French charge 62 activists over war on 'brainless ads'

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The Independent Online

Drawing moustaches or writing rude words on advertisements used to be a by-product of boredom or wanton destructiveness. In Paris, defacing ads on the Metro has become a trendy political movement, bringing together the far left, anti-globalisers, radical Catholics and feminists.

Drawing moustaches or writing rude words on advertisements used to be a by-product of boredom or wanton destructiveness. In Paris, defacing ads on the Metro has become a trendy political movement, bringing together the far left, anti-globalisers, radical Catholics and feminists.

Yesterday 62 of them landed in court, accused of vandalism and damaging the image and advertising revenues of the Paris transport authority, the RATP.

The trial, the first of its kind, followed a mass arrest of "anti-pub" (short for publicité or advertising) campaigners when they gathered at a Metro station in eastern Paris in December.

In previous weeks, large gangs of protesters, obeying directions posted on the "anti-pub" internet site, had been descending on Metro stations and tearing down or scribbling over the posters. They said they were protesting against, among other things, the commercialisation of public space, brainless consumerism and sexism in advertising. Since the police raid, the protesters have continued their campaign, but in smaller, more secretive groups. Scarcely a poster on any Metro station in central Paris is now free of a scribbled message such as " le pub tue" or " le pub pue" (ads kill or ads stink.)

Fifty demonstraters gathered outside the Palais de Justice in Paris yesterday. The RATP was seeking €922,000 (£625,000) in damages, to be divided between the accused according to their personal means.

Yvan Gradis, who has been campaigning against advertising in France for 12 years, was called by the defence as a character witness. He said that the hearing should be seen as the trial of aggression by advertising, not of the protesters.

"Their actions are legitimate and admirable because they are non-violent and do no damage to Metro property. We are not against good advertising, which is neither manipulative, nor violent," he said. In reality, the campaigners attack every kind of advertising except for small posters announcing cultural events. The protesters claim to part of an uprising against the excesses of advertising. The flyers they hand out state that "anti-pub" is a movement of "teachers, the unemployed, researchers, freelance arts workers, health workers, archaeologists, marginals, civil servants, students and architects". However, opinion polls say that only one in eight French people is hostile to advertising.

The anti-pub website, www.antipub.fr, describes the movement as "anti-capitalist". To a large extentit overlaps with the anti-globalist movement and the newly re-awakened far left in France. Some of the campaigners are radical Catholics disgusted by the materialism of popular culture. Others are feminists who object to the exploitation of women by advertisers. The great majority - typically in their 30s or above - seem to be motivated by hatred of market economics. The spokesman for one of France's two Trotskyist movements, Olivier Besancenot, of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire , said yesterday that the RATP, as a state-owned organisation, should abandon its mission to preserve the "sacred liberty of private companies to occupy a public space to sell us their products". The trial was continuing last night.

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