Ad company rejects Sam Harris billboards

Ad company rejects Sam Harris billboards

A series of billboards, including the one above, have have been rejected by a major Australian outdoor advertising company.

The ads were to be posted in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to promote a January 2016 tour by atheist and best-selling American author Sam Harris.

Promoters had planned to run Harris quotes on black billboards that ridicule both Christianity and Islam.

According to this report, advertising giant APN Outdoor confirmed it rejected the ads because they did not comply with the Outdoor Media Association’s code of ethics, which states ads cannot include material that vilifies religion.

Think Inc organised Harris’s upcoming tour in January planned to fund the $20,000 billboard advertising campaign. Founder Desh Amila denied the billboards vilified religion. He said:

We were quite surprised. One can be offended by them but it is a personal opinion. We want to involve people in intellectual dialogue, not vilify.

In a Facebook post, Think Inc said:

To reject these posters is to censor free speech – pure and simple. Especially when other advertising agencies, such as Facebook, Google and Rock Posters have accepted them with no issue whatsoever.

As many know, central to Sam Harris’ work is the critical examination of religion. The quotes on these billboards are taken verbatim from Sam Harris himself, who has consistently asserted that it is necessary to bring under scrutiny socially detrimental ideas, and the sources from which they are derived: in this case, the focus is on religious texts and ideologies which may pose opposition to peaceful coexistence with socially progressive ideals.

A necessary distinction needs to be made between the critique of ideas, and the critique of individuals/groups. Just as it is important not to conflate one with the other, it is important not to conflate promotion of criticism with the promotion of vilification (the grounds on which APN has rejected these posters).

However, Faith Communities Council Secretary the Rev Ian Smith said the advertising was sloganistic and:

Intended to incite hatred. The one about Muslims is really offensive and that is the intention of it. And the one about Jesus, 90 per cent for the church would be offended, it is belittling, cheapening and shallow.

I am all for freedom of speech, but not when it is designed to have a violent or negative reaction … I think that it’s inappropriate when advertising is purely to provoke a response for the promoter and where the statement is intended to be negative.


Islamic Council of Victoria Secretary Kuranda Seyit welcomed the rejection.

Adverts such as this have no place in our society as they are designed to insult and undermine the harmony we have built in Australia.

But Rationalist Society of Australia President Meredith Doig slammed the move to reject the campaign.

They do not vilify and they certainly do not discriminate. I know there will be people who are offended, just the same as free thinkers are offended by faith. We (Australia) cannot ban our way out of dealing with controversial issues.

Dr Doig said free speech must be encouraged so people could decide on religion themselves.

Harris is known as a polarising figure in the US. He has come under fire in the past for making aggressive anti-religious statements, but he says his comments are meant to spark intelligent debate.

He will be doing a whirlwind three-day tour, speaking in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney on January 22-24.

12 responses to “Ad company rejects Sam Harris billboards”

  1. asquith says:

    Any particular reason why we kufr should have to obey Kuranda Seyit?

  2. Laura Roberts says:

    “I am all for freedom of speech, but…”

    That phrase is perhaps the clearest indication of an intellectual coward who doesn’t know the first thing about freedom of speech.

  3. Broga says:

    So typical of religion. They dare not debate the statements so they censor them.

  4. 1859 says:

    No individual and no organisation should have the automatic privilege of being beyond criticism – and that’s what’s happening here. Yes the statements are provocative because that is what they are meant to be. But what are they meant to provoke? Not violence or hatred – quite the opposite. They are clearly intended to provoke debate about the necessity of religion in the 21st century. I personally have no beef with anyone who chooses to believe in some religion or other as long as it is their own private thing and they don’t go about proselyting adults – or more especially indoctrinating children. The other reason these religious organisations in Australia are crowing is because – in their heart of hearts -they are shit scared of an open debate. Debate and reason does not sit well beside blind faith – never has, never will.

  5. Newspaniard says:

    Do the APN Outdoor advertising agency have a monopoly on outdoor advertising? If so, there is something wrong with this aspect of Australian law which stinks of corruption and should be investigated.

  6. L.Long says:

    As a flaming atheist I still rule with the company.
    They are a company! They do business for a profit, not for idiotogy.
    My way of answering the request would have been, the xtians will be pissed off and my business will go down, so you want me to run these adds? OK! The charge will be $X for the posting and when I start loosing money from present customers you must make up the difference! NO?!?!!? Then don’t get schity cuz I chose to stay in profit.

  7. Rob Andrews says:

    Any absolute ideology uses all the tools of communication; that are for thought manipulation. Think about the history of the big religions. The ones that can do so. Here’s what i mean:

    Propaganda: Both RC’s and Protestants used the printing press soon as it was invented.The Bible is true-repeated for centuries.
    Censorship: They had the inquisition and list of banned books and movies until the 1960s. In America the League for Xtian decency.
    Secrecy: Holy texts are only for the priests to interpret-In many of the large organized ideologies. Like Communism.
    Indoctranation : Get the children while there brains are an empty slate.

    Look at the above through space and time and that’s ALL there is. There’s no knowledge at all!


  8. Vanity Unfair says:

    APN Outdoor might just have saved Sam Harris from looking stupid.


    Serious comment to follow- probably.

  9. dennis says:

    maybe by saying “NO” this advertising company will not get $ for the ad but Sam Harris will get even more advertisement in Australia sounds like a good strategy to me, L.Long. hope Mr Harris has a wonderful time.

  10. Vanity Unfair says:

    New posters: very like the illustration with the lecture details at the bottom: the main text in white is a reference such as Leviticus 11: 22-25, Genesis 19: 30-35, Numbers 31: 9-18, Judges 11: 29-40 or for others Koran 25: 35-40, 54: 51. There are, of course, lots of others. Nobody could possibly object to that especially as it would make some people read the books.

  11. Charis says:

    I’m a free thinker and a person of faith (and no- I don’t think these are mutually exclusive). I’m not in the least bit offended by the billboards- in fact, I applaud them.
    Of course, offending Christians is not really the concern, is it? You won’t find us out on the streets, burning effigies and demanding apologies (well, maybe those Westbro nutters might- but we all know they are seriously messed up folks).
    I want true freedom of speech in Australia –
    print the ads and stop kow-towing to Islamism.