Push for ethical policy as council seeks to cash in on advertising

12 September 2014

Piccadilly Circus by Claus Wolf on flickrCamden Green Party councillor, Sian Berry, has helped push Camden’s cabinet into considering an ethical policy for new advertising hoardings in Camden.

Camden Council announced last week that it was seeking to raise up to £2.5 million a year from sales of advertising on its buildings, vehicles, lampposts and street furniture. While Camden Greens welcome the initiative to raise more money, the party is concerned that a free for all, allowing any advertiser to place images and sales messages on our streets, could undermine other policies and lead to offensive images being displayed.

This week, Councillor Berry raised the issue at the council’s Resources and Corporate Performance (Finance) scrutiny committee and urged the Cabinet to set up a policy restricting certain kinds of advertisers from applying for space on the council’s new hoardings.

She has proposed this could be based – as a start – on the policy Transport for London employs for advertising on its tube stations and buses, which prohibits images of violence, adverts for sexual services and political messages, among other categories. She would also like to see a proportion of space given over to local small businesses at a lower cost to help boost the local economy.

Council officers said at the scrutiny committee that an ethical policy had been considered but had been rejected on the grounds that it would reduce expected income. However, no evidence for this assumption was given and another look at the idea was proposed by Councillor Berry to the scrutiny committee. The cross-party committee agreed to refer the matter back to the Cabinet for further consideration.

Wongatube advert by Annie Mole on flickrAt the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Finance and Technology chief, Councillor Theo Blackwell, said he would look at the issue again. He said:

“I take on board the points made by the committee and we will obviously investigate some of the issues they raise there. There could be some conflicts with our settled policy around public health, our opposition to payday lenders for example. We obviously need to look at this very carefully and obviously not in a cavalier fashion. So I propose that we move forward with digital screens in particular, taking on board the caveats from the scrutiny committee.”

Councillor Berry says:

“I’m very pleased this option is now being kept open. If Camden Council is to go down the route of selling advertising space, it should have a strong ethical policy for what adverts it accepts, including restrictions on advertising aimed at children, payday loans and gambling companies that prey on the least well-off, as well as sexual, violent or sexist content. It should also provide access to local businesses and non-profits at lower rates than for large corporations.

“I don’t believe – as has been claimed – that this would lead to a drop in income. Even with restrictions, there would be plenty of acceptable advertisers willing to pay to reach people in Camden with their messages. The proposed digital format is also much more flexible than paper posters, and cheap to produce artwork for, making it simple to offer lower cost off-peak slots to local small businesses."


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