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Aug 5, 2015

Digicell Under Fire for Offensive Online Ads

Belize Telemedia Limited, a government-owned company, is under fire tonight, for a series of offensive ads that have been posted on social media.  If you’re a subscriber of Facebook or Instagram and have followed Digicell’s page, then chances are you’ve probably seen a pair of posts that are very much open to discussion.  The first is an ad depicting an image of Jennifer Coolidge, who famously played Stiffler’s mom in the cult classic American Pie.  In that movie the seasoned actress portrayed a cougar, an older woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man.  Well, B.T.L.’s marketing team, presumably fans of the coming of age flick, chose to use that concept and attached to it the following line, Ladies meet cougar.  She is the enemy.  She is mature, experienced, rich and loves young boys.  Your young boys. Luckily, Digicell has equipped you to fight back.  Another ad displays a couple sitting on a couch watching television, the female companion is bound and gagged and accompanied by a rather distasteful caption that reads: This could be us but you keep escaping.  The campaign has raised the ire of many, including well-known Senator, Lisa Shoman, who is also a former chairman of B.T.L.  This morning, the Shoman sent a stern letter to B.T.L.’s Board of Directors expressing her displeasure with the offensive ads.  We spoke with Senator Shoman by phone earlier today.


Lisa Shoman

On the Phone: Lisa Shoman, Senator

“The ads have been posted by Digicell on both Instagram and on Facebook and some months ago they ran an ad campaign for WiFi on the road. And at that point in time, I wasn’t the only one who was complaining; quite a few of us were annoyed by the fact that B.T.L. was essentially using two situations—one of which was posing a young woman, showing her behind and saying free WiFi on the road, with all the implications of wifey. And the other one was a woman leaning suggestively into the vehicle with the suggestion that there was some kind of transactional sex going on. B.T.L. basically didn’t respond to the complaints…insisted that they thought they were fine and moved on. However, over the weekend and Monday, I started seeing two ads which were really alarming. One of them was an older, dressed very suggestively, and essentially it was about cougars and young boys and that kind of thing and that was bad enough. But then the other ad was shown to me which showed a young woman bound and gagged—bound with rope, gagged with duct tape over her mouth with a man holding on to her and clearly it said something to the effect that this could be true love, but you keep escaping. And in the text that B.T.L. has accompanying it, they have a hashtag that they use—#tryducttape—and immediately what comes to mind is the suggestion or the glorification is that it’s true love if you bind a woman like this, as this is somehow acceptable. And I found that ad to be particularly outrageous and I posted my anger, my annoyance. The first ad was actually removed within about thirty minutes of complaints. The second ad was removed either the evening or the following day. But I thought that I wouldn’t just let it go because this seems to be part of a pattern by either the advertizing subgroup or the marketing group to think that these kinds of ads are acceptable and they are not. So therefore I wrote an open letter; I sent it to the board of B.T.L. and the people who are copied there and I also sent it to the media and I posted it on social media. And from what I can seen, it has been shared by many people, many Belizeans—men and women—are commenting, most unfavorably. And it is something that I feel B.T.L. has to respond to—not just by removing the ad, but by some more of a formal response.”


Isani Cayetano

“It would seem as if though the marketing team is trying, some would say desperately, to connect with its younger audience and maybe they are pushing it a little too far by using either these risqué images or making light of situations that may invoke domestic violence. Correct?”


On the Phone: Lisa Shoman

“No, it is more than that Isani. I’m sorry. This doesn’t have to do anything with age. At no age is it acceptable to promote any kind of a culture in which a woman is bound or gagged and you suggest try using duck tape. That’s not desperate; it is sick. It is sick and until start speaking out and saying what it is about these things that are not acceptable, then there is always going to be an excuse that it is for young people or a younger market. I don’t accept that. Several young men and women have commented that they find it unacceptable.”


In a response to Shoman’s letter, Chairman of the Executive Committee Anwar Barrow said, quote, We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated yesterday fourth August, 2015.  As an immediate response I can say that we agree that those particular two social media posts were offensive and as such removed them immediately upon concerns being raised by another member of the public prior to your letter. We have subsequently put in place a proper screening process for social media posts and will be further considering other supplemental measures. The company sincerely apologizes to our customers for any offense taken.  The company will be issuing a more substantive, formal response on Friday of this week in relation to this matter, unquote.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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