Late last week, Google.com prevented Oceana, a mainstream international ocean advocacy group, from communicating its anti-pollution message to the public. Google refused to run Oceana’s paid advertisements, appearing to have bowed to pressure to thwart Oceana from advancing its goal of saving the world’s oceans.
"This is outrageous," said Oceana’s Chief Executive Officer Andrew Sharpless. "For this company to claim to promote freedom of expression and yet deny us the right to effectively advocate against pollution is blatant hypocrisy. The question that leaves us with is why they chose to blunt our right to express ourselves if not from cruise industry pressure."
Last week, Oceana placed two advertisements with Google, the first describing Oceana’s mission and linking to the organization’s website, www.oceana.org, the second focusing on Oceana’s well-known campaign to stop cruise pollution. Google removed the ads after two days, citing the cruise pollution ad for "language that advocates against Royal Caribbean," and the general ad for using "language advocating against the cruise line industry and cruisers." Google’s public editorial guidelines, however, make no mention of any such specific prohibition, stating only that the company reserves the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising it accepts.
"To exercise editorial discretion is one thing, but to stifle a message that the public needs and deserves to hear based on some secret criterion is quite another," said Sharpless. "Google has no qualms running a series of ads promoting low fares and exotic getaways on Royal Caribbean’s behalf. They also don’t seem to have a problem running countless ads for pornography, but apparently cleaning up the oceans crosses their line."
A Google search also turned up advertisements by groups advocating against other companies such as Disney and Nike.
"To prevent this type of confusion from occurring again, we are formally requesting that Google publish their approved list of companies and messages that they have decided people can advocate for or against," said Sharpless.
PR Newswire Censors Oceana Press Release
In a related incident, PR Newswire, one of the world’s leading providers of information to the news media and general public, censored a press release issued by Oceana last week regarding Royal Caribbean’s unwillingness to improve its environmental standards.
The company, which Oceana has contracted numerous times over the last year for the distribution of similar anti-cruise pollution news releases, arbitrarily attempted to re-write the headline of the release to show attribution to Oceana, even though Oceana had made no effort to obscure itself as the source. In addition, PR Newswire objected to the placement of Royal Caribbean’s stock ticker in the text of the release, the placement of which allows interested investors, news media and others to access valuable information about the company.
"PR Newswire, like Google, prides and advertises itself as an institution that gets relevant information to those who need it," said Dana DuBose, Oceana’s Cruise Pollution Campaign Director. "The news release in question was no different in tone, attribution, or content, than several that we have distributed through PR Newswire in the past. I think it’s time to start asking some serious questions about whether PR Newswire and Google are caving to the demands of big marketers like the cruise industry."