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Adbusters launches broadcaster lawsuit

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VANCOUVER - Adbusters Media Foundation launched legal action today against four of Canada's biggest television broadcasters: CTV, Canwest Global, CBC and CHUM Ltd.

As first reported by in the spring, with prominent civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby as lead counsel, the group hopes to win the right to buy airtime for its TV messages, which broadcasters have mostly refused to air. The lawsuit also names the CRTC for its role in regulating the broadcasters.

The case, which will be fought in Ontario's high court over the next few months, has widespread implications and could change forever the face of Canadian television, says the advocacy group's press release. "If the action is successful, Canadian citizens could become the first in the world with the right to walk into their local TV station and buy airtime for their messages on the same terms as commercial advertisers," it says.

Adbusters' 15 and 30 second "social marketing spots", as they call them, address a range of social and environmental issues, from obesity to consumerism to environmental destruction. One of the spots shows a burping pig superimposed on a map of North America, another says that 52% of the calories in a Big Mac comes from fat.

While a few of the ads have made it to air, the broadcasters named have refused to air some of the ads "on grounds that they are too controversial, advocate ideas instead of products, and don't fit the broadcasters' business model," says the Adbusters release - or are factually soft, potentially libelous, and damaging to their clients' reputations, say the broadcasters.

"CHUM's national sales representative, Susan Orr, told Adbusters '[your spots] are counterproductive to what we do. We sell advertising.' Al Hudak, CTV's group director of national sales, explained 'We're in the business to make money, and we're in the business to sell our customers products. So why would we come out and [air your spots],'" says the press release.

"In an article that recently ran in an industry trade journal [Ed. note: this journal you're reading right here], CanWest spokesman David Hamilton summarizes the broadcaster's position: 'We decide what runs on our air,'" continues the release.

"Essentially, this is about free speech," says Kalle Lasn, Adbusters' founder and editor-in-chief. "In a democracy citizens should have equal right to access the public airwaves - we own them. At the very least, we should be able to buy air time under the same rules and conditions as corporate advertisers. These media giants are treating Canadians who want to reach out with important messages like second-class citizens."

The Adbusters Media Foundation publishes the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters and the online "Culture Jammer" activist network (

Founded in 1989, the group's mission is to "halt the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces, and forge a major shift in the way we live in the 21st century." Adbusters is known for its spoof ads and its Buy Nothing Day and Turn-off-the-TV-week campaigns.

To view the rejected spots and listen the broadcasters' responses, go to
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