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Adbusters given green light to sue TV broadcasters

Adbusters Media Foundation will be allowed to legally challenge television broadcasters for refusing to air its social marketing anti-consumerist ads.

The B.C. Court of Appeal released the unanimous decision Friday, overturning previous rulings preventing action against CBC and CanWest Global.

“This is a great day for Adbusters,” said editor and co-founder Kalle Lasn in a press release yesterday.

“After 20 years of legal struggle, the courts have finally given us permission to take on the media corporations and hold them up to public scrutiny.”

The Vancouver-based organization publishes the popular activist magazine Adbusters.

According to the decision, Adbusters requested that CBC and Global Television run ads critical of commercial advertising. Global refused while CBC said it would run some ads but not at the times requested by the organization.

Adbusters claimed the television broadcasters were violating section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedoms of expression and the press.

The organization argued that broadcasters are subject to the charter because they implement the government’s broadcast policy and because they have control over public space in the form of publicly-owned broadcast frequencies.

According to the Broadcasting Act:

“The Canadian broadcasting system … makes use of radio frequencies that are public property and provides, through its programming, a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty”

In February 2008, the B.C. Supreme Court rejected the claim that there was a violation of the charter right to freedom of expression, ruling the charter didn’t apply to private corporations.

Yesterday's decision overturned this ruling, giving Adbusters the opportunity to have the case heard by the B.C. Supreme Court.

Adbusters legal counsel Mark Underhill told the Globe and Mail yesterday the case will likely not be heard for months, if not years. Lasn was reported to have said the costs of the case are already estimated to be $200,000.

In addition to publishing Adbusters magazine, the foundation organizes the annual Buy Nothing Day and promotes media democracy through its Media Carta manifesto, which calls for the right to communicate to be enshrined in national constitutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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