While it has attracted little media attention, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has quietly changed its policy on the posting of ads deemed controversial after the outcry over an ad campaign by American Freedom Defense Initiative executive director and blogger Pamela Geller. Muslims and others objected to the ads and at least one columnist was arrested for destroying the posters. The ads read “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Now MTA has announced that it will reserve the right to refuse any ads deemed likely to “incite” violence or “other breach of peace.” It is another measure rolling on free speech and forcing speakers to adhere to the anticipated reaction of third parties.
The new regulation states “The licensee (‘advertising contractor’) shall not display or maintain any advertisement that falls within one or more of the following categories.” This includes the following category:
The advertisement, or any information contained in it, is directly adverse to the commercial or administrative interests of the MTA or is harmful to the morale of MTA employees or contains material the display of which the MTA reasonably foresees would incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace, and so harm, disrupt, or interfere with safe, efficient, and orderly transit operations.
So speakers will now be denied if any group is likely to react as did columnist Mona Eltahawy by destroying posters. It rewards the lawless conduct of such individuals and forces speech to meet the demands of the lowest common denominator of expression. It also leaves ample opportunity for selection denials of some speech in favor of others. Under this standard, any poster discussing subjects ranging from religion to homosexuality to environmentalism could be considered disruptive. The agency will no doubt demand deference in such agency decisions and it will be hard to contest the mere prediction of possible violence or disruptions. It will be interesting to see the MTA cite violent riots in other countries as the basis for such action.
We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard. Now that effort has come to a head with the new President of Egypt President Mohamed Mursi calling for enactment of an anti-blasphemy law at the United Nations. Mursi is also demanding legal action against the filmmaker by the United States despite the fact that the film is clearly protected by the first amendment.
The MTA’s regulation is a prime example of how the West is yielding to the demands to silence different forms of speech under the guise of tolerance and good public order. The vote was 8-0 to adopt the new rules in the wake of the recent controversy. Joseph J. Lhota, the authority’s chairman simply insisted that “We’ve gotten to a point where we needed to take action today.” That point appears to have been reached when people objected that they found the views in the ads to be offensive. Few forms of political or social advocacy do not offend someone. Indeed, many commercial ads are viewed as offensive by some, even the cartoonish image on a Starbucks cup. Will those who call the image the “Starslut” now succeeded in forcing the withdrawal of Starbucks ads or will the MTA pick and choose between who is legitimately incited or offended?
Source: New York Times