Last update: 05-Dec-2013 12:18 pm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Political campaigns unleash Poster Overload
In a heated election season, there’s almost no escape for us citizens from the relentless, invasive, exasperating yet sometimes catchy songs, jingles, and advertisements that political parties use in an attempt to win votes, or really brainwash voters. But radio and television weren’t the only channels being over-used and abused. Just look around, and not even walls, lamp posts or electricity poles were safe in this “vote for me” time of year. Overnight, some streets and communities across the country transformed into something similar to the walls of a teenage girl’s bedroom, but instead of copious boy band posters, there were dozens upon dozens of candidate portraits and banners staring you in the face, willing you to put your X next to their names on the ballot.
But is this allowed? Yes and no.
Technically, yes, because it’s part of the campaigning process and there’s a stipulation from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) on their removal. A source at the EBC explained it’s not an illegal practice by the commission’s standards, and “it’s all part of the campaigning.” What is illegal is leaving those ads up on the day of elections. Shelly Dolabaille, communications officer at the EBC, said, however, that rule only applies to posters and other campaigning material that are within 100 yards of a polling station. Posters and banners have to be removed before the day of elections, or the people who put them up could be charged, Dolabaille said. Here’s where the technical no comes in. As for the rest of it, outside the 100-yard limit, there’s no law in place to have them taken down by those who put them up—whether on private or public property.
Attorney Kevin Ratiram explained that for the most part, charges could be laid against people who put up posters on people’s walls—if there is resulting damage to the property. “If you stick something like a poster and the owner has to pay to fix their wall and so on, that could be a ‘malicious damage to property’ charge,” he said by phone. He said there must be actual damage to the wall. To a hypothetical question about whether a person could be in trouble for sticking up posters on the wall outside Gulf City Mall, Gulf View, for example, Ratiram said that could be trespassing. He explained there was nothing specific in the Summary Offences Act, so there was nothing definitive to say in terms of what was allowed and what was prohibited. He said simply that there was a general offence of damage to property. “At election time, every candidate wants to campaign and advertise himself as much as possible. So I think it is inevitable to have posters being affixed to various places and various things. It has become part of our election culture,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see that changing or political parties breaking the habit.
Ratiram believed it was a harmless practice, unless posters and other material were being affixed to private property without owners’ consent. He added that even though there was no law in place to force parties to remove their advertisements post-election, they should be motivated to do so anyway. “I think every political party that does that has a moral duty at the very least to remove these posters.” Corporate Communications manager at T&T Electric Company (T&TEC) Annabelle Brasnell said it was illegal to post any signage, political or not, on its electricity poles. “T&TEC poles are private property,” she said via telephone. Even though it is illegal, Ratiram indicated there was no actual offence related to sticking posters on the electricity poles within the T&TEC Act. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) also indicated that there was no legislation by the authority about posting or removing and disposing of political posters.
Former San Fernando mayor Dr Navi Muradali called on his Facebook page last Friday for all political parties who were seeking City Hall to: "Keep your campaigns clean and clean up all posters and banners after the election. Keep your city clean because win or lose we all have to live here after.” In a similar press release, Muradali made an appeal to all political parties “to remove all posters and banners” after Monday’s local government elections. He said: “It is important that young people are taught how to keep our communities and city clean, and that goes as well for our leaders and those aspiring for public office. I do hope that after the election all political parties remove all the posters and banners that have been placed across the city. While I cannot say that the election campaign was always clean, and sometimes it even turned vulgar and crass, I hope at least the city remains clean after the election because win or lose we all have to live here after.”
Gulf View resident Aruna Maharaj said the fact that the banners go up at night, as opposed to during the day, showed that people knew it was wrong, even if it isn’t illegal. “We expect it and accept it,” she said, adding it has become an unsightly part of her community. An Arima resident, who did not want to be identified, said the posters deface walls, and it was “too much all over the place.” “Sometimes people go and deface the posters themselves, making it offensive to children too,” she said. Former Port-of-Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing did not believe the actual posting of campaign material in communities was a problem, but they should be removed afterward. “I don’t think it is a problem, but I do believe the political parties have a responsibility, that once the election is over, to take appropriate steps to ensure that they take down their posters and clean up the mess they make,” he said. He added that practice rarely happened, because political organisations were “not as responsible as they ought to be.”
A Palmyra resident, wishing to remain unnamed, said those posters end up remaining up for years after elections. “It’s unsightly, they could use the radio and TV,” When asked if it was fair to limit candidates to those channels only, he said: “You can’t go anywhere without hearing or seeing an ad. They coming around to shake your hand in front your house, we don’t need to see their pictures every day too.” One Belmont resident said a banner opposite her home had been taken down by the time she got home on Monday afternoon. Dolabaille said that as the St Joseph by-election approaches on November 4, she hoped parties remembered the rule about removing campaign posters within the stipulated distance, and would abide by the EBC guideline. “That canvassing is against the law. In this particular period, parties have to be extremely careful. It’s very important to take them down on time in the St Joseph area, once it falls within 100 yards.”
People’s National Movement (PNM) public relations officer Faris Al-Rawi said last Friday, the party intended to abide by the rules of the EBC to remove insignia within the stipulated distance of polling stations. “The PNM has been doing this for 57 years, and we’ve never made news yet,” he joked, saying he was boasting that the “PNM is the most organised and prepared party possible.” “Everybody knows what they need to...And we intend to comply fully with the law.” Other political parties did not return calls about whether they removed posters or planned to.
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