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Fairfax broadsheet The Age is facing prosecution after it illegally painted promotional stencils on to Melbourne’s streets, in defiance of Melbourne City Council guidelines.

The so-called “stencil art”, which is classified as graffiti, appeared on footpaths in the Melbourne CBD this week in locations surrounding the paper’s new $110 million “Media Hub” in Collins Street.

Under the local law, no stencil, chalk or sticker pastings are permitted on footpaths for any reason.

Various Age website URLs, complete with an unexplained helicopter motif, appeared on Flinders Lane, Flinders Street and Spencer Street footpaths, in conjunction with Tuesday’s launch of the paper’s gleaming new headquarters, opposite Southern Cross Station.

A spokesperson for Melbourne City Council told Crikey it would investigate the stencils, with The Age or its PR company liable for a $500 fine. It is believed The Age had not contacted the council before it went ahead with the blitz, or paid the council to use its property for advertisements.

The council has been involved in a running battle with footpath stencil artists with the graffiti removed by council cleaners as soon as it is discovered. The Age‘s promotions were still clearly visible this morning, despite heavy overnight rain.

Street-chalking remains a controversial practice and is banned by many local councils. In June, The Age ‘s sister publication, the Sydney Morning Herald, ran a story on Sydney City Council’s campaign against Warner Music, after the company daubed Sydney streets with promotions for US band Green Day’s most recent album.

Despite their shadowy legal status, it is believed the stencils are offered by several Melbourne PR and marketing agencies. However, in recent years, their street-cred has been severely eroded after corporate behemoths including Microsoft, Absolut Vodka and ubiquitous global bag brand Crumpler co-opted the practice. It is unknown whether The Age contracted out its Media House campaign, or whether it pursued it in-house.

Tuesday’s underwhelming launch of the glistening Media House edifice, set to host The Age and The Australian Financial Review‘s newsrooms, was attended by outgoing Fairfax chairman Ron Walker, Fairfax CEO Brian McCarthy and Victorian Premier John Brumby. The paper has undertaken several PR stunts around the new building including the erection of a plastic URL promoting The Age ‘s climate sub-site, in the same style as the street art, inside Southern Cross Station.

The controversy comes on the same day the paper reported the news that US graffiti artist Jason Williams had received a ninth-month suspended jail term and a $15,340 fine for splashing paint on several Melbourne landmarks and train carriages.

Crikey contacted Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge, senior deputy-editor Mark Baker, sales and marketing director David Hoath and communications director Miranda Ramsay for comment, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

Peter Fray

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