RALEIGH — Ceding to a legal challenge, the city of Raleigh will allow its buses to display advertisements featuring pigs in confinement.
The city and The Humane Society of the United States have reached a settlement agreement that will allow the group to run transit ads protesting the pork industry’s treatment of animals. Humane Society ads will run on two Capital Area Transit buses for six months beginning no later than Nov. 15, according to the agreement disclosed Friday.
The Raleigh Transit Authority, a City Council-appointed committee, had previously rejected the bus-wrapping ads. In response, the Humane Society in August asked that a federal court rule the denial unconstitutional.
The settlement gets the society more than it asked for. Instead of running on a single bus, as originally requested, the images will run on two buses. However, the city no longer offers the “full wrap” option that the Humane Society first pursued.
The parties signed the agreement on Oct. 18 to avoid the burden and uncertainty of legal proceedings, the document states. In response to the litigation, the Raleigh Transit Authority also has asked staff to research potential revisions that would make advertising policies more specific.
David Eatman, the city’s transit administrator, declined to comment on the case, instead pointing to the text of the agreement.
“We’re bound by the terms of the settlement there, and that’s what we intend to move forward with,” Eatman said.
The Humane Society has run the pig-related advertisement in Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington without any issues, but was denied by the Raleigh transit board in September 2012.
The advertisements were meant to read, “How would you like to spend the rest of your life in a space as small as a bus seat? It’s what Big Pork wants for pigs. But together we can change that,” accompanied by images of caged pigs.
According to the lawsuit, transit marketing specialist Lindsay Pennell wrote in an email that the “image of the pigs is too negative for us to place on the buses. … (Board members) said that if the images were less graphic or the ad was less negative they could approve. Some ideas given were make a cartoon pig in a small bus seat looking sad, or a slogan like ‘don’t blog, help the hog.’”
The lawsuit arrived 11 months after the rejection, one of several legal fights over government-sold advertisements that have bubbled up in recent years.
The U.S. Supreme Court addressed transit advertisement in 1974, when it found that the city of Shaker Heights, Ohio, could ban political advertisements from its vehicles. The court found that advertising on transit was not fully First Amendment-protected speech in part because it has a captive audience.
Challengers to municipal transit rules, though, have found some recent success. In two recent federal cases, judges have found that governments “may not discriminate against viewpoints with which they disagree or which make them uncomfortable,” though they may turn down whole categories of advertisements, according to the First Amendment Center, a program of the Freedom Forum.
In Raleigh, current transit policy bans false or misleading advertisements, references to illegal activity and advertisements for alcohol or tobacco, support or opposition for a “candidate, issue or cause,” and ads that advocate or oppose religious causes.
The Humane Society will make a payment of $13,200 – the standard rate – by Nov. 1. The ads may be seen by CAT’s 16,000-plus daily riders and “tens of thousands of residents and visitors,” according to city transit documents. Advertisements run on 55 of CAT’s 80 active vehicles.
Advertisers will no longer have the option to wrap a bus in advertising. That decision was made months prior to the Humane Society lawsuit, Eatman said.
“The transit authority felt like full-bus wraps could degrade the identity of the buses,” Eatman said. “Sometimes those wraps can be very bold statements, not necessarily related to this case whatsoever.”
The new largest option, which the Humane Society will take, puts advertisements only beneath the windows of one side of the bus and on the back of the vehicle.
Further changes also may be coming for CAT bus ads in response to the lawsuit.
“I think that the overall goal for the transit authority is to develop a policy that can be administered easily, that hopefully would not leave any room for doubt about whether an ad would be appropriate or not,” Eatman said.
The Humane Society ads are meant to bring attention to confinement practices that the group protests. The society argues that it is “standard pork industry practice” to place pigs in 2-foot-wide metal cages for “essentially their entire lives.” Smithfield and Hormel, two large pork producers, have pledged to phase out the “gestation crates” at company-owned facilities by 2017, according to the group.
The Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of food companies, has attacked the campaign as “misrepresentative of actual conditions on pork farms across the country.”
The advertisements will run with a disclaimer stating they are not endorsed by the city.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC