Advertising watchdog needled by PPE firm’s anti-vax Bill Gates billboard

07 July 2021 - 16:35 By dave chambers
The billboard in Cape Town that has been condemned by the Advertising Regulatory Board.
The billboard in Cape Town that has been condemned by the Advertising Regulatory Board.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

A company that sells medical supplies and personal protective equipment has been castigated by the advertising watchdog for an anti-vaccination billboard.

Sanitise PPE, which trades as San-I-tize, erected the billboard featuring a photograph of Bill Gates on the side of its building next to the M5 in Maitland, Cape Town.

It attracted a host of negative press as well as a fine under Cape Town's outdoor advertising bylaw, because it was unauthorised, and now the Advertising Regulatory Board has upheld a complaint about it.

Dr Claire Whitaker, who works for the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, told the watchdog: “I find the billboard offensive on a number of counts:

  • it undermines public health efforts to control the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • it promotes distrust of vaccines;
  • it contravenes laws regarding the dissemination of false information and/or conspiracies about Covid-19; and
  • it is potentially libellous.”

The watchdog said despite “all reasonable efforts” it had failed to get a response from San-I-tize, which was  not a member of the bureau. However, it issued a decision for the guidance of other members.

“It should be acknowledged that there is no pertinent reference to Covid-19 or coronavirus in the billboard,” it said. “However, the directorate is mindful of the fact that the world is now in the grips of a global health pandemic brought about by Covid-19.

“The directorate is also aware of various theories in circulation, particularly on social media, which suggest that Bill Gates plans to inject trackable microchips under the guise of vaccines — a theory which has been debunked by SA’s department of health.”

In this context, the watchdog said, the billboard “appears to be intended to create an association between Covid-19, vaccines and prevalent conspiracy theories”.

It was not clear, it said, whether the billboard was condemning conspiracy theories and suggesting reliance on God, or whether it is condemning vaccines for the same reasons as those advanced in these conspiracy theories.

The San-I-tize website suggested the company imports medical and emergency supplies for state and private hospitals, governments and the private sector.

This billboard appears to disseminate inaccurate information in an irresponsible manner which is likely to mislead consumers.
Advertising Regulatory Board

“Its products include respiratory masks, Covid-19 rapid test kits, gloves, swab kits, various sanitiser products, protective clothing and shields, 'fogger' machines, thermometers and devices that emit ultraviolet light,” said the watchdog.

“It therefore appears that [San-I-tize] is acutely aware of the severity of this pandemic and benefits commercially from the sale of various devices and medical equipment used in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, yet advocates against the use of vaccines, apparently because it subscribes to debunked conspiracy theories.

“The billboard not only perpetuates misinformation about the prospects of injecting microchips under the guise of vaccinating citizens, but also appears to advocate against reliance on vaccines, which contradicts health messages from across the globe, as well as SA’s department of health.

“The directorate therefore agrees with [Whitaker] that this billboard appears to disseminate inaccurate information in an irresponsible manner which is likely to mislead consumers.”

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