By Jim Brunner
Clear Channel Outdoor initially reviewed and accepted the billboard ads but reversed course this week and said it will remove them, citing a company policy of avoiding messages that offend certain persons or organizations.
The ads were purchased by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign. The group turned to the billboards after a judge allowed King County to reject the "war crimes" ads on buses, due to public-safety concerns.
The group bought four billboard ads, at about $1,400 apiece, which were supposed to run for four weeks. Three of the ads were in place. But Clear Channel Outdoor informed the group on Wednesday it would remove the ads — a move the Israel critics called censorship.
"We're trying to bring up a very serious human-rights issue that we're complicit with because our government supports these human-rights violations overseas," said Edward Mast, a spokesman for the group. "We're not being allowed to talk about it."
The ads show a Palestinian boy behind a fence and call for "Equal Rights for Palestinians" and for the U.S. to "stop funding the Israeli military."
In canceling the ads, Clear Channel did not object to those slogans. Instead, the company pointed to stronger language on the group's website, www.stop30billion-seattle.org, which was prominently promoted on the ads. That site calls Israel's Palestinian policies "war crimes" and "apartheid."
A Clear Channel executive said in a statement the company supports "community discussion of serious issues." But the company also wants to ensure any ads, including websites they promote, "are not offensive toward any business, group or individual," said Olivia Lippens, president of Clear Channel Outdoor Seattle, in an emailed statement.
Lippens said the Mideast Awareness Campaign's website is "not in keeping with those standards."
Mast said his group offered to delete or change language on its website but was told that wouldn't keep the billboard ads going.
Clear Channel did not identify which groups or individuals had objected to the billboards.
Some local pro-Israel groups that had protested the Israel critics' proposed Metro bus ads said they had not contacted Clear Channel about the new billboards.
Richard Fruchter, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said while his organization did not complain, it did mention the billboards on its website.
"We disagree with the message, but we agree with the right of free speech," said Fruchter. However, he said the "sensational" and "inflammatory" messages weren't contributing much to the public debate.
Clear Channel said it would refund the money paid for the ads.
The billboards with the ads were on Aurora Avenue at Republican, Elliot Avenue West near West Lee Street and Lake City Way Northeast near Northeast 104th Street.
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