Panama was in an uproar earlier this week over a series of six ads that appeared in seventeen billboards throughout Panama City, the country's capital.
The ads, commissioned by a magazine called Blank which targets upper class readers, pretended to highlight "the prejudices faced on a daily basis by those who are different because they dare to or because they are provocative" - At least according to the magazine.
Each featured a different person hanging from a wooden cross with a one-word label above them (including "faggot" as pictured above as well as "anorexic," "delinquent," "drug-addict," "whore" and "violent aggresor").
Obviously the magazine was probably more interested in being provocative than truly standing against discrimination. In any case if their goal was to attract attention, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The church immediately called the campaign an insult to Catholics and by Tuesday the Mayor's Office had ordered the billboards removed saying that the agency wanted to take advantage of the upcoming religious holidays to attract attention to the publicity.
Ezra Ángel, an attorney consulted by Panama's news daily La Prensa, said that the Mayor had legal right to ask for their removal since the third tome of the Administrative Code, Title 1, Chapter 1, article 855 calls for "the maintenance of public calm, the morals and the good customs of people and their individual and collective interests" and added that "Blank [magazine] is being disrespectful of a great number of Catholics who feel a lack of respect when they see the irresponsible use of such a sacred symbol as the cross; The morals and good customs should be respected in order not to cross the thin line between freedom of expression an libertinism."
La Prensa interviews two publicists who were not involved in developing the campaign and both agree that the Mayor's actions amount to censorship.
Mayor contradicts himself: Interestingly in defending a different billboard campaign back in 2004, while recognizing that he personally found some images offensive, Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro told La Prensa "The Panama Mayor's Office does not have a role in censorship, on the contrary, I believe in freedom of expression."
He also said that if those billboards were taken down, the same would happen to other campaigns in other media be it radio, television, internet or newspapers: "There are in all of them publicity, programs and news that could be offensive to someone in the [general] public."
The content of that particular billboard campaign? Semi-nude women in advertisements for a strip club called Elixir.
You can see all the provocative ads in the current Blank magazine campaign here.
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