Nine face trial over Benetton protest: Case revives dispute over HIV imagery in adverts

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The Independent Online
THE CONTROVERSY surrounding Benetton's advertising campaigns will be reopened today when nine people go on trial following a protest at the Italian clothing company's London headquarters in September last year.

The eight men and one woman were demonstrating against what they claimed was the use of 'exploitative HIV imagery' to launch Benetton's 1993 autumn and winter collection.

The advertising campaign consisted of a series of three photographs featuring different parts of the body - an arm, a lower abdomen and a bottom - each branded with the words 'HIV Positive'.

Like some of Benetton's other campaigns - the bloodsmeared new-born baby, the white angel and black devil children, a man dying of Aids and most recently a seabird covered in oil - it provoked complaints in this country and abroad. In France a man with Aids launched his own counter poster campaign, with an image of his own gaunt face and the caption: 'During the agony, the sale continues.'

Benetton, which has always defended its campaigns as attempts to raise political and social awareness, claims that the HIV-positive images are 'complex metaphors for the more extensive branding practised throughout society'.

The protesters disagreed. Waving posters and chanting slogans at Benetton's offices, they claimed the image pandered to hostility and prejudice against people living with the virus.

Outrage, the gay and lesbian group which organised the protest with Act Up - the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power - said yesterday there had been a series of recent gay-bashing incidents in which people had been beaten by attackers shouting: 'Where's your tattoo, queer?'

The nine were arrested after police were called to Benetton's offices. All face charges of threatening behaviour under the Public Order Act and two are accused of assaulting police. They deny all the charges.

Chris Tyler of Outrage said: 'With the trial, Benetton are once again attempting to silence the legitimate concerns of the communities affected by HIV and Aids. They are exploiting the suffering of people living with Aids as promotion for knitwear.'