Town to use disclaimer for ads on buses

Dec. 10, 2012 @ 04:54 PM

 In the wake of the Town Council’s adoption of a new bus advertising policy accepting political, religious and social issues ads, Chapel Hill Transit buses will now carry disclaimers alerting riders that views stated in bus ads are not those of the town or bus system.

Town Manager Roger Stancil shared the disclaimer in a recent email to members of the Town Council.

The disclaimer states: “Advertising on this bus raises revenue to offset cost to the rider and does not reflect the views of the Town of Chapel Hill or Chapel Hill Transit.”

Brian Litchfield, interim director of Chapel Hill Transit, said the disclaimers are being printed and should be in buses by the end of this week or early next week.

“They will be on all of the buses that we sell ads on,” Litchfield said. “We’re trying to make it clear that any message not specifically sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill or Chapel Hill Transit is not endorsed by or the opinion of the town or Chapel Hill Transit.” 

The town’s transit advertising policy has been a major source of contention ever since the Church of Reconciliation bought and placed a controversial ad on buses over the summer urging the United States to end military aid to Israel.

The ad touched off free speech debates, and stirred discussions about the appropriateness of political, religious and social issue ads on town buses.

The community debate culminated last week with the Town Council’s approval of a bus advertising policy that allows religious, political and social issue ads with some restrictions.

The adopted policy is virtually the same as the draft policy transit officials erroneously used to make decisions in administering the town’s transit advertising program until officials discovered the error

Under the policy, transit buses will be viewed as a limited public forum rather than a designated public forum, under which the transit officials would have accepted most ads.

Ads that are determined by transit officials to be false, misleading, deceptive or disrespectful are banned.

Still, the controversy over transit ads may not be entirely over, and the town could find itself in a legal tangle over it.

In recent weeks, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) has proposed placing the pro-Israel group’s controversial ad describing Muslim jihadists as “savages” on the exterior of Chapel Hill transit buses.

Pam Geller, executive director of the AFDI, has successfully sued to have the ad run by city transit operations in Washington, D.C., and New York.

Geller has hinted that she would sue the town if it does not allow AFDI to place its ad on town buses.

Town transit and legal officials have said the bus system is unlikely to accept Geller’s ad because the ad policy restricts ads that are disparaging, disreputable to persons, groups, businesses or organizations or “portray individuals as inferior, evil or contemptible because of their race, color, creed” or other characteristics identified in the policy.