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Tacky ’yard sale’ of our public spaces

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POSTED July 11, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Question of the day: Should the people’s property – by which I mean such basic public items as police vehicles, subway stations, and fire hydrants – be rented out as commercial billboards for hyping corporate products? Answer: Of course not!

But it’s happening anyway. For example, after Littleton, Massachussets, made an “advertise with the good guys” pitch, a supermarket chain bought ad space on the town’s police cars. Philadelphia has rebranded its Pattison subway station as the “AT&T Station,” even plastering the telecom giant’s logo on each turnstile. And in Syracuse, the sheriff’s office plans to adorn its rescue helicopters with ads.

Who benefits from this crass commercialization of public spaces? Corporate sponsors, for sure. As one ad executive bluntly noted, we’re always seeking “another place for eyeballs to be looking at [ads].” And, of course, public agencies get a bit of extra cash from these sell-out deals – but at what price? A sheriff’s official in Syracuse admits that “some people are a little put off by the idea that we’re getting sponsorship for what used to be a government duty.”

Yes – count me as one of those people! AT&T, for example, didn’t pay for that subway and has no right to treat it as its private billboard. Government officials rationalize this tacky “yard sale” as a way to get revenue without raising taxes, but that’s just a political dodge, for providing adequate tax revenue for essential government services is their job. Gut it up – instead of privatizing a piece of the public for a pittance of AT&T’s self-promotion money, tax AT&T! You’d get the same level of funding or more, while protecting the public’s trust in the integrity of public service.

To learn more, go to Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert Project: www.CommercialAlert.org.

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