Page last updated at 06:38 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Street art posters latest adverts to be censored by TfL

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News, London

Roman goddess of love Venus, a Gay Times magazine cover model and a graffiti face.

Massive Attack's original album artwork for Heligoland
Drips and fuzz had to be removed from Massive Attack's artwork

Not the most likely trio, but all three have featured on posters censored for use on the Tube by Transport for London (TfL) or its advertising contractors.

A poster showing the band Massive Attack's artwork for their new album Heligoland is the latest advert to be rejected by TfL's advertising department.

The original artwork, painted by the band's Robert del Naja, which depicts a face, had to be redesigned after TfL decided it looked too much like graffiti.

"They won't allow anything on the tube that looks like 'street art'" said del Naja, also known as 3D.

"They want us to remove all drips and fuzz from it so it doesn't look like it's been spray-painted, which is ridiculous."

"It's the most absurd censorship I've ever seen," he added.

'You're kidding'

TfL sets conditions for advertising on the Tube, one of which states that an advert will not be accepted if it "uses handwriting or illustrations that would suggest the poster has been damaged, defaced, fly posted or subjected to graffiti".

A TfL spokesperson said: "We worked with the advertiser to ensure that this particular advert complied with our policy."

Massive Attack's artwork is not the first to be rejected on these grounds.

Royal Acadamy of Arts poster
Tube bosses banned a poster showing a 16th Century painting of Venus

In November 2009, TfL banned a poster promoting a New Year's Eve event at east London's O2 arena.

The poster showed a mass of people raving amidst graffiti-style tags.

"At first, we thought 'you're kidding?' This had to be a joke," said David Frossman, of promoter AEG Live.

"We were told it would encourage graffiti. That was ridiculous."

"Reworking the posters cost promoters tens of thousands of pounds and delayed our campaign by weeks," he added.

TfL said: "We requested a change to the advert to ensure that it complied with our policy but when it was re-submitted it still contained graffiti and was therefore rejected again."

It is not just modern artwork that has been rejected from the Tube.

In February 2008, a poster featuring a 16th Century painting depicting Venus, the Roman goddess of love, in the nude, was deemed too risque for Tube travellers.

'Semi-nude figures'

The painting, by German artist Cranach, was used to promote an exhibition at London's Royal Academy of Art.

"We are disappointed and find it quite ridiculous in this day and age," the Royal Academy's head of press and marketing, Jennifer Francis, said at the time.

TfL said the poster "was wrongly rejected by CBS Outdoor, our advertising contractor, on the grounds that it breached our policy relating to the depiction of men, women or children in a sexual manner and the display of nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context".

The poster was subsequently approved after a few of days.

CBS Outdoor said it had "responsibility to vet all creative prior to display".

 Gay Times front cover banned from the Tube August 2007
An advert depicting a gay couple was banned from the Tube in 2007

Meanwhile, in August 2007, TfL refused to allow the image of a man wearing underwear with what appeared to be his partner.

The poster campaign, which was approved by advertising watchdogs, promoted an issue of the Gay Times which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

TfL argued one of the models was in an "unnecessary state of undress".

"The decision was totally unjustified considering some of the heterosexual ads on display," a Gay Times spokesman said.

"There was resounding public support for Gay Times at the time and the general consensus was that the poster was not sensationalist and portrayed an intimate moment."

TfL said: "This particular advert was rejected as it breached our policy relating to the depiction of men, women or children in a sexual manner and the display of nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context."

TfL pointed out that the proportion of adverts it rejected was small and said it had only turned down 41 out of more than 10,000 applications in 2009.

And it said its advertising policy had to ensure a wide range of passengers were not offended by adverts that appeared on the Tube.

"Millions of people travel on the London Underground each day and they have no choice but to view whatever adverts are posted there," a spokesman said.

"We have to take account of the full range of passengers and endeavour not to cause offence in the advertising we display."

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