Naked City

SOA Watch Billboards Nixed

When the School of the Americas Watch – Austin decided to spread its message, one of its first choices was outdoor billboard advertising; after all, according to market research conducted in Austin by Reagan National Advertising, "Outdoor advertising lets you reach the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost." But when the group tried to buy billboard space, their message was considered "too political" by both Reagan and Lamar Advertising of Austin, according to Yvonne Montejano, spokesperson for SOAW-Austin.

"Stop training terrorists, close the School of Assassins" (as the SOA, or the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is also known) was deemed unacceptable, so the group edited its message to "Stop training terrorists, close the SOA." This still wasn't good enough, but more changes would dilute the group's message to the point of censorship, SOAW-Austin decided.

Lamar was not available for comment, but Bill Reagan, general manager of Reagan National Advertising, said, "We look to avoid messages that would be viewed as offensive or reflect poorly on our company, and try to maintain balance and community standards. We tried to work with [SOAW-Austin] to find something that would not be offensive. They were not willing to compromise, so we could not accommodate their request."

But what was the offending message? That U.S. taxpayers are paying for the military and tactical training of some of the most notorious dictators to emerge from Latin America, or that one group would continue to broach the question in the first place? "There are plenty of ads for alcohol and cigarettes, half-naked women in tanning salon ads, and recruitment ads for the military, but a peace group questioning our government's foreign policy – that's controversial? There's something wrong when a privately owned business is able to control very public spaces and allows only commercial speech for consumption," Montejano says.

Undaunted, the SOAW-Austin turned to old-fashioned guerrilla tactics earlier this month when the group staged an "ad-hoc billboard" at the 12th Street bridge over I-35 during rush hour. But the prickly question of who regulates public space remains a troubling, unanswered question for SOAW-Austin. For more info on the School of Americas Watch call 474-2399 or go to www.soaw.org/new/index.php.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

School of the Americas, SOA, SOAW-Austin, Yvonne Montejano, Reagan National Advertising, Lamar Advertising

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