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Monday, September 10, 2012

Unlike Muni, Golden Gate Transit Refuses to Run Jihad Ads

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 11:45 AM

click to enlarge Muni wants to keep the controversy to itself
  • Muni wants to keep the controversy to itself

After Muni fired up its own version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with its bus ad, the Golden Gate Transit Agency decided to officially steer clear of political ads itself.

In an 18-1 vote on Friday, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District's Board of Directors adopted a new policy that now bans religious and political ads on its transit system.

The agency's logic is clear: It does "not intend to create a public forum for public discourse or expressive activity or to provide a forum for all types of advertisements," officials said in written statement.

Ultimately, Golden Gate Transit hopes to avoid "any kind of awkward situation," said Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the agency.

Unlike Muni, GGTA has done a pretty good job of staying out of trouble with its ads. To be sure, the transit agency decided now was the time to adopt an official policy.

She specifically pointed to the advertising debacle Muni created last month when it ran on its buses a pro-Israel ad that essentially referred to Palestinians as "savages." Needless to say, that offset any buses that happened to be running on time that week.

While the controversy also sparked a discussion about freedom of speech, Currie said she's confident the agency did all its legal homework before adopting this policy.

However, other are more skeptical about the legality to ban political and religious ads. The new policy could violate First Amendment rights, San Francisco State University communications professor Joseph Tuman told the Examiner.

Muni, for example, did not ban or take down its obscenely contentious ad because the agency didn't want to deal with any more lawsuits. In the end, the potential legal problems could cost Muni more money that it's worth, said Tom Nolan, Muni's board president.

It's worth noting that a judge recently ruled in New York City that its Metropolitan Transit Agency couldn't legally refuse to run political ads on buses in the Big Apple, calling the restriction unconstitutional.

To some extent, the issue depends on whether ferries, buses, and highways are deemed "public places," Tuman said. If they are, then Golden Gate Transit would have to prove that the ban was supremely important to the public -- and we'd love to see Muni convince San Francisco of that.

Otherwise, the transit agency's rationale to avoid controversy is sound, he said.

The transit agency's new policy will also ban campaigns that are deceptive, obscene or defamatory, that advocate crime or violence, infringe on copyrights, endorse products of the District, or that promote alcohol or tobacco, to name a few.

In other words, you can expect a rather PG ferry ride across the bay. 

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Suzanne Stathatos


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