Lion ad not unlawful, court hears

2013-05-27 14:37
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Avaaz takes government to court

See photos as Avaaz demonstrates outside the South Gauteng High Court ahead of their free speech lawsuit against the South African government.

Johannesburg - Court action seeking to reinstate an advertising campaign to stop the trade in lion bones got under way in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

It has been brought by global civic organisation Avaaz against the Airports Company SA (Acsa).

Stephen Budlender, for Avaaz, told the court the advert at OR Tambo International Airport outside Johannesburg, featured an image of a lioness looking down the barrel of a gun with an image of President Jacob Zuma in the background.

It carried the line: "President Zuma can save her life."

A message underneath the image said: "Our lions are being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for Asia. Will President Zuma save them? Urge him to stop the deadly bone trade now."

Media group Primedia was contracted to arrange production and placement, with pre-approval of the content by a lawyer as part of the group's global civil action.

The campaign, called "Stop the lion bone trade campaign", cost R198 000 and would have run in August 2012, for a month. It was taken down after nine days.

The poster followed a petition to Zuma and correspondence with his office.

The court heard that latest government statistics showed a 250% increase in lion bone exports between 2008 and 2010.

Breach of contract

Avaaz submitted on Monday that the removal of the advert was unlawful on three grounds.

It constituted a breach of contract between Primedia and Avaaz; the constitutional right to freedom of expression in terms of section 16 of the Constitution; and the constitutional right to administrative action in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (Paja).

Budlender said the advertisement was not unlawful in terms of advertising standards, hate speech, or defamation.

It had been approved by a Primedia lawyer and there had been no complaints about it while on display in the international arrivals hall.

It was only after a journalist asked Acsa for permission to take a photograph of it that the company acted.

Acsa communications manager Solomon Makgale recommended that permission not be granted to the journalist or images of the poster supplied, and that the journalist rather be referred to Primedia.

He also asked then assistant general manager Tebogo Mekgoe to prepare a short statement on why the advertisement should not be allowed, and asked him how it should be managed.

‘PR nightmare’

Budlender said that in response Mekgoe had stated "... there is an implicit message in the content of the advert that says the President [personally] is currently standing by while our lions are being killed and is complicit in the killing".

He urged Makgale to sensitise the managing director about a potential "public relations nightmare" at an entry point into South Africa.

Budlender said Acsa decided to tell Primedia to remove the advertisement after an one-hour meeting, in which Avaaz was not consulted.

The advert was taken down on 16 August.

He said Acsa, as an organ of state, had a constitutional duty to protect freedom of expression, and repeated that the advertisement had not been unlawful in anyway.

Acsa had not applied procedural fairness in ordering it to be removed, also violating Paja.

Avaaz wants the court to order that Acsa's actions were unlawful and that it reinstate the advertisement for the remaining 22 days.

Speaking outside the court, Avaaz global campaigns director Emma Ruby-Sachs said: "We showed that with elephants the key thing that a government can do is to shut down a trade immediately."

Read more on:    acsa  |  primedia  |  avaaz  |  jacob zuma  |  johannesburg  |  media

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