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Billboards: the display of suggestive advertisements

On October 17, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the removal of all billboards and hoardings from public properties, including overhead bridges, service lanes and pedestrian pathways and overheads, in Karachi. Some action was taken at that time but as with most laws in the country the full implementation of this law remained elusive and as time passed billboards now again began to dominate the landscape of Karachi. The indifference to this law lasted for a while but now the Sindh High Court has taken up the matter and has ordered the Sindh government, KMC and the cantonment boards to remove the billboards and hoardings from the public properties and sought a report on November 15. The main concern is danger to life and property of people by accidents that are becoming more frequent in the city of teeming millions partly due to severity of weather as a consequence of climate change phenomenon.

Contrary to public perception this ban is not unique to Karachi. Many developed countries of the world have also followed this path for different reasons. As far back as 2006, Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, the largest in the southern hemisphere, banned all forms of outdoor advertising. Under the so-called Clean City Law, more than 15,000 billboards were subsequently removed, in addition to 300,000 store signs that were considered to be too large. The French city of Grenoble followed suit in 2014. Its Assistant Mayor Lucile Lheureux explained at the time that the advertising firms wanted to upgrade their billboards to digital screens and “we don’t want our city’s children bombarded with animated advertising on TV screens in the street”. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, banned some outdoor adverts and Bristol City Council banned outdoor adverts for gambling firms, junk food, alcohol and payday loans, but only on the advertising spaces that it owns, including bus shelters and billboards. Norwich City Council is exploring a similar move after councilors last year voted in favor of such a ban. There are dedicated campaigners for billboard bans and one of them, Charlotte Gage, says that the outdoor adverts you see on billboards and bus stops should all be removed: “These ads are in the public space without any consultation about what is shown on them,” she says. “Plus they cause light pollution, and the ads are for things people can’t afford, or don’t need.”

Billboards have a long history and are considered pioneers of advertising and public relations. It was Jared Bell in the USA who created

some of the first billboards for famous circus act of Barnum And Bailey in the 1830s. The first 24-sheet billboard was shown at the Paris Expo, and later at the World’s Columbian Exposition. This 24-sheet format became the standard billboard for many years to come. As early as in the 1860s a legislation allowed advertisers to purchase outdoor space for advertising purposes which got the ball rolling for the billboard industry. How did this form of publicity get the name billboard? Quite simple the press agents of those days would give their assistants a piece of paper with their message saying “Go place it on Bill’s Boards”. Billboards in Early America were very popular on the highways. What we are trying to accomplish here in Karachi was attempted as far back as in 1965, when the Highway Beautification Act was passed in the USA. It did not require all bill boards to be trashed but it regulated their placement. The Highway Beautification Act set limitations on the number of billboards that could be placed along highways, as well as regulations on factors such as size, spacing, and lighting think this was a very balanced answer to the problem which satisfied all sides and saved those who had invested their life’s savings into this business. If I remember right it was during the first such campaign to remove bill boards from the city of Karachi that a young man died of heart attack. He had only recently invested all his savings and borrowings in the bill board business. Surely, such tragedies can be prevented if all sides sit down and reach an amicable agreement that safeguards everyone’s interest.

In Karachi, most of the billboards business is in the hands of private companies specializing in outdoor advertising while some sites are owned by advertising companies. Employment of hundreds of young men and women depends on this business. Let us hope this campaign ends with a win-win situation for all. Driving down from Clifton bridge I stopped at the Teen Talwar traffic signal. As I looked up I saw this glamorous lady on the bill board smiling down at me. Such a relief after a long day at office. Can we somehow retain the glamour without annoying their lordships?

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi, "Billboards: the display of suggestive advertisements," Business recorder. 2022-10-29.
Keywords: Political sciences , Public properties , Driving down , Traffic signal , Mayor Lucile Lheureux , Charlotte Gage , Pakistan , America , KMC , TV

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