This afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered a review of KC Metro's policies concerning non-commercial bus advertisements, in response to controversial posters advertising "Israeli War Crimes," which are slated to appear on 12 King County buses on December 27th and run for a full month.
Earlier today, King County Council member Peter von Reichbauer claimed that the ads, purchased for $1,794 by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, could incite anti-Semitic violence. Interestingly enough, Constantine takes a different approach—he makes the argument that the ads are wasting more time and money than they're worth. (The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign argues that they ads are generating discussion—in other words, they're doing their job.)
“From time to time, interest groups have exercised their right to free speech by making a small transit ad buy and leveraging that purchase to provoke news coverage worth many times their investment," Constantine said in a statement released today. “In light of these incidents, I’ve asked Metro Transit to review its policies governing non-commercial bus advertising."
KC Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke confirms that metro staffers have been swamped fielding calls and emails about the ads—and that most of these complaints are coming from a national and international audience (though she doesn't have a concrete breakdown of the numbers) stemming from King 5's Friday coverage of the issue. "We've received over 600 comments, mostly emails, originating from people posting to list serves and blog posts," says Thielke.
"It's become a waste of staff time. We’re entering into holiday week, with reduced services and our customer information people can’t even field those calls, they’re talking to people from Las Vegas and Australia about this issue instead."
Thielke says KC Metro is no stranger to controversial ads—from a poster advertising puppet cleavage for the play Avenue Q, to a pot-friendly ad, to last year's famous athiest Christmas ad—and has never before pulled a bus ad once its been contracted. "We have more constraints on us for what we can reject, because we must be mindful of state and federal free speech," Thielke says. "We have to have guidelines that make sense and are keeping with what a government agency should and shouldn’t be doing." Nevertheless, Thielke says that Metro officials will immediately begin the process of reviewing the department's non-commercial ad policies. Their outcomes will then be forwarded to the KC Prosecuting Attorney's office and the KC Executive's office for consideration. The question is, will the policy review be done quickly and will it change anything?
"At this point, the ads are still scheduled to run," says Thielke. "The ads don't violate our current policy standards."