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Darwin festival under fire for ‘gag clause’ preventing artists from criticizing Santos sponsorship | Festivals

Written by Javed Iqbal

Artists and event producers committed to Darwin’s 2022 festival have been presented with a gag clause in their contracts that sets strict limits on what they can say in public about sponsorship of the oil and gas company Santos.

The revelations follow an open letter and petition signed by more than 3,500 people who circulated earlier this month urging the festival to dump the sponsor. The letter described Santos’ involvement in the festival as “artswashing”, comparing to the tobacco industry’s marketing model of previous decades.

At the end of last week, a meeting was convened between First Nations representatives, environmentalists and Darwin the festival board, but failed to resolve the issue, and participants described the meeting as condescending and unproductive.

The Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation is involved in a Supreme Court lawsuit over Santos' proposed expansion of its fracking activities in the Beetaloo Basin.
Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chairman Johnny Wilson said he was “disappointed” when the festival did not commit to dropping Santos. Photo: Original Power

In contracts viewed by Guardian Australia, artists and their producers are required to sign a guarantee that they will not “make statements or representations or otherwise communicate, directly or indirectly, in writing, orally or otherwise, in the terms of the contract. or take any action that may directly or indirectly reduce the festival and / or its corporate sponsors or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates or their respective managers, directors, employees, advisors, companies or reputations ”.

Anna Weekes, a spokeswoman for Fossil Free Arts NT, who attended last Friday’s meeting, said festival board chairman Ian Kew told the meeting that the non-derogatory / no contact clause in the contracts was “standard”, but opponents say that the restrictive clause is contrary to the festival’s principles of free exchange of ideas, artistic expression and freedom of expression.

The board did not answer questions specifically regarding the non-derogatory clause in participants’ contracts, but said in a statement Thursday: “We have met with the affected group on several occasions and committed to a meaningful discussion on this issue after this year’s festival.”

ONE similar dispute over sponsorship non-derogatory clauses emerged earlier this year at Perth’s Fringe festival, where the event’s organizers, Artrage, subsequently promised to review future sponsorship deals with oil exploration and production company Woodside in 2023.

Santos defended its reputation, saying it was “a business leader in climate action with a clear action plan for climate change and a goal of net zero scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2040”, and had been a supporter of the Darwin Festival for more than a quarter . of a century.

‘They made it clear they did not want to change their minds’

Author and Rembarranga and Tiwi Islander woman Marie Munkara, who attended last week’s board meeting with Kew, other board members and legal representatives, said the results of the meeting were disappointing.

“They said it was great that you came to talk to us and all the other things, but I think it was all just platitudes,” Munkara said.

“They made it clear that they did not want to change their minds, that feeling we had right through that meeting.”

Marie Munkara
Rembarranga and Tiwi Islander woman Marie Munkara were disappointed with the recent meeting with the festival board. Photo: Original Power

Representatives of the traditional owners of the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo bassinthat Tiwi Islands and Narrabri area in northern New South Wales, all have expressed concerns to the territory’s government about Santos projects, citing a lack of contact with First Nations people and a lack of respect for land, holy sites and protection of the natural environment.

Santos is involved in the case in the Supreme Court over a proposed expansion of its fracking activities in the Beetaloo Basin.

The chairman of the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents members of the Beetaloo Basin, Johnny Wilson, was present at the meeting with representatives of the Darwin Festival.

“We are disappointed that they did not commit to abandon advertising [from] Santos at this year’s festival, ”he said in a statement.

“How can we take the festival board’s claims of respect for indigenous culture seriously as they continue to promote this business while our communities suffer under their hands?”

Weekes said as festival chairman that Kew should “show leadership and sever ties with Santos, develop an ethical sponsorship policy and change their board by re-appointing artists to better represent the area’s cultural life.”

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Weekes said the festival board’s connections to fossil fuel industries should also be investigated.

Kew, who was CEO of Northern Territory Airports until 2020 made their professional entry into the business world with ExxonMobil, and continued to serve more than 20 years at the multinational oil and gas company Shell. He is also the former chairman of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, the Charles Darwin University Foundation and a former board member of the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery.

Another board member, Cathryn Tilmouth, is the Executive Director of Northern Australia’s Department of Minerals Council of Australia and the former Senior Adviser to the Government and Public Affairs for Santos’ Australian activities.

The festival did not answer the Guardian’s questions about its board composition. Santos was contacted for comment.

The Darwin Festival begins on August 4th.

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Javed Iqbal

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