These photos taken from Shahbagh, top, Moghbazar intersection, Ruposhi Bangla intersection, Manik Mia Avenue, and Mirpur-10 intersection in the capital show large hoardings advertising the “successes” of the Awami League-led government. The ruling party did not bother to rent or buy the billboards. photo: Sk Enamul Haq, Anisur Rahman
The real estate firm had a huge billboard at Shahbagh touting its apartments. It would not miss anybody's notice. The day before yesterday, as a company director was passing by, he discovered his advertisement had been replaced by a digital canvass, describing successes of the government in the last four and a half years.
The baffled director called his advertisement agency, a top firm in the capital. The agency was surprised too. It did not know anything about the government's "success" billboard.
Nobody bothered to tell the agency or the realtor that their billboard was going to be replaced.
The ruling Awami League has suddenly gone on an aggressive campaign, flooding the city with such billboards highlighting various achievements of the government.
In the process, it has not cared to take permission of the advertisement agencies or the advertisers. It just grabbed the billboards wherever it chose to. It is an illegal act, but since it is in power, the party did not feel that it was illegal.
The agencies and the advertisers are too intimidated to challenge the AL.
The Daily Star has checked the records of the two Dhaka city corporations. Officials have confirmed that neither the AL nor the government had ever sought permission to set up the billboards.
A billboard costs between Tk 3 and 40 lakh for a year, depending on the location. Neither the advertisers nor the agencies know for how long the AL will occupy their billboard and how much loss they will suffer. They will have to wait and see.
Actual billboard owners, advertisers and officials of the two Dhaka city corporations have expressed their dismay at the unsolicited and sudden move by the AL.
As a result of such unlawful occupation, many ad firms will incur huge losses, they added.
Officials of several top ad companies told this newspaper that their clients, including some multinational companies, had complained about the grabbing of their billboards.
“They [advertisers] are concerned about it because nobody knows how long these billboards are going to be occupied,” said the owner of a leading ad company, requesting anonymity.
AL insiders say they initially want to take over 7.5 lakh square feet of advertisement spaces at Tk 12 per square feet.
Spot Light Events, a Mirpur-based company, has been hired by the ruling party to do the job.
The campaign will cost crores of taka and will be expanded across the country. Billboards, festoons and banners depicting government's successes would be installed at every intersection, bridge and foot overbridge in Dhaka and Chittagong, said sources in the AL.
“We shall go for more publicity with 75 percent focus on the government's development activities," said Ashim Kumar Ukil, deputy publicity affairs secretary of the AL.
Huge billboards, with pictures of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Sheikh Hasina have already flooded the capital. Messages on them include government's achievements in education, health, diplomacy and other sectors.
One of the several banners in the city's Russel Square highlights Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's victory over Myanmar in expanding the maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
Md Rashed, general secretary of Bangladesh Outdoor Advertising Establishment Owners Association, said most of their billboards were grabbed by the ruling party over the past seven days.
"We normally get payment before Eid from our clients. But due to the sudden grabbing, clients are refusing to pay. And frankly, if this continues, we will incur a loss of up to Tk 150 crore," Rashed said.
There are around 2,000 legal billboards in the city and the association has about 165 members involved in the business.
“None of our members dares to say anything because pictures of Bangabandhu and the prime minister are on the billboards,” Rashed added.
Several AL leaders defended the party move, saying there was nothing wrong in it as it was done through mutual understanding with the companies concerned.
However, AL Presidium Member Nooh-ul-Alam Lenin said that those who were given the responsibility to install the billboards should have done it following due process.
“I will inform the party high-ups if there are any irregularities in the process,” Lenin added.
AFM Bahauddin Nasim, organising secretary of the AL, said if there was any complaint, the party would remove the billboard in question.
BM Enamul Haque, chief executive officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, said his officials had seen such billboards and they would look into their legality after the Eid.
“If we find them illegal, we will take action,” he said.
Most billboard owners declined to comment on the matter on record for fear of reprisal. But they all termed the billboard campaign unprecedented.
“They [the AL] have no right to remove a legitimate billboard and replace it with their own,” said a member of the billboard owners association.