Animal Lib billboards censorsed
By Karen Fredericks
SYDNEY — Animal Liberation posters publicising the plight of battery hens and factory pigs have been removed from Sydney railway stations by the advertising company paid to place them there, Pearl & Dean, following threats of legal action by the NSW Farmers Association.
Animal Liberation says that the posters were removed sometime between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. on August 16 despite a contract for their display until September 15. Animal Liberation spokesperson Margaret Setter told Green Left that Pearl & Dean had advised the organisation that the decision to take down the posters was made due to legal action threatened by the NSW Farmers Association.
"The Farmers Association claimed the posters were 'offensive' and 'false and misleading" within the terms of the Trade Practices Act", she said.
A letter from Pearl & Dean general manager Ron Graham to Animal Liberation on August 13 says that the company made a "commercial decision" not to continue the display because they were not prepared to incur legal costs to defend the threatened action by the Farmers Association. However, in an interview with Green Left Graham denied that the posters were removed due to any complaint.
"We had an administrative mistake, or a mixup of some sort", he told Green Left. "The original booking was for a period up to August 15... At some point Animal Liberation, because I think they were quite pleased with the response they were getting from the advertising, approached one of our sales executives and placed an extended booking for a further period. That period wasn't performed because we'd already agreed, on the acceptance of the copy the first time around, that it was a short-term campaign."
Graham acknowledged that there had been "some complaints" about the advertising and that these complaints had been mentioned to Animal Liberation when the posters were removed.
"We gave them a small advice that just because of some objections they might want to see if there was different copy that they wanted to submit", he said. "We thought they might be aware of different copy that might, for a longer period of time, be more acceptable."
Margaret Setter says that Animal Liberation received no complaint, and no threat of legal action, from the Farmers Association. She also points out that no formal complaint was ever made about the posters to the industry body set up to deal with such matters, the Advertising Standards Council.
ASC executive director Colin Harcourt confirmed to Green Left that there had been no such complaint. "We have not, ever, received any complaint about those posters", he said. "I was hoping to have a uncil at its meeting on August 11, but that never eventuated because the farmers and their legal representatives wanted to go to litigation rather than having it resolved by the council."
Animal Liberation suspects that the Farmers Association responded so strongly to the posters because of its fear of a growing public opposition to the abuse of intensively farmed animals and the chemical and antibiotic residues present in factory-farmed products. This increased public awareness is demonstrated, they say, by the example of a recent Tasmanian case in which a magistrate convicted a battery hen farmer of cruelty to animals following a campaign by prominent animal liberationist Pam Clarke.
Legal advice given to Animal Liberation indicates that the NSW Farmers Association has no case against them in the matter of the posters. The organisation also believes that if the dispute had been brought before the Advertising Standards Council the posters would have been allowed to remain displayed.
"We believe the action of the Farmers Association to be a grave threat to the democratic right of free speech in this country", said Setter. "If it can happen to us, who is next?"