Did Outfront Media censor “free Ahed Tamimi” billboard?

outrfront_mockup
Outfront Media’s staff created this design for a billboard calling for the release of Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi, but it was rejected by corporate executives who claimed it was an “attack ad.”

 

22 Jan 2018 |Ali Abunimah | Electronic Intifada

“A major US ad firm is refusing to put up a billboard calling for the release of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian girl who is in indefinite military custody for challenging Israeli occupation forces on her family’s property.

Ahed, 16, was detained in a night raid in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh a month ago, after video circulated showing her and a cousin slapping and shoving two heavily armed Israeli soldiers following an incident in which a soldier had shot in the head and seriously injured their 15-year-old cousin.

Outraged by a perceived insult to their occupation forces, Israeli leaders are vowing revenge against the Tamimi family and are subjecting Ahed, her mother Nariman and cousin Nour to military trials in kangaroo courts with a near-100 percent conviction rate.

“Nothing that Ahed Tamimi has done can justify the continuing detention of a 16-year-old girl,” Amnesty International stated last week. “The Israeli authorities must release her without delay.”

Billboard design

Ahed’s persecution by Israel has rallied supporters of Palestinian rights all over the world, and a businessperson in Chicago’s western suburbs wanted to help draw attention to her case with a billboard at a busy intersection.

He contacted the ad firm Outfront Media, one of the largest in the country, that used to be known as CBS Outdoor.

The staff in the firm’s Chicago office were very helpful, according to the businessperson who did not want to be named due to concern about harassment his family could face for his speaking out about Palestinian rights.

They negotiated a price: $5,000 plus a $350 design fee to place a large ad at the intersection of Naper Boulevard and Ogden Avenue in the town of Naperville.

The design staff helped come up with an ad that would be printed on a huge vinyl sheet and displayed to an estimated 139,000 passing drivers during the ad’s four-week run.

Outfront’s staff said the ad might even stay up longer for free if no one else bought the billboard right away.

But the trouble began after the Chicago office submitted the design for approval to headquarters in New York: the ad was immediately rejected. So Outfront’s designers in Chicago created a second, toned-down version, which the client approved – the company’s mock-up can be seen above.

However that design was also overruled by the New York office.

“Attack ad”

In a 19 January email seen by The Electronic Intifada, Michael Gapastione, an account executive in Outfront Media’s Chicago office, wrote the businessperson telling him that the New York office “answered me back with second ad and said would NOT be approved.”

“I asked for clarification. Response was that this was an attack ad and won’t be approved,” Gapastione added. “I even asked if we just put FREE AHED with picture and she said NO.”

A request for comment has been sent to Outfront Media.

The businessperson told The Electronic Intifada that initially he had been informed by the Chicago office that Outfront accepts “political ads,” but he added that “the corporate office in New York rejected everything.”

In fact, Outfront Media actively seeks to capture as much as it can of the billions of dollars spent on political advertising in the US.

Defending anti-Trump billboard

In September, the company came under pressure to remove a billboard near the San Francisco Bay Bridge that called to “Impeach Trump” and showed a scowling image of the president.

The political group that paid for the ad said it was initially told by Outfront Media that the ad would come down due to “multiple complaints,” and slammed the company for “censorship.”

But Outfront Media told reporters this had been a “miscommunication” and the company confirmed that the ad would stay up for its scheduled run.

In the end, despite whatever pressure it faced, the firm was prepared to allow Trump critics to have their say.

But in Outfront Media’s view, supporting children’s rights now qualifies as an unacceptable “attack ad” – if those children are Palestinian.

Calling on Israel to respect their rights is beyond the pale for the multibillion dollar corporation – even though 20 members of Congress are concerned enough by Israel’s military detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children that they are backing a bill to curtail it.

There are currently 350 Palestinian children in Israeli military custody.

“For $5,350, I could not even purchase my right to free speech granted by my First Amendment rights,” the disappointed businessperson quipped. “This is America, the land of the free and brave.”

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