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Mohammed Ansar: Advertising Islamophobia Hits London Railways


Advertising Islamophobia Hits London Railways

An estimated one billion passengers are carried on railway journeys each year. In the UK, despite spiralling costs, it’s an important part of everyday life for many people.

According to ONS figures, the Office of Rail Regulation states that total private investment in the railway industry has plummeted from £881m six years ago to £503m in 2011/12. Passenger journeys increased 7.8% in the last 12 months and by 27.5% over the last five years. In particular, London and South East services saw the highest increase last year of 8.3%. Rail audiences are affluent and influential with 75% ABC1 and 57% Business Decision Makers.

All of this makes a great case for advertising on the railways which comes in various flavours; outdoor digital formats with Transvision (huge LED screens), posters and billboards. As you might expect, the value of this advertising space is significant. In 2009, Primesight purchased Titan Outdoor in a multi-million pound deal, which included half of its assets made up of its Network Rail contract – the largest stock of roadside billboards in the country. The interior advertising assets of the railway is another story altogether.

In 2010, Network Rail renewed its existing contract with JCDecaux for advertising on the interiors of its railway stations – a five year deal valued at £160m. That deal included all rail-facing ad sites across Network Rail and the 18 Network Rail-managed stations.

Who exactly is JCDecaux? Well, they are an extraordinarily large advertising organisation. JCDecaux is unashamedly the top global company in “street furniture” (what we might call advertising panels), transport advertising with 175 airports and 280 contracts in metros, buses, trains and tramways, European billboards and outdoor advertising in the Asia-Pacific region. To put this in to some kind of context, those areas alone amount to more than 1,000,000 advertising panels in more than 55 countries. With revenues in 2010 of almost €2.5bn, what austerity afflicted industry is this you may ask. Part of the reason is JCDecaux’s incredible ability to negotiatemassive advertising contracts – often 15 years long – in France, Hong Kong, Netherlands and many other places. In 2012, the OFT came down hard on JCDecaux for sharp practices in the UK and for lock-out clauses which resulted in a raft of measures to change their business practices. This year they managed to force LOCOG to remove their billboards and have their questionable Paddy Power billboards returned around the Olympic site.

In the UK, an organisation called the Quran Project planned to place posters in five major London Railway Stations – Waterloo, Victoria, Liverpool St, Marylebone and St Pancras International during 10 – 24 December 2012. The chairman of the UK registered charity, Dr Wleed Haq tells me the billboard campaign was designed to tackle the causes of Islamophobia in the UK by distributing 1,000 free copies of the English translation of the Quran to non-Muslims. To date, the charity has distributed 50,000 copies since its formation two years ago. A similar campaign called The Rail Dawah Campaign 2011 was run across across Midland Railway stations (also Network Rail) in December 2011 without objection or complaint.

The London railway posters went up at different times between Mon – Thurs last week. The campaign had been six months in the planning and the sites were reserved by JCDecaux who had approved the campaign, at a cost of £30,000, two thirds of which was raised online with JustGiving, a popular crowd funding platform.

On Monday, 17 December, these billboards advertising free Qurans, were taken down. I’ve seen an email from JCDecaux which states the following (my emphasis added):

“…rail companies have pointed out that this is not acceptable and we should not have done so. As a consequence, we began the process of removing your posters from the rail stations over the weekend…”

The fact remains that both JCDecaux and Network Rail have allowed similar campaigns for other religious groups over the last two years, in particular The Trinitarian Bible Society and the Alpha Course, who have advertised widely including at Marylebone station (operated by Chiltern Railways).


At Marylebone, the Quran Project poster was taken down after only one day. As it currently stands, the rail companies, Network Rail and JCDecaux cannot sustain any claim in relation to a policy of no religious advertisement on their assets.

The point of complaint may well be with JCDecaux, for whom business has been brisk with revenue for the first nine months of 2012 already totalling €1,876.2m. Like every user friendly, cut-throat global organisation, JCDecaux has an ‘ethics policy‘ and even a ‘Group Ethics Committee’. The policy states that the committee is chaired by Chairman of the Audit Committee, one Xavier de Sarrau. It may even be that the complaint from the Quran Project may reach Monsieur de Sarrau. Sadly, this may be difficult. Xavier de Sarrau is stable mate and closely allied to Sarkozy and the Fouquet powerbase, he has accompanied the former President on more than one occasion, is listed as a friend and even went to the White House dinner with him. It’s probably fairly safe to assume not only his political persuasion but also his view of multiculturalism, let alone the overt presence of Islam in society.

This in itself must raise questions about how we go about tackling pandemic Islamophobia, if policies and those who police them are not only beyond reproach but advocates of such prejudice. In the end we have the irony that an anti-Islamophobia campaign has been entirely derailed by precisely the potentially discriminatory policies of Network Rail, JCDecaux and the railway companies, which they are attempting to challenge in the first place.

At a time when 74% of the British public claim that they know ‘nothing or next to nothing about Islam’ and furthermore that 64% of the British public claim that what they do know is solely acquired through the media; I’m left to reflect on the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the power of advertising and the ability to raise the consciousness of a society:

“If I were starting life over again, I am inclined to think that I would go into the advertising business in preference to almost any other. The general raising of the standards of modern civilization among all groups of people during the past half century would have been impossible without the spreading of the knowledge of higher standards by means of advertising.”

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  • Wleed Haq

    All billboards in question at Network Rail sites inlcuding – Waterloo, Victoria, Liverpool St and St Pancras Int are up. The decision to halt removing them was taken we believe due to an immense pressure from a social media backlash. Chiltern Railways is now the only company to refuse to display the billboards (at Maryleone Station) despite allowing Alpha course to advertise there in the past. You can see pictures of the billboards @ and @quranprojectORG on twitter. Many thanks!

  • Geji

    Its good the bigots get their “message” out then at least people will get to know what their all about.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    I agree and that is why before we condem JCD we need to know what is the contractual relationship regarding the content of the ads is with the railways and what the railways companys complained about .
    Sir David

  • Richard

    Oh well. Never mind. Everyone has double standards. For example if I had a website with a Loon-Iman section I know that I’d be accused of Islamophobia. But you do so with Jews (Loon Rabbi) so that’s just the way it goes. You are not being picked on (whoever you are — the About Us section says nothing). It’s just the rough and tumble of having an imaginary friend in the clouds who other people can’t see.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    It appears to be a clear case of double standards, the only question is whether it’s deliberate or not.

  • SarahAB

    I’ve become slightly confused by the ins and outs of this story, but my understanding is that the company has a policy not to display religious or political advertising, yet they have in the past advertised for the Alpha course (Christian) and I think another Christian group as well. Thus the treatment of the Quran Project seems unfair. It may not be deliberately discriminatory – but the selective application of the regulations is not great (if that’s what’s happened).

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    Fortunetly or unfortunetly depending on your point of view and residential adress ,Geller is in the USA and this case is in the UK. ( I’ m quite happy about that )

    I think there is a lot more going on here than is clear from this artical .

    What was the complaint from the rail companies ?
    What is in the contract with JCD and the rail companies?
    These are important facts needed to know before suggesting JCD is islamaphobic . They may have had no choice .
    The rail companies are in a much more ‘interesting position’ as they have a responcibility from an equal oppertunity stand point .
    If the charity can get a good legal advice they should be onto a winner
    Sir David

  • Didn’t Geller sue, and win, for something exactly like this? Well, not exactly, her ads were bigoted, hateful and can be viewed as incitement, whereas these were purely educational! I think this organisation needs to take this to court, bring a lot more media attention to what they are doing, and force jcdecaux to feature the ads!

  • mindy1


  • Chameleon_X

    I agree, but the glass is also half full. This now becomes a strong precedent to keep Islamophobic ads off of JCDecaux’s 1,000,000+ advertising panels worldwide. Now if only Muslims were organized enough to leverage their legal rights, this might be worth something.

  • Sam Seed

    I thought this was going to end in a positive note, until that is when I got to the end bit, where it says the ads were taken down after day one. Why the double-standards? Unless of course they really are scared of letting the truth out. Agree with CriticalDragon, this is hypocracy.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I agree this is rather hypocritical.

  • Amago,

    This is rather hypocritical of JCDecaux to say the very least.

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