In the High Court, Gauteng Local Division Johannesburg, today, judgment was handed down in Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions. South Africa and Sweetworks Advertising Agency v Continental Outdoor Media (Pty) Ltd, the City of Johannesburg and the Advertising Standards Authority. The judge found the actions of Continental Media unconstitutional and unlawful. As representatives of BDS South Africa and Sweetworks, the LRC welcomes the judgment.
As noted in the previous press release, the matter involves a contractual dispute centred on the right to freedom of expression. The dispute arose when Continental Outdoor Media removed a BDS South Africa billboard advertisement prior to the expiration of the agreed flighting period, without notice or consultation with BDS SA and Sweetworks. Continental contended that it was entitled to remove the billboard as the advert was contentious and controversial and, therefore, not compliant with the rental agreement, the Outdoor Advertising Bylaws if the City of Johannesburg and/or the Advertising Standards Authority Code of Conduct (ASA Code).
The LRC argued that the removal of the billboard was unconstitutional and unlawful as it is in breach of Section 16 of the Constitution which provides for freedom of expression. We also argued that the relevant section of the by-law of the City of Johannesburg, which does not allow advertising that is “insensitive to the public, or any portion thereof, or to any religious or cultural group”, is unconstitutional in that it goes beyond the constitutional limitations of free speech by setting a lower bar than the Constitution allows.
The judge found the removal of the billboards to be unconstitutional and unlawful and ordered Continental Outdoor Media to, within 10 days, reinstate the billboards for an uninterrupted period of 30 days. The judge further found that the relevant advertising by-laws of the City of Johannesburg are unconstitutional and gave the City a year in which to amend them.
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