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Posts tagged with: Atheist Bus Campaign

Lessons from Atheist Bus for the Gay Bus dispute

Stonewall has been running an excellent campaign on 1000 buses with the slogan “Some people are gay. Get over it!” So – surprise, surprise – some bigots decided to run a counter campaign on 25 buses with the slogan “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” Only Boris Johnson, in the middle of an election campaign, has intervened to try to get TfL to pull the ads.

Boris is wrong to make this request. Here’s why.

I have quite some experience with this sort of thing as I was one of the people who started the Atheist Bus Campaign. We needed our slogan – There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. – to get the OK of the Advertising Standards Authority. With that permission granted our advert was good to run. Our campaign prompted a whole slew of counter campaigns. One from the Christian Party asserted there definitely is a God and TfL allowed it, while a further ad basically branded people fools. Our atheist ads caused offence but we were right to run them and likewise the counter campaign caused offence too (not least the Christian Party one that attracted the second highest amount of complaints in ASA history).

Yet I would have taken the UK response to all of this over the German response any day. In Germany atheists were barred from advertising on public transport by one local authority after another, and in the end resorted to hiring a bus and driving it around Germany. This is despite religious adverts being allowed on German public transport, as documented here.

So then ask yourself the question: in the dispute over the Gay Bus ads, which approach would you prefer?

While I intensely dislike the anti-gay message on the counter advertisements, I still think they should be run. The rules need to be equally respected by both sides, and the ASA has also confirmed the anti-gay ad does not contravene any UK advertising law. If the law is wrong then it needs to be changed, and the new rules applied equally to everyone. By intervening to stop these adverts Boris has shown just the sort of intolerance that prevented atheists advertising in Germany. Is that the sort of approach to public debate we want in the UK?

[UPDATE 13.4.12, 0900]
Just to make it clear: the ASA does not pre-approve ads, but in the Atheist Bus campaign case we checked with CBS Outdoor, the company that manages the ads on London transport, and they stated that as far as they could tell there was not a problem. Subsequent complaints by Christian Voice and others to the ASA confirmed this.

[Image generated from the ever-excellent Bus Slogan Generator]


The Atheist Bus Campaign has re-framed the UK’s ‘debate’ on religion

The Atheist Bus Campaign is the biggest thing I’ve ever done, and may prove to be the biggest thing I ever will do. It was more than three years ago that the original campaign started, and it still lives on.

In recent days a new controversy has been brewing in Oxford as Richard Dawkins has declined to debate visiting American theologian William Lane Craig and Craig’s supporters have taken out 30 ads on Stagecoach buses in the city (more from The Oxford Times) with the slogan “There’s Probably No Dawkins”.

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Maybe Eurostar needed divine intervention?

Spotted recently at St Pancras - mockup on the basis of an original CC / Flickr image

Spotted recently at St Pancras - mockup on the basis of an original CC / Flickr image

In some weird transport / religion crossover an online magazine called Communicate Jesus has done a write-up on the Eurostar mess and has linked to my post about the issue. Seems they did not notice the Atheist Bus banner in my sidebar :-) Their article is entitled ‘Important lesson from Eurostar’ and the article is categorised ‘for Churches, for Pastors’. The idea of a sermon about Eurostar is a rather odd thought, or maybe they hope that some divine intervention will stop Eurostar breaking down in the future?


Da ist wahrscheinlich ein gott (aber natürlich nur ein christliches gott)

As seen on the streets of Zürich - made with the bus slogan generator

As seen on the streets of Zürich (not) - made with the bus slogan generator

The Swiss referendum banning the construction of minarets has caused a load of hand-wringing. Why?

Of course it’s absolutely wrong to deny freedom of religious expression, and the outcome of the vote is wrong. I’m no fan of any religion but here the Voltaire quote seems apt: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

But to be remotely surprised or aghast or shocked that Switzerland would pass such a vote strikes me as utterly ludicrous. After all the SVP/UDC is the largest party and Switzerland, it’s been fiendishly hard to get Swiss citizenship for decades, and it even took the country until 2002 to join the UN. The country’s direct democracy is seldom a force for anything progressive, and indeed seems to be quite the opposite.

And while everyone is having a good old rant at the offense caused to muslims by this vote, equally have a look at the difficulties atheists have had in Switzerland to run an advertising campaign – see the report below from Swiss TV from 9 months ago, and look at the way atheist posters have been defaced. Basically if you’re not christian then you don’t count (which is what the bus slogan above alludes to).


Atheists’ right to advertise

Gott am Bahnhof, Köln - J. Worth

Gott am Bahnhof, Köln - J. Worth

One of the arguments that my German friends like to make against the Atheist Bus Campaign (and especially it’s German equivalent) is that ‘because there is no religious advertising on public transport in Germany atheists do not need to advertise’. This is the sort of reasoning why companies such as EVAG Essen declined the advertising.

So then what do I see when changing trains today at Köln Hbf? The pictured religious advertising right in the middle of the station! So much for there not being religious advertising that atheists are wholly within their rights to counter.

Germans also need to reflect a little about their vocabulary when it comes to atheists. I was introduced to someone (admittedly born and brought up in Baden-Württemberg) on Thursday who’s reaction to me – essentially a complete stranger – when someone said I was behind the atheist bus campaign was “das ist total schwachsinn” (“that is total bullshit”). Think about that for a moment. Am I going to go “that’s bullshit” to someone who I meet who is on the way to church? No I’m not, and it’s not socially acceptable to do so.



Rocking the traditional media boat

Zukunftswerkstatt at Medienforum.NRW - © Medienforum.NRW

Zukunftswerkstatt at Medienforum.NRW - © Medienforum.NRW

I’ve had a few interesting experiences with what I would call the media establishment over the last few weeks, notably when asked to present the atheist bus campaign at Medienforum.NRW in Köln and at the European Communication Summit in Brussels. Köln was a panel discussion in German, while Bruxelles was a presentation followed by Q&A – the presentation I used was similar to this one. To be on the programme with people both times with people much more senior yet being able to make audiences laugh, think and reflect has been quite an experience.

In both cases I was almost the youngest person present, one of the few not employed in the traditional media business, or in comms for a traditional agency or large corporate. My background is not typical – I worked for 3 years in the UK civil service before my freelance career started 2 years ago. At both events there was a dawning realisation that the world is changing, that the media landscape is changing, and that the traditional media and PR industries better up their game to try to keep up. All of this was rather elegantly summed up by Gallo Blog (the author was present at my session in Brussels):

To underscore this point, yesterday’s workshop had Jon Worth talk about his campaign AtheistBus.org.uk. In the time it takes for a company director to book a ’social media expert’ to come and speak to her/his Board, and for the board to agree, “Yes, this is important, let’s set up a task force”, someone like Jon has run an online/off-line campaign and is on to the next project. I exaggerate for effect, but not by much.

This ties in rather neatly with the article “EU lobbying scene not quite ready for next generation PR” from The EU Lobby blog, a blog that’s quickly rivalling Public Affairs 2.0 for good Brussels PR blogging. Yes, Facebook and Twitter might not be journalism as we know it, but those sorts of technologies are here to stay. Technological changes are allowing more to be done than ever before with less financial outlay and those with the right skills can profit – see for example how Danfung Dennis has adapted in war photography.

Perhaps the finest moment of the atheist bus campaign from a professional point of view was when I was called by PR Week, the magazine of the PR industry in the UK, and they asked me which PR firm we had been using. “None” was the answer… “It was a journalist with an idea and some contacts, and a website designer who knew some bloggers”. Needless to say no article was published by that particular publication. Perhaps they would do well to pay attention to this NY Times article cited by The Lobby, and maybe in London as well as in Brussels some urgent lessons need to be learnt as the economic crisis eats into organisations’ comms budgets.


Life’s ambition achieved: on TV in a foreign language

OK, it’s not my sole ambition to be on TV! But I remember as a 16 year old thinking: some day I would like to be interviewed on television or radio speaking a language that’s not my mother tongue. To appear in such an interview would mean I was doing something useful with my life, and also that I had maintained my languages to an adequate standard to be able to get my message across.

So I’m therefore rather happy to have appeared briefly on RTL Nachtjournal talking – in German – about the Atheist Bus Campaign. Not sure my grammar or accent was much good, but hey, I managed it. So many thanks to Herr Kelly and school exchanges to the Realschule Lahnstein all those years ago.

Atheist buses are 11 minutes into the film below.

[UPDATE] Deutschlandfunk as well! So I’ve managed both radio and tv… :-)

[UPDATE 2] Also an interview online at cicero.de – and the telephone interview was in German.

[UPDATE 3] Also now in French on TF1 weekend news! Woo hoo!

radio-canada[UPDATE 4] The best interview so far – more than 10 minutes in French on Radio Canada Montréal on Samédi et rien d’autre with Jacques Bertrand. It’s 11 minutes 40 seconds into part 3 here.
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