Dangerous Business

Now, I like your freedom of speech as much as the next gal—technically more, probably—but i’m not about to get all up in arms because some ad industry blog has been receiving death threats for discussing a campaign that links government-backed violence, human rights violations, the Olympic Games, and the Chinese government. Especially when journalists, activists, and the Swedish Red Cross have been suffering worse, for years.

The alleged death threats were aimed at “a beyond-a-blog, commercial-laden delirium of heaven and hell for advertising addicts around the world, gossips about advertising stunts and marketing mishaps. The latest advertising news from a creative point of view served fresh daily since 2000″—barf—that builds buzz around such brilliant campaigns as Saatchi and Saatchi’s hilarious and spot-on campaign about human trafficking—in which humans were actually advertised for sale! My god the genius! It’s funny because it’s true! And also because it might have appeared first in the Onion!

The ads, for a Swedish Red Cross campaign, depict citizens being beaten, choked, attacked, and otherwise threatened by allegedly Chinese enforcers. Chinese ad enthusiasts and death-threateners, however, charge that the abusers are actually Nepalese. The images are accompanied by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games logos. Some can be seen here, but because the charming ad blog above has imprinted its own logo on the images, I’m not going to repost. Human rights violations and abuses of activists and journalists have been tied directly to the 2008 Olympic Games.

Apparently the Swedish Red Cross tired of the death threats and opted to remove the images from its own site. Because, one assumes, the Swedish Red Cross isn’t surprised when violating long-held Chinese mandates restricting press freedom results in death threats. But apparently, the ad world is.

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  1. mjb says:

    Ad blog or not, why wouldn’t you be up in arms about repression and death threats?

    The blogger in question had this thoughtful response at the end of the post you linked to: “If this happens to me — an adblog that simply showed a campaign — then what do real journalists who write about China have to endure? That’s scary,” said Wappling.

  2. Hmm, I’ve been writing about repression—and oppression— for years, although rarely make a big deal out of death threats I’ve received. (Not that they’re not scary. I just think that’s a little dramatic.)

    But the repression of ads is wholly different than the oppression of journalism. Different because milder. It’s sweet that Wappling seems to get that—now, after she’s been subjected to threats—but ridiculous that the ad world in general doesn’t.

    Content intended to promote the sales of goods or services, or forward the work of a not-for-profit agency, even—despite what the ad world believes—is not the most significant material affected under clampdowns on freedom of expression. It’s lives. It’s journalism. It’s art.

    Of course, if the ad world is interested in supporting those movements, there are a ton of human rights organizations and places like PEN that could use a hefty donation to do their great work. Support those “real journalists,” Wappling—or MediaBistro, who ran the piece on her plight. And do something to change the very mild version of real oppression that you experienced.

    And in the mean time, if you violate oft-noted limits to freedom of expression, don’t be surprised if you get death threats. Like a lot of other people have. And unless you pitch in and help, like a lot of other people probably will.

  3. mjb says:

    I guess some speech is more equal than others. You may be sliding down a slippery slope. Milder and sweet repression is still repression. Tolerance of it leads to, well, this:


  4. No, I’m well aware of the slope. And I’m clearly not arguing for tolerance of repression or oppression. I’m calling for an action greater than branding. Which, you know, as much as Ms. Wappling was maybe sort of trying to do with a brief note at the end of her post, she was also participating in by rebranding all the images of the Swedish Red Cross ad campaign with the logo of her own site. The result being, a sensationalized situation in which she benefits from—at the expense of “real” journalists, humanitarians, artists, and our friend James in Beijing.

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