Fly posting 101: a UK perspective

When the MRM posters started going up in places around the world, I had a funny niggling feeling  we might have a problem on our hands here in England. After a useful chat with my house-mate about the posters in relation to planning law, I started digging around on the Internet.

Fly- posting without a permit is illegal under the Highway Act 1980, the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, the Anti-social Behavior Act 2003 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Most local councils have a zero tolerance policy on fly- posting.

There is no formal definition of fly-posting. However, it is generally taken to be the display of advertising material on buildings and street furniture without the consent of the owner, contrary to the provisions of the regulations. In practical terms, fly-posting can be divided into three broad types, each with particular characteristics and problems of control, the kind of fly-posting that the MRM participates is defined as “posters,” displayed by pressure groups or political bodies. These are generally ad hoc and sporadic with no clear pattern to their location.

Legal measures used by local authorities and the police to prevent fly-posting include: On-the-spot fines of up to £80; use of fixed penalty notices, prosecution in a magistrates’ court; use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) [or whatever the current
government is calling them] Charging the offender for the cost of removing the posters.

Reading into a document I shared with the London MRA group (The Control of Fly-posting: a Good Practice Guide), there is a key point we need to be aware of – we can approach site managers etc. where there are hoardings, but we may be told they already have an agreement with the local council as part of their site management that they will not allow fly-posting or they have to pay for the cost of removal of fly-posting. So the example set by our Vancouver brothers may not work for us.

Interestingly enough, there are a few councils (Manchester and Nottingham are named specifically) who have taken a pragmatic approach to addressing the problem of fly-posting by having permitted sites, but they are technically in breach of the legislative framework themselves. Still, it is worth working out if you have this option in your local area.

So here is where that leaves the English MRAs  when we want to promote our message:

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  • Urban75,a UK based activism site suggests putting “not for fly-posting” at the bottom of any posters you stick up, so it is like the organisation we are advertising is not responsible for the actions of some activists. This is a weak defence and one I would not want to argue in front of a female magistrate. Just remember, England is the home of the surveillance society, and I know 4 CCTV cameras within 200m of where I am typing this in a small East Anglian town, so you stand a good chance of getting caught on camera, which can be used later in a prosecution.
  • All MRAs should ask their local council if there are permitted sites locally. These are likely going to be near Universities and/or
    Arts areas, so might be a good option. There may be a cost involved, I only found one reference, which was suggesting £1.50 per A3 poster.
  • An alternative to fly-posting is handing out flyers. If you go this route, you need to check with your local council about getting a permit to do so. Permits will cost money in most cases, and require you to wear a badge to show you are an official holder of a permit. You can still be fined for littering, if lots of people drop your flyers, so be aware of this loophole.
  • Urban75 suggests human billboarding – you’ve seen them in Speakers’ Corner (another place we could try), or advertising golf sales, but this would be an effective way to get your message across, although the 2 people rule and wearing your helmet cam might need to be an essential safety feature, in this personal form of advertising.
  • Small discrete stickers i.e. the QR or with AVfM’s  URL on them, stuck in places such as bus stops, train waiting rooms, rest rooms. This is still technically fly-posting, but there seems to be much more tolerance about this kind of size. I have learned some mighty interesting things in the past from stickers in the ladies toilets, that have led me to look up things like alternatives to disposable sanitary items.
  • Community radio stations have small coverage, as do local papers, but press releases on things like international men’s day, might well be used to fill space, and can get people visiting AVfM. I have experience in writing press releases, and would be happy to work with others to learn this art. Many local papers  will be interested if you can provide photos of an interesting event that shows community engagement on a practical level. While we are thin on the ground this might not work, but as we become bigger and can form MRA groups within localities we could use this to our advantage.

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Before any of us go out, we should be introducing ourselves to our local police force – and I mean the local one. Don’t just go to the main offices of your local constabulary, also go to the nearest police station to where you are going to be active. Local beat constables and Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) are potentially useful allies. PCSOs are often getting experience prior to joining the force, so exposing them to the MRM might help them pay more attention in their training around domestic violence (It is worth noting that the majority of constabulary forces in England now use MARAC,which is gender neutral).

Know your rights, including the stop-and-search powers and your rights on arrest (This is an excellent summary). Having been on various committees through my work, where there are serving police officers, I have been told again and again that being polite, well presented and non-violent will go a long way in reducing your risk of getting arrested.

Also, if they think you are at risk of being assaulted by an angry crowd, the  police may arrest you and release you without charge, just to get you out of the situation safely. Go along with this, and hand over the copy of your recording to the police, particularly if you have captured any images that suggest someone is armed. That is going to give that person a really big problem to deal with, particularly if the evidence is backed up by CCTV.

I know that we are going to have to fight to get our voices heard. I know a fair number of activists working for other causes with arrest records already! What I want the English MRAs to think about is how we can best get across our message and avoid having to pay fines or bail for our members.

Please, if there are Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish MRAs out there, could you post what rules apply to you – this kind of local issue is devolved so we can not apply this information across the whole of the UK.

iihttp://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/156909.pdf

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