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When does a billboard become political, especially when freedom of expression seems to collide with what others may view as hate speech?
This is the question facing the Johannesburg High Court after a pro-Palestinian lobby and pressure group – Boycott Divestment and Sanctions SA (BDS) – asked the court to declare the removal of its anti-Israel billboard unlawful and unconstitutional. Continental Outdoor Media removed one of BDS’s billboards in Joburg. The billboard, according to BDS, stated facts on the plight of the Palestinians.
BDS claims that the advertising company has infringed on its right to freedom of expression.
In papers filed at the Johannesburg High Court, BDS says its campaign was intended to draw attention and public support to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. The organisation says the billboards “explain the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands”.
BDS had commissioned the billboards from Sweetworks Advertising Agency in Joburg last year.
Among the reasons Continental Outdoor Media gave for removing the advertisement were that they broke City of Joburg by-laws on prohibited outdoor advertising because they were “indecent or suggestive of indecency, prejudicial to public morals, or insensitive to the public or any portion thereof or to any religious or cultural group”.
Continental Outdoor Media also said the advertisement broke some of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) codes and the lease agreement between the company and BDS SA.
BDS put up seven of the 12 Palestine solidarity billboards last year and only one was contracted to Continental Outdoor Media.
The other six hired out through other advertising companies still remain, according to BDS. The Legal Resources Centre’s (LRC) Naseema Fakir, who represents BDS SA, was not available for comment. Heinrich Meiring – who represents Continental Outdoor Media – did not respond to questions from The Sunday Independent this week.
BDS SA’s Muhammed Desai said they had served their papers on Continental Outdoor Media this week. At its Mangaung conference in December, the ANC endorsed the Palestinian BDS campaign.
ASA recently forced the Gupta family’s 24-hour television news channel ANN7 to remove its giant billboard on the N1 highway near Sandton after a complaint from the SA Older Persons’ Forum protested about the words “We are not old farts… nah, not even our presenters” next to a picture of an elderly man. - The Sunday Independent