Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore has launched a review of new QMS Media street furniture being installed around the City of Sydney after complaints that advertising screens placed on footpaths were impacting pedestrian movement.

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 "It is clear the balance isn't right":
              Clover Moore
       Lord Mayor of Sydney 

“While our contract with QMS provides significant value to the city – both in terms of attractive, well-maintained street furniture and income – it is clear the balance isn't right,” Moore said on Instagram, responding to complaints from residents.

“I have asked the City's CEO to work with QMS to review the placement of communications pylons and remove those that have a significant negative impact on pedestrian movement.”

The move comes after criticism of earlier comments by the Lord Mayor, who had stated: “The vast majority of these panels have been installed in the same location and are a similar width to the old phone-booth billboards. Yes, they are quite large and in some locations - as was the case with the old telephone-mounted panels - you may have to walk in single-file.”

One resident responded: “The irony that these billboards have ads claiming that they will increase accessibility for residents… They block half the footpath at points. For what? So the City of Sydney can make advertising revenue? Not to mention they are an eyesore. Love your work Lord Mayor but this is an (ugly) mistake.”

Another resident added: “They are hazardously big and occupy way too much precious foot traffic space especially when I am forced to walk around one so close to the incoming buses and taxis. I believe some sort of holographic alternative that you can walk right through is the solution."

The City of Sydney said another 52 advertising panels and 30 bus shelters were yet to be installed in the local government area under its 10-year agreement with QMS - the largest outdoor advertising contract in Australia – that was signed in 2020.

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       (photos: QMS Media)
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Across 26 square kilometres and 33 suburbs, the City of Sydney network reaches 2.6 million people a week, two-thirds of whom live across the Greater Sydney region.

“The placement of all bus shelters, communication pylons, kiosks and automatic public toilets were subject to development application process, which included public consultation with a determination made by the independent Local Planning Panel,” Moore said.

“Managing the City's needs is a constant negotiation. Some benefits require trade-offs.

“I assure you we are listening and responding to your feedback regarding the furniture upgrades and I hope you understand the value of this contract to our work delivering a great place to live, visit and work.”

QMS Media, owned by private equity firm Quadrant, has yet to comment.

Emerging campaigns against OOH advertising

The Sydney Council -QMS situation comes soon after the UK's BBC reported on a disturbing cancel-culture trend from a group called Adfree Cities, calling for all intrusive out-of-home advertising screens, billboards and bus wraps in London to be removed. Spokesperson Charlotte Gage said that Adfree Cities wants a complete ban on all outdoor corporate advertising. This would also apply to the sides of buses, and on the London Underground and other rail and metro systems.

Some cities, such as Sao Paulo in Brazil (where 15,000 billboards were removed by order), Bristol in UK, Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Grenoble in France have already implemented total or partial bans, based on content, on outdoor media. The City of Sydney already has a policy for OOH sites that it owns, to ban fossil fuel advertising, as reported by Wide Format Online in August.

In March this year, Bristol City Council banned outdoor adverts for gambling firms, junk food, alcohol and payday loans, but only on the advertising spaces that it owns, including bus shelters and billboards. Norwich City Council is exploring a similar move after councillors last year voted in favour.

In the case of Grenoble, France, the Deputy Mayor is on record as saying: "We don't want our city's children bombarded with animated advertising on TV screens in the street."

Some groups, such as Adblock, even resort to vandalism and covering up what it perceives to be offensive advertising screens and billboards.

Clearly there is global trend emerging and the OOH industry needs to take it seriously - not just outright denial but working together with municipal authorities to arrive at negotiated outcomes - as appears to be happening with  Sydney MayorClover Moore and QMS. There is a balance to be achieved somewhere; one that protects society from encouraging the use of harmful products such as cigrarettes, or ill-positioned street sites, but reflects choice in a free market economy.

The final word should go Tim Lumb of the UK's OOH body Outsmart, who notes: "In a free society businesses have the right to advertise their wares, and individual citizens are not the helpless, brainless automatons that Adfree Cities considers them to be."

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Coming to streets near us? Adblock thinks it has the right to censor what we see outdoors. Ironically they are seen here using outdoor advertising to promote their message. (Image: Camille Aboudaram)




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