Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phoenix sticking its neck out over billboard censorship.

Update, from Korwin's press release:

Assistant Phoenix city attorney Ted Mariscal claimed in a conference call with Mr. Korwin and CBS Outdoor that the billboards weren't commercial enough, the message was too vague, and then demanded the message be changed to his satisfaction. When pressed for a definition of what is either sufficiently commercial or what defines a public service ad he declined to respond, referring instead to a 12-year-old 9th Circuit court case concerning a religious group (Children of the Rosary) and abortion ads. CBS is designing new art to please the city, but without guidelines of what's acceptable, there's no way to predict the result, and the TrainMeAZ campaign isn't exactly keen on this approach.

Arizona Republic 'blogger Laurie Roberts reports on a developing story: the City of Phoenix has pulled's advertisements from bus shelters, supposedly following receipt of a complaint. (Whether or not the complaint was truly external--and just what kind of person would complain about a run-of-the-mill add--is currently unknown.)

TrainMeAZ is a website advertising firearms training and other firearms-related services. The billboards are rather simple: the stock "Guns Save Lives"-in-a-heart thing followed by "Arizona says: Educate your kids", followed by the URL. In short: buy a firearm, keep your kids safe by training them, and oh, here's our URL where you will be directed to services to help do both. A commercial ad for a website if there ever was one.

Phoenix's argument: It's a public service announcement, not an ad for commercial service, and the city's (court-upheld) ad policy prohibits purchase of PSAs. But PSAs do not direct people to commercial websites.

The distinction--and what test will be applied--isn't immediately clear, but what I do know is that the City of Phoenix must be up for a fight. We "civilized" folk often think of bigots as idiots and slobs (because most of them are): the man behind the ads, Alan Korwin, is a bit of a homophobic and anti-immigrant bigot (very recently giving space in his newsletter for a typical Russell Pearce bigot rant) but he's no idiot. What he's good at--getting the word out about firearms liberalization--he's extremely good at, and something has me thinking Phoenix could be outmatched.

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