Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Reclaiming Public Space"? Australian Parliamentary Inquiry reports on Outdoor Advertising

A few weeks ago, I posted here about a controversy over the censorship of an outdoor advertising campaign for safe sex. At the end of that post, I mentioned that the Australian House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs was in the middle of an Inquiry into the regulation of outdoor advertising. The Inquiry was established in response to a series of controversies about outdoor advertising in Australian cities in recent years.

Well, that Committee has now finished its Inquiry, and has published its final report, called Reclaiming Public Space. You can see the report online here.

The Inquiry was overwhelmingly focused on the content of outdoor advertising. But of course, as with all forms of public address, questions of content cannot easily be separated from questions of form. Outdoor, by virtue of its location in the urban public realm, is a unique form of advertising. Precisely because of its form and location, advertisers can't really use the 'freedom of choice' arguments that they typically mobilise against any efforts to regulate advertising in other media more heavily. As outdoor media companies are usually the first to boast in pitching their media to advertisers, "it's the only medium you can't switch off". This means that they can't use the old "no-one's forcing you to look at it" rebuttal that is used with regard to advertising in magazines, newspapers, television and the like.

The importance of these questions of form is (sort of) reflected in the Committee Chair's foreword to the report. MP Graham Perrett says:
Community sentiment supported the Committee’s opinion that there is a need to reclaim public space from any wayward interests of commercial advertising. ... Public spaces are for the use of all members of the community—men, women and children—and the right to enjoy the amenity of a space should not be compromised by an advertiser’s array of inappropriate images. This report has listened to the Australian community and, on behalf of the Australian community, it says enough is enough. It is time to reclaim our public spaces.
Perrett's foreword also makes reference to the growing 'dominance' of advertising in public spaces, and the potentially harmful consequences of 'increasing, sustained and cumulative exposure' of 'inappropriate' imagery. So, how exactly do they suggest that we 'reclaim public space' from the advertisers?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra

A couple of weeks ago, I spent three days in Canberra attending a conference about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy ... and I'm pretty sure it's the best conference I've been involved in! So, here's a bit of a report back, featuring: a brief history of the Tent Embassy; a rave about how good the conference was, and; some more structured reflections on the 'cities and citizenship' themes that emerged from the conference.

Sign and Sacred Fire next to Tent Embassy, 2011

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was first established on Jan 26, 1972, when four Aboriginal activists - Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Billy Craigie and Bertie Williams - hopped in a car with a non-Aboriginal photographer from Tribune (newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia) and drove from Sydney to Canberra, planted a beach umbrella on the lawns across the road from the Commonwealth Parliament House, and called it an Embassy. They were responding to a speech on Aboriginal affairs given by Prime Minister William McMahon on Jan 25, in which he had rejected any moves towards recognition of Aboriginal Land Rights. They were soon joined by plenty of other Land Rights supporters from around the country, black and white, many of whom camped in the tents that had been established on the site.