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​​​City to clamp down on illegal outdoor advertisers

The City of Johannesburg has toughened its Outdoor Advertising and Billboards by-laws to classify illegal outdoor advertising as a serious crime, in the same category as building hijackings.

Jack Sekgobela, Manager of Outdoor Advertising in the City’s Planning Department, says the City is losing millions of rands every year to illegal outdoor advertising.

The City is now getting tough on several offending companies – including top international brands – in a new drive to avert loss of revenue and possibly recoup some of the lost revenue as well as ensure compliance. A part of the process, the City is about to start an audit of each and every sign to verify which ones are legal and which ones are not. This will provide a clear indication of exactly how much revenue the City is losing in application and rental fees.

He says with the old by-laws, the offenders were able to get away with infringements because of the loopholes and gaps which existed and were exploited by advertising companies.

“The offenders would deliberately ignore our officials when approached to find amicable solutions. The court processes are lengthy, and even when the matter eventually gets to be heard, these companies get a slap on the wrist,” he says.

Through the revised By-laws, the City can now go the civil route and instituting civil claims against the offenders. The City has also started laying criminal charges against the landlord [of the premises on which the billboard is erected], the advertising agency, the company being advertised, and its directors and shareholders.

Sekgobela says the City has made several overtures for the offenders to comply, however very few are cooperating.

The Outdoor Advertising and Billboards By-laws clearly do not allow for illegal billboards to be put up without the City’s permission. Some companies put up wrap advertising signs in residential areas, which is also illegal.

“The approval process for Outdoor Advertising has been streamlined and as such there are currently no applications in the system to be processed or approved,” Sekgobela says.

A task team which includes members of the South African Police Service, National Prosecuting Authority, Hawks and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department has now been set up to tackle this problem.

In December last year, the City won a case against an international electronics company, Samsung. This, after a four-year legal battle, which went right up to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

Sekgobela says most of the billboards are erected at night or over weekends by unknown people. The normal process followed when an illegal sign goes up, The City contact the company being advertised. Few companies show interest to resolving the infringements with others opting to go the courts route.

As such, the City continuously issues Notices of Contravention, giving the offenders seven to 14 days to remove an illegal sign, which is ignore most of the time.

“Once a company ignores that notice, the case is referred to the City’s legal department for a civil case to be heard in court. The Samsung billboard on the M1 is a case in point,” Sekgobela says.

“We are closing all the loopholes. We are also drawing up a list of the illegal signs, which we will hand over to the South African Revenue Service to check if they pay tax,” concludes Sekgobela.