The Airports Company of South Africa has ordered an advertising campaign at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg be taken down due to its “potentially controversial” nature. The ad shows a lioness with a gun at her head, a portrait of President Jacob Zuma and the words: “President Zuma can save her life.”
The ad is part of a campaign launched by international NGO, Avaaz, which is running an awareness drive over the appalling increase in the trade of lion bones from South Africa to countries in Asia.
“Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) just ordered our ads to be taken down, in a move that smacks of political censorship. We have objected, told the press and are reviewing our options to ensure that our voices are heard and we win protection of the lions. We’ll keep you updated — please continue to check back!’ Avaaz said on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
But no one is saying just who ordered the “potentially controversial” ads to be taken down by Acsa or why they were deemed “controversial”. Solomon Makgale, group manager of communications at Acsa, responded to questions from TheMediaOnline with a generic statement, and did not respond to follow up queries.
“During the course of last week, Airports Company South Africa was made aware of a potentially controversial ‘save the lion’ campaign in the International Arrivals at OR Tambo International Airport.
“The campaign was placed by Primedia, on behalf of its client, Avaaz, an international non-governmental organisation.
“Acsa has a contractual relationship with Primedia in terms of which Primedia solicits advertising from clients to place at the airports. In line with the agreement, Acsa exercised its right as the owner of the advertising platform and removed the material whilst assessing its suitability for display at the airport,” he wrote.
– Did someone or some organisation, including government, ask for the ad to be removed, as claimed by Avaaz?
– Was the department of transport involved in this request? (Acsa reports to the department of transport.)
– Why is this ad regarded as controversial?
– Have you received notice of a legal challenge to this order from Avaaz?
– Has the material been removed?
– Should this not have gone through the Advertising Standards Authority first, as is the normal case when ads are regarded ‘controversial’?
– Did members of the public complain about the ad?
We had not received a response from Acsa, nor Primedia Outdoor’s CEO, Dave Roberts, by the time we posted the story on Thursday.
Avaaz, which describes itself as an organisation that has a “simple democratic mission: organise citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want”, issued a press statement slamming the decision by Acsa.
“This censorship smells of political interference and attacks the voices of hundreds of thousands of world citizens who are urging South Africa’s President to protect its lions. The government controlled airport authority is undermining freedom of expression and political dissent,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director at Avaaz.
The adverts, which are plastered across the International Arrivals Hall, show a picture of a gun pointing at the head of a lion and President Zuma standing behind it. It reads: “Our lions are being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for Asia. Will President Zuma save them? Urge him to stop the deadly lion bone trade now.” A petition on Facebook calling on Zuma to stop the trade now has over 711 000 signatures from the international community.
The striking ads kick-started the second phase of a global campaign that began on 27 June drawing attention to the lion bone trade and the detrimental reputational impact it may have on South Africa’s tourism industry.
“We will fight to protect these ads which call for an end to the slaughter of lions across South Africa and urge the airport authority to provide a legitimate reason for this censorship,” added Ruby-Sachs.
Avaaz says South Africa is the largest exporter of lion bones and latest government figures show a 250% increase in these exports between 2009 and 2010. Although most lion bones come from ‘canned hunting’ farms in South Africa, experts fear that as demand rises, even wild lions are starting to come under poaching attack. Lion bones are highly sought after to make phony ‘medicines’ in some parts of Asia and are worth thousands of dollars in the market.