Controversial bus ad unlikely on Chapel Hill transit

Dec. 06, 2012 @ 04:41 PM

Unless changes are made, town officials said a controversial ad describing Muslims as savages isn’t likely to be accepted under the bus advertising policy adopted Monday by the Town Council.

The ad in question has been proposed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) which submitted a proposal to place five of the pro-Israel group’s ads on the exterior of town buses for up to six months.
The AFDI ad stating “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man, Support Israel. Defeat Jihad” has caused major controversy across the country.
And Pam Geller, executive director of the organization, has successfully sued to have the ad run by transit operations in Washington, D.C., and New York.
Still, Brian Litchfield, interim director of Chapel Hill Transit, said Thursday, said the controversial ad isn’t likely to pass muster under the policy adopted by the council Monday night.
“If the wording stays the same, it probably would not be approved, but we would have to review it and consult with the town’s attorney before determining that,” Litchfield said.
Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos has also said the Geller ad would likely be rejected if the council approved the policy it adopted Monday.
Litchfield said transit officials will send copies of the policy to Geller and others who submitted ads for consideration after the town suspended its bus advertising policy in the wake of a discovery by transit officials that a draft policy had been erroneously used to decide whether ads were appropriate.
“If she [Geller] submits the same ad, we will review it based on the guidelines approved by council,” Litchfield said.
Karpinos will help with that review.
“They’re going to share the new policy and ask her to respond, submit an ad and when she does, we will evaluate it,” Karpinos said.
The policy adopted by the council on Monday is for the most part the draft policy transit officials erroneously used to make decisions about ads.
The policy allows religious, political and social issue ads with some restrictions, such as prohibiting ads that are false, misleading, deceptive or disrespectful, which is identified as advertising that is “disparaging, disreputable or disrespectful to persons, groups, business or organizations, including but not limited to advertising that portrays individuals as inferior, evil, or contemptible because of their race, color, creed, sex, pregnancy, age, religion, ancestry, national origin” or other such characteristics identified in the policy.
Meanwhile, Geller contends that there is nothing disrespectful about the ad she is proposing, which is the same one she has successful sued other transit systems over.
“Why is it disrespectful for me to call jihadists savages, but acceptable for Hillary Clinton, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post to do so?” Geller said in an emailed response to questions.
In the case of Clinton, Geller is referring to statements the Secretary of State made in response to the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi when she said the raid that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was conducted by a “small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya.”
She also cited examples of where major media outlet in New York also used the term savages to describe extremists in the Middle East.
Geller said the town is “flagrantly denying my free speech rights” in support of its political bias.
“I am investigating my legal options now,” Geller said.
The bus advertising policy has been a source of contention since the Church of Reconciliation bought and placed an ad on buses over the summer urging the U.S. to end military aid to Israel.
The ad featured an Israeli man and a Palestinian man both holding their grandchildren with “Build Peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel” written underneath.
It touched off a major debate about the appropriateness of political and religious ads on town buses.