Commercial outdoor advertisements have increased in numbers, size and variety in all our towns, cities and even along highways, over the years. They appear in the form of billboards, banners and streamers.
Technology has made possible outdoor advertisements which are larger, more colourful, realistic, attractive, and even with animation. The main purpose of commercial outdoor advertisements is to encourage consumerism and serves no other useful purpose. They mask the architecture of buildings and natural vista, distract road users and endanger public safety.
Since 1993 Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has been conducting surveys periodically around Penang Island and writing to the Municipal Council of Pulau Pinang (MPPP) to take heed of the growing menace. The situation has only worsened instead. Finally in 2012 the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the MPPP issued new guidelines for outdoor advertisements. Since then CAP carried out 3 surveys and found that many billboards violated the new guidelines.
The number of gigantic outdoor advertisements has increased overall. In particular, the number of unipoles and monopoles has multiplied along Jalan Masjid Negeri, Jalan Burma, Jalan Bagan Jermal, Jelutong Expressway, Penang Bridge and along the North-South Expressway. For a long time there were only about 3 unipoles at the Prai end of the Penang Bridge, but now we have 11 cluttering the skyline which goes against the new guidelines.
Electronic billboards have also increased in number. In 2001 the first electronic billboard was installed at KOMTAR. Today we have no less than 8 at various locations. Over and above that, we have electronic box billboards that are mounted on lampposts along Jalan Scotland and several other locations. Electronic billboards which are animated hijack the attention of road users and cause intense glare at night.
The number of streamers has also multiplied, while the number of banners has remained about the same. Labels and stickers continue to be an eyesore.
One of the criteria of the new guidelines is that a billboard should always display an advertisement and not be left blank. In the absence of a commercial advertisement, the owner of the billboard is required to post government messages or advertisements. However, there are many new and old billboards which are blank. This is also an indication that the number of billboards is on the increase.
The survey also revealed drastic reduction in the number of billboards at junctions, roundabouts and islands. The locations with significant reduction are Jalan Udini-Jalan Jelutong junction, Bayan Baru roundabout, Jalan Thean Tek-Thean Tek Highway junction and Jalan Scotland-Jalan Dato Keramat junction. However, similar steps need to be taken at other junctions.
After the collapse of the rooftop billboard at Crystal Point, Bayan Baru, the number of rooftop billboards has reduced by nearly 40%. The remaining roof-top billboards should also be brought down, especially those at Jalan Dato Keramat, near the city stadium, as they stand tall and are gigantic. Apart from the danger of toppling down during storms they also block the skyline.
With the Crystal Point incident the authorities have stripped off the advertisements and metal backing of several unipole, monopole billboards, including those across the Jelutong Expressway. This has left gigantic, ugly skeletons dotting the city and marring the skyline. The intention of the authorities in allowing them to remain in such condition is unclear.
In Sao Paulo, Brasil, since 2006, all forms of outdoor advertisements were banned under the “Clean City Law” and the city continues to enjoy a clean image. Many people believed that the economy of Sao Paulo will go down and many would loose their jobs. Today after 7 years, 70% of the 11 million residents feel that the ban was beneficial. In other parts of the world such as Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine in the US, as well as some 1,500 towns bans on billboards exist. Many others have imposed severe restrictions on billboards or declared no-billboard zones within the city, like in Singapore.
In Malaysia, more needs to be done than mere reduction of outdoor advertisements at junctions and rooftops. CAP calls upon the authorities to take the following measures:
1. Legislate laws to remove outdoor advertisements nationwide completely, in public open spaces and roadways;
2. Allow advertisements only at designated locations such as private premises and indoors;
3. Encourage greening of our cities and towns;
4. Encourage beautification of buildings to prevent the cities and towns from looking bland.
Press Statement, 4 November 2014