UPDATE: Politico has picked up this story. 🙂
Thank goodness the MBTA is around to protect the tender, delicate sensibilities of its riders. Otherwise, they might have had to look at this ad, which a group called 350.org wanted to run to call attention to Scott Brown’s vote to eliminate the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
350.org was given very little information regarding the rejection. I am informed that they simply received the following email, from the contractor that handles advertising for the T:
From: Titan 360
Date: Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 5:05 AM
Unfortunately, the MBTA did not approve of this creative due to its political stance, and we will not be able to install the campaign.
Sorry for the long wait and inconvenience. We will issue our own internal paperwork to cancel the contract.
Obviously, there is nothing indecent about the ad. Some riders may disagree with 350.org’s point of view, but so what? Do we really want the MBTA – a government agency – deciding which viewpoints are suitable for advertising, and which aren’t?
Consider another recent example: as you may recall, the rapture was supposed to happen on May 21, according to a rather extreme interpretation of certain biblical writings by a guy who also happened to have a lot of money. He plastered ads announcing the event all over the country, including on MBTA buses. But when it turned out that – surprise! – Family Radio also harbors certain anti-gay sentiments, the T’s general manager came out with a series of muddled responses, first saying that the T took down the ad because of Family Radio’s views, and then later claiming that the ads actually came down because the campaign expired, but that “content of future ads to undergo more scrutiny.”
Here’s yet another example, which dates from several years ago and so may not reflect current policy, but is nonetheless illustrative of the kind of line the T is trying to draw. This ad was rejected:
The MBTA said the advertisement for the movie “Tomcats” was “degrading to women.”
“We have a responsibility to our passengers. They can’t change the channel if they are on a bus,” said Brian Pedro, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
That ad is obviously not “obscene” in the First Amendment sense, nor does it approach what is routinely seen even on TV, to say nothing of an R-rated movie. So what’s the right policy for the MBTA’s advertising? Should they take all comers, as long as they don’t cross the First Amendment line (i.e., fighting words, hate speech, obscenity, or other unprotected categories)? Or can the T be more selective, refusing to run ads that they think might offend, or at least make uncomfortable, some portion of their ridership? If so, what is the right line to draw? Is it too much to ask a bus rider to look somewhere else if he or she is offended by a message criticizing Scott Brown? Or by the ad for “Tomcats”?
I have asked the T for information on their advertising policy, and will update or write a new post if/when they get back to me.