Would you strip bare in the name of protest? Maybe you already have – plenty of people are stripping down as part of a grassroots community campaign to stop the introduction of more billboard advertising into the ACT.
While some may have thought the idea of more billboards in the ACT would struggle to gain attention, it has, in fact, ignited the passion of a significant group of people in the community who believe that more billboards and outdoor advertising would fundamentally change the nature and character of the city we love. The prospect has seen people sign petitions, write submissions and even getting naked to be part of the cheeky social media campaign #keepCBRnude, that is trying to stop the proliferation of outdoor advertising in Canberra.
The campaign has been running since last year when the ACT Government began considering the rules around billboard advertising and whether or not we should relax the rules that restrict this type of advertising. A Parliamentary Committee Inquiry was held into the issue, public hearings were held and a report was provided to the Legislative Assembly in October last year.
While the advertising lobby argues that there are opportunities to expand the use of outdoor advertising – such as billboards – as a way to ‘enliven the city’, this suggestion seemed to be roundly rejected by community members who participated in the Inquiry. 160 individuals and groups provided submissions against more outdoor advertising –compared to six that argued for it – and a petition was tabled with 780 signatures arguing against the use of more billboard advertising.
The Inquiry recommended a review of the current rules be undertaken, taking into account the strong community sentiments expressed throughout the Inquiry. It also called for greater monitoring and compliance with current rules. Despite the opposition expressed throughout the Inquiry, the Committee stopped short of calling for a ban or rollback on the current rules. The Inquiry Chair, Caroline Le Couteur MLA, provided additional comments to the main report. Her supplementary comments stated that while she agreed with the Committee Report, she believed recommendations did not go far enough. Her additional recommendations included the call for a ban on billboards, as well as further restrictions on outdoor advertising, including bus advertising (particularly given safety concerns regarding this type of advertising).
As the ACT Government finalises its response to the Inquiry report, a survey commissioned and released this week by the Green Institute, an environmental think tank, has confirmed that there is little support for increasing the use of public space for advertising. 90% of the 1190 Canberrans polled suggested there should be the same or less space used for advertising. Eight in ten of those polled felt that an advertising-free environment creates a more pleasant environment than bigger cities and 69% felt that outdoor advertising reduces the quality of public spaces.
This survey proves once again that Canberrans are thoughtful and engaged citizens who care deeply about the development of their city. It demonstrates a clear understanding that outdoor advertising is essentially the selling of our public space and amenity to commercial interests, and they are asking Governments to think carefully before selling community assets such as these. We seem well aware that unlike other forms of advertising, we have no choice as to what we are subjected to with this kind of advertising and there seems to be a strong consensus that we choose not to be subjected to this.
Canberra is expanding and growing, and we need to engage in the important conversations that are occurring around the nature of development and our urban character, and this issue is no exception. The decisions we make now will shape our city for many decades and it is vital that community sentiment is listened to, particularly when balancing commercial interests and the natural landscape.
I think that the ACT Government should ban outdoor advertising such as billboards and tighten the regulation of these rules. What do you think?
Rebecca Vassarotti is an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in the 2016 Territory Election.