who vilifies Jews (Bidisha – see p.9);
- Describing a film which features terrorists as ‘beautiful and intimate‘ (Saken – see p.14);
- A film funded by a terrorist organisation with the screenplay written by a senior member of that terrorist organisation without any context beyond hailing it as a ‘rarely seen gem‘ (PFLP – see p.15);
- Complicity in excluding Israeli funding where it suits them; where the film is not anti-Israel (Encounters v Villa Touma – see p.18);
- Removal of all details of previous festivals to prevent scrutiny. (see p.6)