Advocacy group GetUp says it expects to get its money back for advertisements protesting human rights abuses in China that were stopped from going to air. Australian Olympics Games host network Channel Seven dumped an ad from the opening ceremony telecast for fear it would damage commercial arrangements with the International Olympic Committee and China. GetUp claims that a TV ad produced jointly with the Australia Tibet Council was dumped at the last minute. The ad (shown in the Youtube link below) depicts an Australian Tibetan woman making a plea to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to speak out on human rights issues in Tibet before he leaves Beijing. Getup had paid more than $10,000 in advance to book ads in the prestigious opening ceremony slot.
Seven had accepted bookings to run an ad between 1 and 3am on Saturday, after the Olympic opening ceremony, in the five mainland state capitals. Last Wednesday Getup launched a campaign announcing the 30 second ads would run in those slots. After Seven failed to show the ads as expected, Getup director Brett Solomon told ABC that it was “the sort of behaviour that you might expect from a broadcaster in China, not what you'd expect from a broadcaster in Australia.”
Seven initially claimed the ads were for Getup’s “Fuel Watch” campaign and had to be pulled, along with the ads of 18 other clients, due to an overrun of the coverage. Seven spokesman Simon Francis then claimed that the network only became aware of the contents of the ads after Getup issued a press release as part of a public pressure campaign. “We have had no pressure from anyone,” said Francis. “We don't respond to pressure -- from anyone.” However Francis couldn’t explain why the ads did not run in Getup’s booked slots in regional NSW and Queensland. “Questions you will need to put to Prime Television,” he said. “Sorry. We don't speak for them.”
Whatever the reason for their removal, it smacked of censorship. Certainly that was the view of ABC Media Watch presenter Jonathon Holmes who said "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck... It may well be a duck". Peter Lalor in The Australian called it craven self-censoring and a silent kow-towing to a murderous regime. “If you reckon the air is dirty in Beijing,” he said, “try watching the events through the moral smog and cultural static of the Seven network's coverage". Typing is not activism pointed out Seven “appeared to have misplaced the booking sheets”.
Writing in Crikey (subscription required) today, Getup’s Ed Coper says the expensive ads were paid for in “tens of thousands of dollars” in donations. He said the advertising spots were booked, paid for and confirmed to air on either side of the opening ceremony but were never showed. Coper said Seven CEO Kerry Stokes had attempted to intervene hours before the broadcast to save the ads in “a last minute intervention of common sense”. However even he was apparently powerless to prevent the black-out. GetUp wants to give Seven a second chance “by showing another ad during the closing ceremony, reinforcing the idea that once the Olympics finish the human rights issues remain,” said Coper. “That way Seven get a chance to set the record straight and sort the programming from the censorship.”
Whatever happens next, it seems safe to say the attempted censorship has fallen flat. Brett Solomon now says his organisation will buy time on Nine and Ten to air the ad over the next two weeks. "Our plan is to run the television ad on every other (major) station in the country but Seven," he said. More people will now pay attention to the ad because of the ham-fisted efforts to quash it, than those who might have watched in the early hours of Saturday. Getup will get all the PR it possibly could ask for out of the ad – and should still get their money back from Seven and Prime.