Independent senator Nick Xenophon has criticised a decision to block activist group GetUp! from advertising its anti-poker machine campaign on Canberra’s ACTION buses.
The public issues organisation was hoping to highlight problem gambling by displaying its controversial ads on ACTION buses travelling regular routes around Parliament House.
But even though ACTION’s contractor Bus Advertising made the initial contact with GetUp! the plan was subsequently knocked on the head for being too contentious.
A Bus Advertising representative contacted GetUp! last month asking it to consider advertising on ACTION buses after commercial television networks Seven, Nine and Ten had refused to run the anti-pokies ads.
GetUp! was given a map of bus routes, traffic flow data, an advertising rate card and information on special package deals.
But once the group seized on the idea of plastering ads on buses driving around Parliament House, the negotiations ground to a halt.
ACTION Buses insists no request had been put to it regarding anti-pokies advertising from GetUp! but that in any event policy guidelines prevented the bus fleet being used for any political ads. Bus Advertising’s national sales manager Damien Ogilvy said the idea was quashed before it was put to ACTION.
‘‘The approach was made to GetUp! in general by one of my direct reps who hadn’t been with the company very long and may not have been aware of (a) what the campaign was about or (b) what the rules were around it,’’ he said.
‘‘We didn’t ask the bus company. We’re not allowed to put contentious or political advertising and obviously it’s going to get knocked on the head.’’ But in email correspondence to GetUp!’s media buyer, Mr Ogilvy said a case had been put forward.
‘‘As mentioned on the phone, we have been told that we can’t display the ads on the buses in Canberra,’’ the email said.
‘‘As they are government assets we are not allowed to put contentious or political campaigns on these buses.
‘‘They do, however permit us to put campaigns forward on a case by case basis, which is what I did with GetUp! and probably the reason why Peter approached the client.’’
Senator Xenophon, who had agreed to launch the campaign for GetUp! is outraged the ads will not been seen on Canberra’s public bus fleet.
‘‘It seems that the ACT Government has told GetUp! to get stuffed,’’ senator Xenophon said.
‘‘What have they got to hide? What about free speech?
‘‘The only controversial thing here is the decision to try and silence this campaign.’’
But GetUp!’s national director Simon Sheikh said his group would not be silenced and people could now see the advertising in cinemas.
The confronting commercials call for $1 maximum bets and also criticise supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths for their involvement in poker machine ownership.
‘‘We’re amazed at the conflict existing here,’’ Mr Sheikh said.
‘‘On the one hand we’ve got the ACT participating in a trial on problem gambling reform. On the other hand they’re shutting down debate.
‘‘Even though television networks have knocked them back and now buses in the ACT won’t run it, that won’t stop us because we have already bought thousands of cinema advertising spots right across the country.
‘‘No matter how many times the establishment tries to stop us we will always be there making sure we get our message heard, particularly in relation to problem gambling reform.’’
In its watered down pokier reform legislation, the Federal Government will call for a trial in the ACT of a scheme to force punters to preset how much they are willing to lose.