The following was submitted as a letter to the editor at The Guardian
On September 12, 2018, The Guardian reported that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), in California, allowed ads in two of their stations produced by the organization, The Institute for Historical Review (IHR). IHR has been classified as a Nazi-defending hate group which promotes Holocaust denial. The BART spokesperson, Alicia Trost, says the company cannot deny the ads. Why not? Of course the company can, it simply chooses not to. Train companies cannot sidestep the messy realm of ethics.
Having worked for over a decade as a senior advertising executive before earning a doctorate focusing on corporate accountability, I find the company’s position deplorable. My research focuses on the role of the French National Railways (SNCF) in the transport of deportees in World War II towards death camps in horrific conditions. I also study the contemporary debates over whether the company has made sufficient amends to do business in the U.S. The SNCF’s participation in the Holocaust makes clear that companies cannot position themselves as not playing a moral role in society. Another example: In 1993, RTLMC, a Rwandan radio station, promoted the genocide against the Tutsi people. Serving as a vehicle hate speech, the radio station proved just as crucial for the fulfillment of the Rwandan genocide as trains proved crucial for the Holocaust.
While the first amendment protects free speech, companies have a right to refuse service. BART can contact the SNCF and the victims to learn more about the consequences of pretending ethics do not apply to them.