To date, Muni has opted to surrender $15,780 from four different runs of inflammatory ads demonizing Muslims. Now Supervisor Scott Wiener, working with the Jewish Community Relations Council has asked the transit agency to do the same with $5,030 it pocketed after accepting bus ads labeling Israel an apartheid state and featuring an image of a silhouetted Israeli soldier leveling a rifle at a child.
Wiener and five board colleagues yesterday sent a brief letter -- which you can read here -- to Muni director Ed Reiskin and the agency's board complaining of a double standard, and requesting the apartheid money be disgorged. Muni spokesman Paul Rose tells us, however, that "there is no plan for these funds to be transferred."
This brings up an interesting point: Muni does not have a quantifiable process to determine when to keep or surrender controversial ad money. The agency, Wiener says, "hasn't articulated a distinction" between the anti-Muslim and anti-Israel bus ads.
See Also: Muni "Savages" "Jihad" Etc. Battling Mideast Bus Ads Fund Pending Study
The world of public transit advertising is a strange and terrible place. Muni reluctantly accepted the shrill ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative rather than lose a First Amendment lawsuit as New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority did last year.
Muni subsequently handed over the nearly $16,000 from those four ADFI campaigns to the citys' Human Rights Commission -- for a study, in part, examining the effect of those very ads on area Muslims. Rose says Muni isn't inclined to send $5,030 more to the Human Rights Commission with regards to the anti-Israel campaign because "there isn't a study to transfer those funds to fund."
So, absent a pending study on the effects of inflammatory ads on area Jews and Israelis, Muni doesn't see any reason to not accept current and future ads demonizing Israel; this would appear to be "the distinction."
"As our disclaimers say, we don't necessarily agree with the content of these ads," notes Rose. Fair enough: But, in some cases they're willing to profit from them. And in some cases they're not.
This hardly seems to be a tenable situation. And, in his letter, Wiener suggests Muni alter its ad policy, just as transit agencies in Seattle and Chicago have already done in order to avoid similar situations.
The Chicago Transit Authority this month declared it will no longer "exist as a public forum for advertisements." This means no more "political or public issue advertising" (CTA went further in banning ads "for adult/mature rated films, television programs, and video games.").
An end to massive Muni ads featuring videogame characters hacking each other to pieces with axes might be nice. But the cessation of billboard wars funded by the least nuanced and most disingenuous players from the respective Middle Eastern camps -- and Muni's tortured, convoluted rationales regarding what to do with the money -- would be a downright relief.