A sign of things to come?
Within days of becoming London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan instructed TfL to ban adverts dealing with what it calls ‘body confidence issues’.
The ads in question were not illegal and the ASA (Advertising Standard Agency) ruled they were neither offensive nor irresponsible. However, they were deemed to have caused ‘offence’ to some folk by Khan, and TfL decreed their banning from the next month.
“Nobody should feel pressurised while they are travel on the tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this,” said Khan.
He was referring to ads of scantily-clad models to promote health products.
Whether these adverts offended some folk, or were in bad taste, is beside the point: If something is banned because it might cause ‘offence’ to someone, then, logically, we could end up banning all ads as someone, somewhere is bound to be offended by some of them at some stage.
If so, that could lead to a big hole in TfL’s finances. Advertising contributed £170m to its coffers in 2015. It’s a slippery slope and it also sets a dangerous precedent . . .
And what is ‘offensive’ is largely a subjective matter, and invariably a very selective one. In a robust democracy there is no right not to be offended by something one disapproves of; otherwise we would all be rendered dumb!
So what’s next on the agenda? One hopes a decision like this one will not lead to further micro-management of TfL by persons more interested in pursuing political agendas than in solving practical transport problems.
On a broader point too, political interference has long been a problem in public transport. Decades of it undid BR when it was around, and for mismanagement of the capital’s transport one could do no better than read Paul E. Garbutt’s London Transport & the Politicians, which although published over 30 years ago, still has relevance today.