Keeping Canberra Nude: outdoor advertising in the ACT

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA 21 February 2018 31
Photo: courtesy of  Team #KeepCBRnude

Photo: courtesy of Team #KeepCBRnude

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.

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31 Responses to Keeping Canberra Nude: outdoor advertising in the ACT
carriew carriew 12:47 pm 25 Feb 18

Definitely NO!

Futureproof Futureproof 8:07 am 24 Feb 18

I read this as no bill boards except those advertising Greens politics

Annie Rietdyk Annie Rietdyk 7:39 am 23 Feb 18

We need billboards and we need to grow up and embrace change.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:55 pm 23 Feb 18

    Why do we need billboards? I am sure some businesses would like them. Is that why you want them? But why does the general public need them. Please expand your statement with why. And what does your statement, "we need to grow up and embrace change" have to do with billboards.

    Lisa Petheram Lisa Petheram 11:28 pm 23 Feb 18

    Annie - billboards are outdated. Progressive cities around the world are embracing change by trying to remove and phase billboards out - as they are not only an eyesore but are shown to be psychologically dangerous - especially to children and young people (& society more generally).

Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 10:42 pm 22 Feb 18

No billboards in the bush capital! More trees pls

Craig Dingwall Craig Dingwall 10:27 pm 22 Feb 18

Our dream job Simon. 😉

Mirabai Rose Mirabai Rose 10:00 pm 22 Feb 18

yes ban it!! Its such an eye sore. Keep our city free of the kind of over whelming stimulus that other cities have! We don't need it.

Archie Mac Archie Mac 9:55 pm 22 Feb 18

Couldn’t care less

Eileen Wise Eileen Wise 8:41 pm 22 Feb 18

No billboards

Wayne Roach Wayne Roach 8:39 pm 22 Feb 18

Keep the advertising signs out. Street signage and signs for directions to suburbs, hospitals, emergency services and police are enough. Many people from interstate already have problems navigating without the added diversions of blaring advertising signs. Keep it simple, we don’t need them. Optical pollution. Advertising through electronic media is already more than ample.

Joan James Joan James 7:36 pm 22 Feb 18

You could ask Ginnninderry to take down their huge billboards in Belconnen.

    Nick Blackwell Nick Blackwell 11:18 pm 05 Nov 18

    I am with you Joan. In fact I have appealed to Canberra public and Govt three times via Facebook to remove the huge ugly signs in Higgins advertising Ginninderry. Do we advertise other new suburbs in this way or is a deal being done with Corkhill Family. Methinks the real story is not yet available to us. Would Govt like to comment here, please.

Obi Wan Obi Wan 6:31 pm 22 Feb 18

I've been (and lived) in many capitals around the world and Canberra used to be one of the most beautiful I've seen, it is just being destroyed by incompetents politicians overpopulating the city, building very ugly skyscraps (destroying nature), useless light rail, and now wanting to allow billboards. I wonder how much these politicians are being paid by developers. It is time to move out of the city that I loved so much.

    Denis Svob Denis Svob 7:14 pm 23 Feb 18

    You forgot Tatooine. Trams are not useless, if you’ve been in capitals around the world, you should know that. Also, what skyscrapers in Canberra are you referring to? 🙂

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 8:41 pm 23 Feb 18

    Hmm I've been to many cities around the world and Canberra is by far one of the most beautiful cities I've been to. Many foreign visitors come here and find it hard to believe a city can look as nice as Canberra. The biggest complaint by many is public transport. Biggest issues with cities overseas are the urban sprawl and lack of green space. We have the green space and trying to avoid urban sprawl, I mean no one thinks the sprawl in western Sydney is good. Plus it costs a fortune for governments to service western Sydney. Canberra is doing both, by building high density in some areas, to reduce urban sprawl and start of the creation of a better public transport network. No one wants to end up in a situation where the city has grown and the public transport and other services are inadequate. We definitely don't need billboards, but we do need compromise with our city and having some areas of high density is by far the best option. I don't want medium density urban sprawl, infill on our nature reserves and building further out on what land is available, means it costs more to service the whole city. So maybe we have to put up with a few taller building in the city and town centres as a compromise? Unless someone has a better idea, other than demanding more 4 bedroom homes on bigs blocks which will make everything worse.

Caroline Reid Caroline Reid 6:18 pm 22 Feb 18

No thanks

Phil Ebbott Phil Ebbott 2:26 pm 22 Feb 18

Billboarda and outdoor advertising reperesent a great source of income for the ACT government. Transit advertising on busses keeps farea down, billboards go toward road upkeep. Otjer advertising funds urban upkeep and renewal. Otherwise we just keep paying for it with increased rego, rates and massive hikes in feea for public space use.

Tasha Krahe Tasha Krahe 12:03 pm 22 Feb 18

No Billboards for Canberra

Drew Reis Drew Reis 11:59 am 22 Feb 18

What they really mean is, hold Canberra hostage by trying to stagnate the economy into the future... Cities needs businesses and businesses need to get their message out there for all round success...This is not Nimbin. Time for this illegal and distasteful flash mob to take their bits and move along. Public indecency is appalling! Give me a billboard any day over this visual assault. Think of the children! Where are their morals? If any, they are

    Lisa Petheram Lisa Petheram 12:14 pm 23 Feb 18

    Hi Andrew,* VERY long message ahead disclaimer! :-)

    Despite the unethical nature of billboard advertising e.g. they are a visual assault on people and psychologically pervasive. They are a particularly manipulative form of advertising; an "ambush" type that doesn't give us the option to "turn off" our engagement with them. Their advertising messages have been shown to negatively impact on people's wellbeing, feelings of self worth, sense of connectivity in society etc. (BTW a society struggling with mental/physical health and difficulties with social cohesion is not good for the economy). There is also evidence emerging that billboard advertising can be bad for tourism and real estate (i.e. many people prefer to holiday or buy property in landscapes that aren't bombarded by billboards). Billboards can also cause impair driving performance and lead to car accidents - through distraction (BTW also not great for the economy!). In fact billboard advertising is being phased out by many progessive cities around the world because of evidence of the danger of them on society. If Canberra loosens its restrictions around billboards it would be an archaic move and we will be the ones going backwards in time.

    ...AND talking of children and their wellbeing, there is extensive research to show that exposure to advertising has pretty disastrous impacts on children/adolescents/young adults. Research shows children under 8 in particular are psychologically and cognitively defenceless against advertising; they don't understand concepts of "intent to sell". Extensive evidence also shows that the sexualisation of females that is common in advertising has strong negative impacts on girls and women - such as cognitive and emotional consequences, mental and physical health, and sexual development.

    Mental health is not an area we can afford to be complacent about in the ACT. A recent report found that one third of 15-19 year olds in the ACT met the criteria for a serious "mental illness"; which is 10% higher than the national average. The most common issues for young Canberrans who met these criteria were stress, depression and body image. More blatant advertising (especially in public areas) will not help our situation.

    Happy to discuss more!

    BTW To clarify - the #keepcbrnude campaign is being a little tongue in cheek to get a layered message out about public visual assault. Apologies if this form of nudity (the pictures which BTW are not illegal) caused offence to you. And pun not fully intended ;-)

    Drew Reis Drew Reis 1:27 pm 23 Feb 18

    What you have mentioned is caused by “life”. Not advertising. You can link everything you mentioned above to anything, it’s that broad and no single thing is a “root cause”.

    There are no or very limited billboards in the ACT so clearly the kids here aren’t mentally ill from them. Try social media and bullying for a start...

    And if parents fail to educate their children sufficiently in all aspects of their emotional wellbeing, then there are problems. They should be well equipped to deal with life - they need to be taught. That’s part of the issue here. Lacking education and accountability. People with mental issues having children and the environmental mental illness that proceeds from “learned behaviour“ in those children as a consequence, is part of the real issue here... You’re only as equipped with life as much as you’ve been taught. Whether beneficial to ones wellbeing or not. It’s how they are taught to “cope” in life that plays a big part...these basics are essential.

    I agree the city shouldn’t be drowned in Billboards but a sufficient and appropriate amount in CBD areas isn’t going to harm society. There needs to be balance in life. A bland, restricted society does not promote good mental health or economic benefits. Balance does. Everyone needs a balanced life. Everyone needs to be challenged. It’s the only way to learn and get better as a whole. Question everything with open minds. Exposure is key to educated critical thinking and informed decisions...

    Lisa Petheram Lisa Petheram 11:22 pm 23 Feb 18

    Andrew of course these things happen as part of life. But strong evidence shows advertising and billboard advertising can significantly exacerbate these problems.

    Billboards are part of an old business model and are nothing but manipulative and pervasive. We should be looking to more innovative approaches. To quote Jono Crane's submission to the Billboard inquiry - billboards are "a way of the past and a bit like "travelling medicine shows or asbestos as building materials"! Outdated and dangerous.

    Interesting you note that exposure in life is key - when you yourself were upset about some very subtle (playful) nudity. ;-)

    You might want to check out some of the references (& strong community questioning to an out dated approach such as billboards) in submissions to the billboard inquiry.

    Lisa Petheram Lisa Petheram 11:32 pm 23 Feb 18

    PS I agree social media isn't much better - but it's optional to a certain degree and not quite as "ambush" style as billboards (which have a large physical presence in public places - that cannot be ignored)

    Drew Reis Drew Reis 9:42 am 24 Feb 18

    Actually social media is much worse. How many teenage suicides due to bullying on social media has there been lately? Bullying online then it continues in person for them at school... Advertising galore on social media. Parents wash their hands of responsibility of these activities because it’s too hard and stressful to police them. Child withdraws to their bedrooms and slips into a depression and continues online. Child develops insomnia then lack of appetite. Depression gets worse. Child easily triggered....Oh yes, I’ve seen it more than once and how crippling it can be for these kids and their families. Child lives in own headspace with “tunnel vision” and phone glued in hand striking 21st century pose. 24/7 addiction. Even though they are depressed they cannot and will not listen to put down the phone and take a break...

    ...Billboards are so trivial in my opinion when there is online trauma happening right now. Let’s focus on the real issues that are here now, instead of fear campaigns of what may or may not happen with Billboards in the future...

Catherine Ford Catherine Ford 11:49 am 22 Feb 18

I'll sign anything if it gets them to put their clothes on 😂

Rob Sanders Rob Sanders 8:41 am 22 Feb 18

Prediction: any pollie who brings this in will be unemployed next election

Jim Jim Jim Jim 7:33 am 22 Feb 18

1190 citizens polled? 780 signatures against? These numbers represent the views of a city of 350,000 people? TBH I could care less either way...but are these the sorts of measures being used to justify policy changes in the ACT? You could stand in civic for a day by yourself and poll more people than 1190...

    James Blake James Blake 12:42 pm 22 Feb 18

    This is the way polling works. Nobody has the time or resources to poll all 350,000 Canberrans on such a small issue, so they get a smaller group with generally the same demographic proportions as the 350,000 to get a general, but not 100% accurate, understanding of the community at large. It is not just some random 1190 people

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 1:32 pm 22 Feb 18

    1000 people is a pretty small sample...

    Ruth Brown Ruth Brown 12:06 am 24 Feb 18

    That is a very tiny sample size. It's very difficult to get even a vaguely accurate representation of the community in a sample that small.

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