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.