Subject: SMH: Networks face court over Timor ad ban


Networks face court over Timor ad ban

By Julian Lee, Marketing Reporter

April 7, 2005

Channel Seven and SBS have refused to air an ad campaign condemning the Prime Minister, John Howard, for "stealing" billions of dollars of East Timorese oil and gas revenues, a stance that may trigger court action and highlights the thorny issue of freedom of expression.

The boycott has echoes of a similar action by Channel Nine in the late 1990s when it refused to air a commercial made and paid for by anti-advertising group Adbusters that encouraged Australians to take part in a global "Buy Nothing Day".

This time, however, Channel Nine has agreed to run the Timor ad, made by businessman Paul Melrose. The ad claims that the Australian Government, through its actions, is responsible for "killing children" in East Timor.

Mr Melrose and the pressure group with which he is aligned, the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, are considering taking Seven and SBS to court, saying their refusal to run the ad constitutes a breach of equal opportunity legislation.

The submission of scripts for the next TV commercial tomorrow would be the litmus test, campaign director Tom Clarke said.

"If future ads are also banned or delayed, we will take legal action against the networks for discrimination on the basis of political belief or activity," Mr Clarke said.

"The figures in the ads are conservative and are based on publicly accessible financial reports published by the relevant companies, so one has to ask if the networks have been pressured by the Australian Government.

"I'm sure the Government is not keen for the public to learn that billions of dollars have been taken from East Timor ... while Timorese children are dying from preventable diseases."

The next TVC will feature World War II veterans condemning Mr Howard for Australia's position on the Timor Sea oil and gasfields and is due to run on Anzac Day. Mr Melrose and Timor Sea Justice have vowed to continue dogging the Prime Minister at public events until the international dispute is resolved in East Timor's favour.

SBS aired the ad mistakenly last Wednesday and then pulled it for the last two days of the campaign. It said it would not air the ad until it had sought clarification from Mr Melrose on the revenue figure of $2 billion used in the ad, whether he is able to substantiate claims about killing children and that Australia withdrew its recognition of an international court to determine maritime boundaries. SBS has done this only once before: in 1997 it refused to air an ad by the National Farmers Federation over a native title issue.

Although Seven ran the ad that kicked off the Timor campaign during the Australian Open, it said the latest ad failed to "meet required broadcast standards". It declined to elaborate.

Kalle Lasn is the founder of the Media Foundation, the Canadian organisation behind the Adbusters magazine and website that runs campaigns highlighting diverse issues, among them the amount of money spent by fast-food chains on marketing.

Mr Lasn said that only a tiny proportion of his ads - many of them made on the sly by leading ad creatives - made it to air.

CNN is the only American network that will run his ads. "They [the networks] have various reasons, such as [the ads] don't meet the technical requirements - but when you get behind the scenes what they really mean is that you are talking back against the car and fast-food industries.

"So it's like: 'Do you really think that for a lousy $US25,000 we are going to piss off our major sponsors?"'

Late last year Media Foundation launched legal action against four of Canada's biggest broadcasters - CanWest Global, CBC, CTV and CHUM. Mr Lasn said it was a case that could change the rules.

"It's going to take a long time. But if we win, it would give anyone the right to go to the networks, put down their cash and give them the right for their ad to be run."

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