i was in canberra recently and was happy to be able to met with two members of the group ad free canberra, deb and tim.
ad free canberra emerged as a group in 2017, responding to the calling of a parliamentary committee looking into the billboard ban that has existed in the ACT (‘australian capital territory’ — a small state covering the city of canberra and surrounds) since a federal ordinance passed in 1937.
ad free canberra launched a campaign #keepcbrnude (keep canberra nude of advertising) and got some good coverage with their social media campaign (pictured below) which drew attention to the government committee and encouraged people to write in expressing their support for the laws banning advertising.
the campaign got so many people making submissions to the committee (160 submissions out of 166 saying they wanted the restrictions on advertising either maintained or tightened), as well as gaining over 800 signatures for a petition opposing billboards, that some member of the government committee even absurdly accused ad free canberra of “astro-turfing”, lol.
(‘astro-turfing’ is a term meaning ‘faking a grass-roots movement’, usually carried out by a lobby of a profit-driven interest group with much funding but almost zero public support — obviously ad free canberra is just a successful and genuine grass-roots movement with no profit motive, which is why the accussation of “astro-turfing” is so ridiculous).
it’s good news that there is high public support for maintaining the billboard ban in canberra — advertising has been creeping into canberra’s city-scape over the years (eg. in some newer bus shelters and on buses themselves), but ad free canberra and many canberra residents want to see the restrictions tightened so that the advertising that has snuck in is booted out.
it was also great to discover that ad free canberra are by no means a nimby (not in my backyard) social movement, they have a broad critique of advertising and tim is currently working on a research piece investigating the global problems posed by modern advertising in all its forms.
the work tim is currently expanding can be found here:
you can find more information at ad free canberra’s facebook page (if you are a facebook person), plus there are many easy-to-find news articles on the subject.
it’s pretty great that as other cities around the world are instituting bans on advertising (sao paulo, grenoble, chennai) and others have active campaigns for bans (paris, new york, berlin, bristol), canberra has been largely ad free for decades and has strong public support to defend and extend the restrictions.
i think the fact the ban was introduced in the first place says a lot about the incompatibility of for-profit advertising with democracy — when canberra was designed and built as the nations capital and “seat of democracy”, it seems the ban on billboards reflects views that advertising is distasteful and unsuitable in such a democratic place.
if there is any record of the reasoning behind the 1937 ordinance that banned advertising in canberra, i’d really like to know it — because i think i know what that reasoning would be, and would like to then argue that that reasoning should really be expanded to every public place in a democratic nation, not just the city in which federal parliament sits.
the parliamentary committee made a report to parliament in october 2017, recommending a parliamentary review that will report to parliament by the end of 2019, then who knows what will happen (with the parliamentary parliament).
it seems like the advertising industry is putting pressure on the ACT government to allow advertising on the new light rail system that is currently under construction in canberra, and the review, framed as a “tidying-up” of messy and out-dated legislation, is really an attempt to create new legislation that legalises all the advertising that presently exists and clears the way for even more advertising on the new light rail system.
the government probably hoped they could pass this new legislation quietly and without much fuss, but hopefully with the strong community response, they won’t even try it, and will instead be pushed in the other direction.
stay tuned for the ongoing campaign to keep canberra ad free, and get involved if you can :)