Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hypocrite and toady

It appears OC Transpo wasn't always so staunchly against political advertising: Sean McKenny, president of [the Ottawa and District Labour Council], says it paid $10,000 for ads to run on 150 city buses [in 1998]. The ads denounced then-premier Mike Harris and his Conservative government. McKenny says OC Transpo can't have it both ways. "They claim that it's not political," McKenny says. "Our claim is that it sure looks that way to us. "Back in 1998, there was no problem with us putting these ads on the OC Transpo buses. The Conservative government were not big favourites in this city of Ottawa. So that was fine," McKenny says. McKenny says the labour council is giving its support to OPSEU, and intends to take the matter up with city council. But of course there could never be such a a bias in municipal government, because, as we know, muncipal government is officially non-partisan. Oh, sure, maybe it leans a bit Liberal; maybe the mayor's chief of staff used to be Brendan McGuinty (I'm amazed that's the best short bio of the man I can find), brother to Premier Dalton McGuinty; maybe Ottawa's deputy police chief was openly stumping for the Liberals last federal election, but that doesn't mean anything. Really. The policy is based on premises of pure political neutrality. Honest. The Citizen makes a more evenhanded case, however: The idea is presumably to avoid having city property associated with political views that might offend -- "offensive references to racial matters" are also banned, and so is "advertising of questionable taste or which is irritating in its content or method of presentation." [...] For instance, election-campaign advertising is OK, except a candidate can only buy an ad to tell people who she is and what she's running for -- not what she'd do if she were elected. That would mean advocating policy. OC Transpo buses are on the road right now with advocacy ads for political causes. Governments use city-owned advertising space to tell people not to smoke tobacco, for instance. Planned Parenthood uses the image of a brown-spotted banana to suggest getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, with an implied message about sexual morality. A government ad campaign encourages young people to turn off their electronics and go out to get some exercise. By OC Transpo's logic, a campaign promoting the federal government's "one-tonne challenge" to reduce air pollution should be forbidden, because it advocates the government's policies related to the Kyoto accord. In fact, OC Transpo seems content to run ads that endorse government policy, if only implicitly. It's when citizens want to buy advertising to criticize any government that there's a problem. Not to mention that the message in most commercial advertising is a call to consume, with an inescapable political implication. [...] The city sells ad space on public property to defray the costs of public services -- by $2.2 million last year. In doing so, it has no business playing private censor over the advertising messages citizens are willing to pay to spread. As long as ads meet basic standards of decency and don't unduly irk OC Transpo riders (or passersby) in their format or content, the city should take them -- including OPSEU's ad. I won't deny that it's OC Transpo's - and thus City Hall's - prerogative to decide this sort of policy at their whim. But the intent behind it is more transparent than usual, this time.


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