Victory for Berkeley Activists In New York Billboard Dispute

Friday July 16, 2004

The six women behind Berkeley-based Project Billboard will get to take their anti-war message to the streets of New York after all. 

One day before the group was scheduled to go before a federal judge in the same courthouse where Martha Stewart will be sentenced Friday, Project Billboard settled their breach of contract suit with multimedia behemoth Clear Channel Spectacolor. 

Last week the subsidiary of the entertainment giant that controls much of Manhattan’s top billboard space, balked at the group’s design: An American flag-patterned bomb with the caption, “Democracy Is Best Taught By Example, Not War.” 

Project Billboard, which includes Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and Baifang Schell, the wife of UC Berkeley journalism school dean Orville Schell, had signed a contract with Clear Channel to pay $368,000 to place the 69-feet-long, 49-feet-wide billboard atop the Mariott Marquis Hotel in Times Square from Aug. 2 through Election Day, Nov. 2. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Project Billboard will now pay $299,000 for two similarly sized billboards in Times Square. One billboard will replace the bomb with a dove and the second one will be an electronic tracker of money the U.S. has spent on the Iraq war, under the caption, “Total Cost of Iraq War To Date.” The billboards will stand atop the Conde Nast building at Broadway and 42nd Street and the W Hotel at Broadway and 47th Street. 

“It’s a victory for us,” Schell said. “Now we get two billboards and we’re paying less than we were before.” 

Schell said her group had offered to replace the bomb with a dove, but Clear Channel was pressing them to remove the word “war” from the text, which they refused to do. 

The famed Mariott Marquis, however, wouldn’t accept any variation of the sign. Hotel spokeswoman Kathleen Duffy said the chain has a final say over the messages splashed above the signature hotel and enforces a strict policy against political banners.  

Clear Channel couldn’t be reached for comment on the settlement. In an earlier statement, the company charged that Project Billboard had filed suit without making a good faith effort to settle the dispute and that the company was led to believe that the group wouldn’t submit a political banner. 

Deborah Rappaport, a board member of Project Billboard, said Thursday in a prepared statement that the group was impressed with the substitute options Clear Channel presented and that they “looked forward to working with [them] in the months ahead.” 

Schell said the Times Square billboards would be the group’s first and they hoped to raise enough money to place more in cities across the country. She said she hasn’t spent her own money on the effort. 

Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, owns 1,270 radio stations, 787,000 outdoor advertising displays, and 39 television stations, and books 125 music venues. Some company executives have been reported to have close ties to the Bush Administration. Earlier this year the company made headlines when it booted radio disc jockey Howard Stern from six of its stations.