Using cash and drawing your curtains is not “suspicious” behaviour rules Standards Authority
Wednesday, Aug 11th, 2010
Government anti-terror advertisements encouraging members of the British public to report on their neighbours’ and work colleagues’ “suspicious” activities have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority after several complaints.
The national advertising watchdog ruled that the radio ads could cause “serious offense” to law-abiding citizens and therefore should not be allowed to be broadcast again.
The ads, promoting the national anti-terrorism hotline, were being run on one of Britain’s most popular commercial radio stations, Talksport.
“The man at the end of the street doesn’t talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself” one of the ads begins.
“He pays with cash because he doesn’t have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route.”
It continues: “This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline. If you suspect it, report it.”
Other ads suggested that those using Google Earth or Street View could be considered suspicious and possibly terrorists.
The radio spots have been complemented with print ads on public display at transport hubs and in newspapers.
Those who complained noted that the ads made an undue appeal to fear and could
encourage people to harass or victimise lawful citizens.
The ASA noted that “…some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of their community for acting in the way described,”.
Despite the ruling, the London Metropolitan Police defended the ads, suggesting that only a small number of people had complained and claiming that “…the behavior listed in the advert was based on trends identified by police and had been included in evidence given at recent terrorism trials.”
Listen to the banned ads below:
We first reported on these specific ads in March, noting that they were on their face ridiculous and designed purely to promote a deeper message that the government is trying to force upon the public – that everyone has a responsibility to act as a citizen spy, a Stasi-like informant working for the state, and that everyone is under constant suspicion no matter how apparently benign their behavior.
The ads have nothing to do with catching non-existent terrorists and everything to do with creating the perception that anyone who attempts to live their life even marginally outside of the system, by not having a credit card for example, is a potential danger to the rest of the sheep who have chosen to remain firmly inside the confines of the pen.
They represent the creation of an open prison system within society where everyone is simultaneously a prisoner and a warden.
The British public agreed with the sentiments of this analysis and now, just a short time later, the standards authority has ordered the ads to be ceased. This is a clear indication that those who are willing to speak out against such egregious attacks on civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism can have significant victories.
There is no doubt that we will see more of these kind of government propaganda campaigns in the future, and will have to be equally as vigilant to ensure they are also rejected.
Similar previous “anti-terror” campaigns have featured posters that imply people who get refunds, live in apartments, or drive vans should be reported. Does that sound incredible? It’s true, the London Metropolitan Police actually ran a campaign encouraging people to report individuals as potential terrorists because they had a home, under the slogan, “Terrorists need places to live. Are you suspicious of your tenants or neighbors?”
Another campaign focused on photographers, calling for citizens to report any ‘odd-looking’ person taking pictures – to the disgust of both amateur and professional photographers, who now say they are increasingly demonised. The posters prompted a British Press Photographers’ Association endorsed spoof response:
A more recent campaign encouraged citizens to study the contents of each others’ trash and report anything suspicious, as well as to grass up individuals who glanced at the millions of CCTV cameras that line every major street in the country. Staring back at big brother is a sign of terrorism, according to the British government. People who use mobile phones, cameras and computers were also labeled suspected terrorists.
These idiotic posters belong in a museum alongside World War Two and Cold war propaganda, not on the streets of our cities.