The Billboard Stops Here

Clear Channel refuses to display one of PETA's controversial advertisements.

Overv the last 10 years in Tucson, PETA has gotten publicity by dogging Oscar Mayer's Wienermobile, having members protest topless near a busy intersection, ripping on the rodeo and bombarding Butterfield Elementary School students with anti-Kentucky Fried Chicken trading cards.

Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is upset that media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications won't let them put up a controversial billboard.

After conducting what was called an undercover investigation into Iams' animal laboratories, PETA had hoped to display its new anti-Iams dog food billboard somewhere in Tucson or the surrounding area. But in mid-November, Clear Channel Communications, which owns nearly all the billboards in Southern Arizona, refused to display the sign anywhere, said Allison Ezell, PETA's Iams campaign coordinator.

"Clear Channel has no obligation, but you'd think they would be supportive of free speech. They haven't done anything legally wrong, and I don't think PETA will take any legal action," Ezell said.

Still, Ezell said the billboard is not offensive, and she believes Clear Channel wouldn't display the sign because the company is afraid of losing or hurting its business relationship with Proctor and Gamble, Iams' parent company.

"Proctor and Gamble are one of the largest consumer-product companies in the world," Ezell said. "Clear Channel is just afraid to take them on."

Clear Channel doesn't deny its fiscal motives.

"The artwork indicated a direct attack to one of our customers," said Dave Sitton, the vice president of Southern Arizona's Clear Channel Outdoor. "I looked at it and thought, 'This is offensive to the community, not to mention our commercial interest.'"

Sitton estimates that he has only rejected four of about 900 billboard proposals in the last two years. He wouldn't go into details about why he has rejected business in the past, but said the other billboards, like PETA's, were "inappropriate."

Sitton wonders if PETA purposefully made their billboard offensive so they could garnish more media attention when their proposal was rejected.

Ezell admits that PETA purposefully embraces shock tactics in an effort to get media attention, but said PETA intended to have the billboard displayed. She said she believes that the Iams billboard is one of their less offensive ads, and points out that it was put up in Chicago and other cities.

Ezell said PETA wanted to put up the sign so the group could expose as many people as possible to PETA's 2002 investigation into Iams animal laboratories.

According to Ezell, while Iams denied abusing animals, undercover PETA members saw dogs being disfigured, debarked and isolated in small cages with no socialization and not given adequate veterinary care.

In a press release, PETA states that some Iams employees reported that a kitten had been washed down a drain and dogs were being force-fed vegetable oil through a tube inserted in their throat.

Despite the investigation, some people are turned off by some of PETA's shock tactics and publicity stunts, Ezell said.

PETA members went to Butterfield Elementary School, 3400 W. Massingale Road, in October and passed out allegedly disturbing and offensive material to children about the evils of eating KFC and the horrific conditions in which most chickens are kept.

Topless PETA members protested using animal skin for clothing in November 2000 in front of Park Place, 5870 E. Broadway Blvd. Police say the topless protesters may have been a factor in a car accident that occurred nearby that day.

In August 1997, a handful of angry PETA members yelled "meat is murder" at the Wienermobile as it came through Tucson. According to the Arizona Daily Star, some protesters sang a song vilifying hot dogs to the tune of Oscar Mayer's "I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Weiner." Some onlookers ate hot dogs in public to counter the protest.

And who knows what kind of response the billboard would have received? One random dog walker thinks it could have hurt Iams' business.

Richard Meserve, the owner of a middle-aged black cocker spaniel named Stitch, said he didn't find the ad offensive.

"The billboard is not a problem," Meserve said. "After seeing it and hearing about Iams, I'm not sure I'd buy (Iams dog food) in the future."

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