Natural History Museum under fire for gagging order with Danish oil sponsor | Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum has been denounced for signing a gagging order which prevented it from criticizing a Danish oil company that sponsored its wildlife photography competition.

The clause was put into a contract with Dong Energy, now known as Orsted, for its sponsorship of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

One wall text at the exhibition stated: “Drilling for oil is not generally considered beneficial for wildlife, yet oil rigs can provide shelter and a rich food supply for many animals including Brandt’s cormorants.”

The text was for an image titled “Rig Diver”, taken by the British photographer Alex Mustard and showing a bird hunting fish beneath an offshore oil platform. The exhibition did not provide any context about the oil industry’s negative environmental impact on marine ecosystems.

By signing the contract, which was obtained by the investigative journalism organization Point Source, the Natural History Museum agreed to refrain from making “any statement” that would “damage the reputation” of the oil company.

The use of the gagging clause has led to accusations of greenwashing by environmental groups. At the time that the contract was signed with Dong Energy, the company operated an oil and gas business in the North Sea worth more than $1bn. The company has sponsored the annual wildlife photography exhibition every year since 2016, and its current agreement runs until July 2023.

The Natural History Museum is not permitted to “make any statement or issue any publicity which may reasonably be foreseen as discrediting or damaging the reputation” of the company.

The campaign group Fossil Free London is calling for all British museums and art institutions to stop signing contracts with large corporations that contain this kind of gagging clause. Robin Wells, a spokesperson, said: “It is totally unacceptable that, when the public walk through the doors of British museums, the information they consume is being controlled by large corporations.”

In a statement, the National History Museum said it retains editorial control over all its exhibitions and denied the suggestion that sponsors have any influence over its content.Clauses such as this are standard for corporate partnerships but they can be open to misinterpretation with regards to the absolute editorial control we retain.”

A spokesperson for Orsted said: “We would not seek to influence the Natural History Museum’s views or limit its ability to provide its usual high standard of independent, critical, fact-based commentary on any aspect of the energy industry sector, should it choose to until Sat.”

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