Clear Channel Pulls Pro-Palestine Billboards in Seattle

by Andrew Belonsky Friday, April 29, 2011 |
Move over license plates, because billboards are rapidly becoming the next political battleground. First some racially-charged pro-life adverts caused a fury, and now a pro-Palestine campaign has been yanked from Seattle streets, again testing the limits of free speech.

Clear Channel Communications’ outdoor-advertising division this week removed a series of pro-Palestinian billboards erected by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign. Apparently the boards in question, which read, “Equal rights for Palestinians. Stop funding the Israeli military,” offended some people who in turn persuaded Clear Channel to rethink the deal.

“Clear Channel Outdoor Seattle carefully evaluates all requests for advertising placement on a case-by-case basis,” said company spokesperson Olivia Lippens. “Where necessary, we balance our belief that out-of-home advertising can contribute to our community’s discussion of serious issues with our equally strong commitment to ensure that all messages… adhere to community standards and are not offensive towards any business, group or individual.”

She went on, “As noted in all contracts, Clear Channel Outdoor reserves the right to reject any advertising, at our sole discretion. Upon further review, it became evident that [the billboards] promoted a web site that is not in keeping with those standards. As a result of that review, we removed this advertising from our displays.”

SeaMAC, however, accused Clear Channel of playing political favorites. Said volunteer Rod Such, “It seems clear that even a call for equal rights for Palestinians is a message that the Israel Lobby in this country cannot tolerate.”

This isn’t the first time SeaMAC’s advertising efforts have been thwarted: bus ads declaring “ISRAELI WAR CRIMES: Your Tax Dollars at Work” were removed by the company Titan Outdoor LLC last December, sparking an ACLU-backed lawsuit.

Remarking on that suit, Kathleen Taylor, executive director of ACLU’s Washington branch, said, “In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions. Chipping away at fundamental free speech rights is not the answer.”

“We should keep in mind that mild speech doesn’t need protection. It is when we are faced with controversial speech, speech that is intensely upsetting to some people, that our adherence to the First Amendment is most important.”

Regardless of where one stands on the always-contentious Israel/Palestine situation—and, for that matter, abortion—the ACLU has a point. As with the most recent high-profile free speech battle—Westboro Baptist Church’s Supreme Court win—you don’t have to agree with the issue to support democratic expression.



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