Adbusters was founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz, a duo of award-winning documentary filmmakers living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since the early 1980s, Lasn had been making films that explored the spiritual and cultural lessons the West could learn from the Japanese experience with capitalism.
In 1988, the British Columbia Council of Forest Industries, the “voice” of the logging industry, was facing tremendous public pressure from a growing environmentalist movement. The logging industry fought back with a television ad campaign called “Forests Forever”. It was an early example of greenwashing: shots of happy children, workers and animals with a kindly, trustworthy sounding narrator who assured the public that the logging industry was protecting the forest.
Adbusters’ first uncommercialLasn and Shmalz were outraged by the use of the public airwaves to deliver what they felt was deceptive anti-environmentalist propaganda. And they responded by producing the “Talking Rainforest” anti-ad in which an old-growth tree explains to a sapling that “a tree farm is not a forest”. But when the duo went to buy airtime on the same stations that had aired the forest industry ad, they were refused. According to a former Adbusters employee, “The CBC’s reaction to the proposed television commercial created the real flash point for the Media Foundation. It seemed that Lasn and Schmaltz’s commercial was too controversial to air on the CBC. An environmental message that challenged the large forestry companies was considered ‘advocacy advertising’ and was disallowed, even though the ‘informational’ messages that glorified clearcutting were OK.”
Adbusters was born out of their realization that citizens do not have the same access to the information flows as corporations. One of Adbusters’ key campaigns continues to be the Media Carta, a “movement to enshrine The Right to Communicate in the constitutions of all free nations, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
For Adbusters, concern over the flow of information goes beyond the desire to protect democratic transparency, freedom of speech or the public’s access to the airwaves. Although Adbusters supports these causes, Adbusters instead situates the battle of the mind at the center of it’s political agenda. Fighting to counter pro-consumerist advertising is done not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself. This shift in emphasis is a crucial element of mental environmentalism.
The Media Carta
WE HAVE LOST CONFIDENCE in what we are seeing, hearing and reading: too much infotainment and not enough news; too many outlets telling the same stories; too much commercialism and too much hype. Every day, this commercial information system distorts our view of the world.
WE HAVE LOST FAITH in the institutions of the mass media. A handful of corporations now control more than half the information networks around the world. At a time when people worldwide face hunger, social disruption, war and ecological collapse, only those who know how to walk the walk, talk the talk or pay big bucks are getting their message across.
WE HAVE LOST HOPE that our national media regulators will act in the public interest. Essential rules limiting media ownership and concentration are being scrapped, while rules protecting local content and access are diluted.
WE HAVE LOST PATIENCE waiting for reform.
WE IMAGINE A DIFFERENT SYSTEM – a media democracy. We see great promise in the open communications of the internet and want that openness expanded into every form of media. We envision a global system of communications that has as its foundation the direct, democratic participation of citizens. To this end, we demand the timely transfer of key media sources back to the people.
As a start, we demand the right to buy radio and television airtime under the same rules and conditions as advertising agencies. We ask our media regulators to set aside two minutes of every broadcast hour for citizen-produced messages. We want the six largest media corporations in the world broken up into smaller units.
What we ultimately seek is a new human right for our information age, one that empowers freedom of speech with the right to access the media. This new human right is: The Right to Communicate.
WE HEREBY LAUNCH A MOVEMENT to enshrine The Right to Communicate in the constitutions of all free nations, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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