Saturday, September 22, 2012

Clarification From MTA: Despite Furnishing Assets, Subsidy And Subway Station Renaming Transportation Agency Disavows Promotion of Barclays Bank

This will follow up on my earlier Noticing New York article about how the MTA board will be meeting on Thursday morning to consider corrective of controls to avoid being faced with the embarrassment of the MTA getting associated with controversial or undesirable messages and promotions when its system’s assets are used as publicity springboards for them.   In other words the MTA wants to avoid  the mortification of big, ugly uh-ohs!.  (See: Thursday, September 20, 2012, Embroiled In Embarrassment of Hosting Controversial Advertisement MTA Considers Banning “Issue Advertising”: What About Barclays LIBOR Scandal?)

Thursday’s MTA board meeting consideration of this matter is a response to the MTA’s being judicially ordered to run advertisements in the subways that polemically equate Arab nations with savages while instructing New York subway riders to support Israel.  The MTA didn’t want to run the ads and its refusal was what landed it in court.  I wrote about how, in another equivalent situation, the MTA also probably ought not to want its assets to promote the LIBOR scandalous Barclays Bank, which the MTA itself (together with other New York government agencies) may wind up suing over losses it has suffered by reason of the bank’s interest rate-fixing.

The MTA assets committed to promote the “Barclays” Center (the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball arena) and thus Barclays Bank are far more substantial than the MTA assets committed to the ads telling people to support Israel in the Middle East conflict.  The controversial Middle East conflict ads will run in ten MTA subway stations for one month.  The Barclays promotion involves renaming, for twenty years, two subway hub stations in Brooklyn after Barclays Bank (for instance, putting the name of the bank on zillions of subway pillars, on maps and in subway announcements).  It also involves very deep subsidy from the transportation agency to the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball arena that is to promote the “Barclays” name over that two-decade period.  The arena constitutes a financial net loss to the public calculated in multiple hundreds of millions of dollars.

In my prior article I noted that the MTA had issued a statement that included in a disavowal of the Middle East ads and noted that the MTA had not yet issued a comparable disavowal of the Barclays promotion.  Well, I contacted the MTA’s press office about this and the MTA has now issued such a disavowal of the Barclays Bank promotion.

I contacted MTA Media Liaison Aaron Donovan and pointed out that I was aware that the MTA had issued a statement that included a disavowal of the American Freedom Defense Initiative advertisements promoting support for Israel in the Middle East conflict.

I observed that the most pertinent part of that disavowal in the statement issued by the MTA was worded as follows:
MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting [such] . . . advertisements.
I noted that the MTA has, in a similar fashion, been commercially promoting Barclays Bank, with its deep subsidies to the financing of the about-to-open “Barclays” Center basketball arena and, perhaps most conspicuously, with its renaming of New York City subway stations “Barclays,” which renaming has been publicly represented by the MTA to be the result of a commercial exchange.  (Mr. Donovan reminded me that the MTA is being paid $200,000 a year for this and I observed that, on a present value basis, that’s very little: With inflation, the actual adjusted value of the $200,000 MTA is getting will go down each year, and, in any event is already way below market value.)

I asked whether the MTA was willing to issue a statement that it does not “endorse the viewpoint” in the Barclays Bank promotion similar to the statement it issued  in connection with the support Israel ads.  I pointed out that, in the absence of the MTA’s issuance of such a statement it might be inferred that the MTA endorses promotion of Barclays Bank, the name of which has gotten a great deal of attention with respect to the bank’s admitted interest rate-fixing in the LIBOR scandal.

Mr. Donovan furnished me with this MTA disavowal of the ongoing media-saturating promotion of Barclays Bank resulting from the MTA’s furnishing of is resources:
The MTA does not endorse the viewpoints expressed in any of the advertisements posted in the system. That applies to issue-oriented advertisements such as the one you mentioned, and it applies to advertisements that propose commercial transactions.
So the promotion of the LIBOR scandalous bank is not endorsed by the MTA, even though the huge amount of promotion the bank is getting is greatly facilitated by the substantial assets the MTA furnished, some would say carelessly, for this purpose.

What I didn’t realize was that at almost the very moment that I was exchanging my communications with Mr. Donovan concerning the MTA’s disavowal of the promotion, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota was arriving that the “Barclays” Center ribbon-cutting event where Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov were piratically (Arrgh!) gloating over the glitz of all their stolen treasure. As DDDB noted (except maybe for incarnation as performing bobble-heads) local political official turnout in support of the arena was pretty pathetic.  Mr. Lhota was apparently serving as a fill-in for the scarce higher level officials like Andrew Cuomo, who need to be concerned about reelection by the voters.

I attended the earlier alternative protesting bobble-head ribbon-cutting ceremony but in very short order a quick subway ride had landed me back at NNY headquarters where I was discussing the MTA’s disavowal of the Barclays Bank promotion with Mr. Donovan.  His e-mail confirmatory of that discussed disavowal arrived at 9:47 AM.  The Tracy Collins photograph that captures Mr. Lhota’s arrival at the ribbon-cutting (below) was taken at 9:01 AM.
MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota: Photo by Tracy Collins
So, let's be clear: Non-endorsement of the Barclays promotion doesn’t mean not furnishing the assets utilized for it and it apparently also doesn’t mean disassociating from the accompanying promotional festivities.  Is that clear enough for everybody?

This issue is to be considered by the MTA at its board meeting next week where the public will be permitted to address the MTA directors on the subject:
Thursday, September 27th
Board Mtg. – 9:30 a.m.
MTA Headquarters
347 Madison Avenue, 5th Floor Board Room
New York, NY 10017

Public Speaking Procedures
•    Registration opens 15 minutes before scheduled start of committee meetings and 30 minutes before the start of each board meeting.
•    Registration must be done in person.
•    Statements must be about agenda items only.
•    Two minute speaking limit.
•    Speaking time may not be transferred.

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