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The VFF billboard on RNZ
The VFF billboard on the RNZ building (Image: Instagram)

SocietyAugust 3, 2021

Anti-vax group’s ‘free speech’ billboards pulled from RNZ building

The VFF billboard on RNZ
The VFF billboard on the RNZ building (Image: Instagram)

Voices for Freedom just launched an advertising campaign against the government’s hate speech laws, but the digital billboards were gone within a day.

The anti-vaccination group Voices for Freedom has had advertisements removed from digital billboards, including the side of Radio New Zealand’s Auckland office, after boasting about them online.

Posts shared on social media by the group, which has been roundly condemned in the past for its spread of misinformation, showed large digital adverts flanking the entrance to RNZ’s Hobson Street building along with other sites around the country. Despite the group’s track record, the billboards did not mention Covid-19 or the vaccination programme but instead targeted the government’s proposed hate speech legislation.

“Without free speech, you’re not free,” one billboard read. “Your voice is the first thing they take. Your freedom goes next,” said another. 

But by last night, the ads were no longer being displayed on the Radio New Zealand building. When approached by The Spinoff, a spokesperson for the state-owned broadcaster confirmed it did not own the Hobson Street site nor the billboards and denied responsibility for the ads. “Any queries will need to be directed to the building owner or the company managing the billboard advertising,” they said.  

Outdoor advertising company Lumo Digital confirmed it had removed the adverts from all its billboards once it was made aware of them. They were pulled “promptly yesterday after learning of [Voices for Freedom’s] conduct and standpoints on particular matters”, a spokesperson told The Spinoff.  

The group first publicised its new billboard campaign yesterday on social media. “Your FREE SPEECH billboards are up New Zealand,” the group wrote on Instagram, encouraging followers to share them. As of this morning, there were more than a hundred comments in support of the ads and numerous posts shared across other platforms. 

A banner at the top of the Voices for Freedom website was specifically directed at people who had been alerted to the group by a billboard, encouraging them to contact the government and make their views about the hate speech laws known.

Screenshot from the VFF website

The decision to pull the adverts comes just days after Voices for Freedom had its Facebook page removed for spreading “misinformation” related to the pandemic. A spokesperson for the social media network said the removal was triggered after the group shared “misinformation that could cause physical harm”. 

Facebook added: “We encourage free expression, but don’t allow false information about Covid-19 that could contribute to physical harm.”

On its Instagram story, Voices for Freedom suggested the new billboard campaign was more useful than a Facebook page. “So who needs Facebook when you can get billboards?” the group asked.

It’s not the first time Voices for Freedom has faced criticism for advertising. Since the pandemic took hold in New Zealand, the group has also come under fire for distributing misinformation pamphlets about Covid-19, including to school children. 

Back in June, after complaints were made, the advertising watchdog found that a number of claims made in the group’s leaflet were unsubstantiated. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the pamphlet was in breach of principles including social responsibility, truthful presentation, and rules governing advocacy organisations communications. 

It was also revealed today that comments made about “anti-vaxxers” by TV host Hilary Barry on Seven Sharp were not found to breach broadcasting standards.

Voices for Freedom has been approached for comment.

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