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By Akira The Don on Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

From The Guardian:

The paper left it until the last possible moment to pull the hard-hitting ad, which was due to appear today to coincide with Shell’s annual meeting in London. The ad, shown here, accuses Shell of an appalling human rights record in Nigeria. Next to a wine glass overflowing with oil, it reads:“While Shell toasts $9.8bn profits, the people of the Niger Delta are having to drink polluted water. They’re also having to grow crops in polluted soil. To catch fish in polluted rivers. And to raise children in polluted homes. So if you’ve got shares in Shell, ask the board to explain themselves when they raise their glasses at today’s agm. Cheers.”

Amnesty, writing about the FT’s decision on its website, claims that “numerous oil spills, which have not been adequately cleaned up, have left local communities [in Nigeria] with little option but to drink polluted water, eat contaminated fish, farm on spoiled land, and breathe in air that stinks of oil and gas.”

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director, is quoted as saying:

The decision by the Financial Times is extremely disappointing. We gave them written reassurances that we would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement.

Both The Metro and the Evening Standard had no problems with running the ad.

But an FT spokesman, quoted by Press Gazette, said: “Editorially, the FT was more than willing to run the advertisement for Amnesty. Unfortunately, whilst Amnesty gave us written assurances that they would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement, it became apparent that Amnesty’s lawyers had not had a proper opportunity to advise Amnesty on those opinions. As a result, from a legal perspective we were unable to rely on Amnesty’s assurances.”

Amnesty’s Hancock explained that the funds to pay for the advertisements came from more than 2,000 individuals online. “I am sure these supporters will share with us our sense of deep disappointment,” he said.

Amnesty International also today launched an online video focusing on Shell’s practice of gas flaring (the burning of gas produced as part of oil extraction) in the same region.

Index on Censorship also weighed in on Amnesty’s behalf. A blog entry on its website refers to “sources” who say the paper “variously claimed that it was wary of libel claims and that the ad might be in poor taste, as some readers might mistake the oil in the glass for blood.”

The blogger, Padraig Reidy, writes: “It’s extremely unlikely that Shell would sue. The company is quite keen on promoting its social credentials, and even a successful trip to court would more than likely involve an unpleasant trawl through the unfortunate effects of the oil industry.”

He then asks: “Was it a commercial decision? Again, who knows? Big oil companies tend not to be so thin-skinned that they would pull money from a prestige publication such as the FT merely because it had carried a critical advert.”

And he concludes: “It is genuinely quite hard to think of a good reason for the FT to pull this ad.”

I think I agree too. The explanation from the FT spokesman is less than transparent. Now, what was the paper’s old promotional slogan? No FT, No Comment. Perhaps a new one would read: No FT ad, No Knowledge.

— By Akira The Don on Tuesday, May 18th, 2010