Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.

An Aboriginal Victoria ad campaign designed to ask controversial questions was pulled from one of the biggest outdoor advertising companies in Australia after it was advised some of the ads could be discriminatory.

APN Outdoor had booked the ads for its billboards and referred them to the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which has a new copy advice service. The ASB advised that two of the seven ads submitted could breach the code of ethics section relating to discrimination and vilification, and so the campaign was scrapped prior to the billboards going up. The code of ethics is self regulated, but the public can make complaints to the ASB about ads they believe breach the code. If advertisers are found in breach, they must remove or amend their ads.

Aboriginal Victoria said in a statement advice from the ASB was disappointing. “We understand that some of the questions asked by the public — and that we are repeating in the campaign — are provocative, but that’s the point. To have an open discussion we need to acknowledge that some ugly viewpoints exist.”

They said the campaign was a “pivotal moment” to move towards a Treaty.

The Deadly Questions campaign was created by agency Clemenger BBDO and features questions posed to Aboriginal Victorians, which are then answered on a website. Agency managing director Simon Lamplough told Crikey that when Aboriginal Victoria was told APN wouldn’t run all the ads, “they weren’t prepared to be censored”.

“They duly sought other media providers that were happy to run the advertising,” he said. “This conversation needs to allow free speech and all points of view to be heard … The Aboriginal Treaty Working Group do not believe the questions are racist or offensive, they simply represent the questions that Victorians want answered. We would strongly encourage media outlets to get on board and support Aboriginal Victorians, not dictate to them what is or isn’t offensive.”

APN Outdoor CEO and managing director James Warburton said in a statement that they had simply passed on advice they’d received. “The ASB advised that two of the ads might be in breach of the industry’s code of ethics. This information was conveyed to the agency that created the ads.”

Crikey understands that the ads that may be in breach posed the questions: “Why can’t Aboriginal people just get over the past?” and “Why should I apologise to Aboriginal people for something I didn’t do?”

Crikey understands the ad bookings were pulled after this advice was passed on.

“It was a decision of Aboriginal Victoria that we would do business with a provider that is willing to run the whole campaign, not just the creative they choose,” Aboriginal Victoria’s statement said.

The ASB was not the only body to find that the ads potentially breached guidelines. Outdoor Media Association (OMA) content policy requires members do not post ads if copy advice from OMA is likely to breach the code. A spokesperson said: “While we recognise the purpose of the advertisement is to raise awareness of an important issue and that the advertisement is meant to provoke a reaction and drive visitation to the website, Ad Standards advised that two of the executions could potentially be found in breach of section 2.1 of the AANA Code of Ethics if the advertisement attracted complaints.”

The substance of section 2.1 reads as follows: “Advertising or marketing communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.”

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today