Two weeks after international NGO Avaaz was told the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) had removed its advertising campaign at OR Tambo airport, the organisation still has no idea what prompted the action. But Avaaz has taken legal advice, convinced that the removal of the posters, featuring President Jacob Zuma and asking him to intervene in the lion bone trading industry, is an infringement on their right to freedom of expression.
“We have made our objection to the managing director of the Airports Company of South Africa, Mr Bonganí Maseko, Avaaz’s Aldine Furio told TheMediaOnline. “We believe ACSA and Primedia acted unlawfully. We have made a demand to both Primedia and ACSA that the ads be reinstated and have retained local counsel to consider legal action if necessary to enforce our rights.”
In a message to President Zuma, Avaaz said “as citizens from around the world with great respect for South Africa and its magnificent natural heritage, we appeal to you to ban the cruel and senseless trade in lion bones and organs, which is encouraging an industry that could drive lions to the brink of extinction. We hope to be able to visit South Africa and support its tourism industry, and would like to recommend travel there to our friends. We urge you to remove the stain of the lion trade from your country’s reputation and help us to support you with a clean conscience”.
The ad campaign that was removed from OR Tambo shows 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 717 574 signatures from the international community.
The company that erected the out of home media campaign, Primedia Outdoor, told Independent Online it had “received an e-mail from the Airports Company last Wednesday saying the posters were offensive and in contravention of the Advertising Standards Act code of conduct and that they wanted them removed… we don’t censor our client’s products, so we referred the artwork to the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA).” ACA’s advice, Lindstrom said, was that the use of Zuma’s face could be problematic, as Avaaz had not secured permission for its use.
When TheMediaOnline sent Acsa a series of questions asking who had asked for the posters to be removed and under what circumstances, ACSA didn’t to answer, sending us a generic response that merely said the posters were regarded as “potentially controversial”.
We caught up with Avaaz’s Aldine Furio to ask what action they have taken.
How many ads did you have running at which airports in SA?
Avaaz contracted to place 40 images on 10 pillars at the international arrivals hall of the OR. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
What were the reasons given to Primedia for removing the posters?
Neither ACSA nor Primedia has yet given us a valid, lawful reason for removing the posters. We don’t know what ACSA told Primedia, but we do know that Avaaz members have a right to express their opinion and the government-owned Airports Company does not have the right to censor them.
Do you know on whose authority they were requested to do so, i.e. which government department?
ACSA ordered Primedia to take down the ads. The fact that ACSA is government owned raised serious questions about whether this was politically motivated censorship.
Have you removed the posters?
On ACSA’s orders, the ads were removed by Primedia the same day Primedia received the order and told us about it — this was before we were even given a notice of the reason for the removal or an opportunity to be heard to contest ACSA’s decision.
What actions have you taken to protect your freedom of expression?
We believe ACSA and Primedia acted unlawfully. We have made a demand to both Primedia and ACSA that the ads be reinstated and have retained local counsel to consider legal action if necessary to enforce our rights. More than 700 000 people around the world should not be silenced in this way by the South African government when they are attempting to engage in legitimate political debate.
The bottom line is that by removing the ads as they did, ACSA and Primedia have violated our rights under South African administrative law and under the South African Constitution, which protects freedom of expression – especially in cases in which citizens are expressing political opinions about matters of public interest.