Office of the Ombudsman
In a matter of a Complaint About Inappropriate Advertising
Report dated 8th April 2012
This investigation stemmed from a complaint made by a person attending the ICANN 43 Meeting at Costa Rica. While the names of the parties have been widely circulated, I do not think it is necessary to add them to this report.
The essence of the complaint is that a display prepared for the Prague ICANN meeting 44 used a postcard sized picture as part of a display in a way which was offensive to women. The display kiosk was a light-hearted approach to advertise the forthcoming meeting, and asked passers-by to select a number of options for what they wanted to see in Prague. People were invited to choose a number of options including culture, museums, food, beer and one card which said “girls”. All of the postcards had stylised drawings. The object of the cards was to assess in a light-hearted way, what participants in the meeting wanted to see at Prague.
The investigation began because I was approached by a person who was seriously offended by the objectification of women which he had observed at the kiosk. The investigation therefore was relatively simple because I went to the kiosk and obtained a copy of the postcard.
The issue which I was required to investigate was whether the postcard and the use were offensive because of the presentation of “girls” as somehow being available as a commodity, and what should be done about the display.
This is a matter where I have jurisdiction to consider the complaint and specifically the issue of unfairness. Article V of the ICANN Bylaws state in Section 2 that “The Ombudsman shall serve as an objective advocate for fairness, and shall seek to evaluate and where possible resolve complaints about unfair or inappropriate treatment by ICANN staff, the Board, or ICANN constituent bodies, clarifying the issues and using conflict resolution tools such as negotiation, facilitation, and “shuttle diplomacy” to achieve these results.” And from the standards of expected behavior “Those who take part in ICANN multi-stakeholder process including Board, staff and all those involved in Supporting Organization and Advisory Committee councils undertake to: (among other matters) Treat all members of the ICANN community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation; members of the ICANN community should treat each other with civility both face to face and online.” The result is that the Ombudsman is the appropriate person to investigate these matters.
The complainant says the use of the postcard was demeaning to women and an unnecessary objectification of them.
As it turned out, when I received the complaint, I approached the organisers who were operating the kiosk and explained why the use of the postcard was thought inappropriate by the complainant. After some discussion, they understood the way in which this was seen, from another perspective, and quickly agreed to remove the postcards as an option in the kiosk display. What they saw as a light-hearted tribute to attractive woman in the Czech Republic, they then were able to see as offensive to others. Because they were so ready to perceive and accept the alternative view, it was not necessary to take any further action. I reported to the complainant and closed the file, as no action was required.