Catholic advertising on buses makes some uncomfortable

religious advertising

Catholic advertising on the back of Nelson’s new eBuses has left some residents feeling “uncomfortable”.

Deputy mayor, Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, says a few people had contacted councillors about advertising which depicts a Divine Mercy image of Jesus.

“Having religious advertising on buses is not something that everyone is comfortable with” he says.

O’Neill-Stevens doesn’t think the advertising breaches any council advertising policy guidelines.

Nonetheless he has asked staff to look into the concern as it’s “a policy decision we have to weigh up against other obligations under the Bill of Rights Act”.

“It’s a space where I think we just need to make sure we’ve got our policy as strong as it can be, because we want our buses to be reflective of a wide range of people who use them and we want all of our users to be comfortable with our bus system.”

Diverse, tolerant community sought

Mayor Nick Smith is “surprised” that having Jesus and a religious trust advertising on an eBus has caused controversy.

The Council doesn’t own the eBuses he says. It subsidises the service through rates and funding from Government.

Advertising on the back of the buses helps offset costs, Smith explains. He can “see no good reason” to prohibit religious organisations from buying advertising space on the eBuses.

“It would send the wrong signal when I want Nelson to be a tolerant and diverse community where differing religious beliefs are welcomed and respected” he says.

One councillor says concerned people’s worries are: “If they put that up, what else can they put up?”

Some councillors are a little concerned that if you allow this, you have to allow “quite yucky” organisations, or “elements of beliefs that are kind of gross”.

“Where’s the line as far as what you can plonk on the back of the bus?”

The Council says eBus advertising is handled by an external agency.

An advertising panel considers all potentially contentious advertisements, including the Divine Mercy ad. It came to their attention in September 2023.

The panel decided “nothing in the ad conflicted with council’s policy for bus advertising” or was “inappropriate in the guidelines”. Nor was it “a political ad”.

While Council’s policy refers to advertising that could be perceived as harmful to the community’s well-being, an expression of religion was “not inherently harmful” the Council says.

“We fully understand that some people in the community may have negative experiences with religion and might find this advert confronting.

“However, if we were to ban an advert like this where would we draw the line? The consequence might be that we would have to ban any advert with a topic that may be offensive.”

The Regional Transport Committee doesn’t see a problem either. The ad doesn’t breach the shared councils’ policy, nor Advertising Standards Authority guidelines.

“What is does do is call for some tolerance as it is not inciting any action or negative opinion of other groups” Committee chair Stu Bryant says.


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