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Opinion ... ...
    Video pollution offends people's peaceful minds
Rousseau Chen
2006-03-18 07:11

The mushrooming video screens in buses, taxis and apartment lobbies in cities like Shanghai are taking away our already scarce resource: a place for a moment of peace.

Taking a doze or reading a book on buses is less pleasant now, as the LCD screens broadcast news, entertainment and adverts at unbearable volumes.

You pay the bus fare simply to get a ride - fast and undisturbed - but now you are forced to watch and listen when bus companies team up with advertising companies to provide you with this "added value," whether you like it or not.

If it's a crowded bus, the noise from this "entertainment" is even more exasperating.

More and more Chinese cities have joined Shanghai, regarded as the first to install video screens on buses, to annoy tens of millions of passengers.

In just a matter of years, the LCD screens have made inroads into not only buses, but into apartment building lobbies, shopping malls, taxis and even public toilets.

In a city like Shanghai, it is getting harder every passing day to find a public place free of this video pollution.

It is true that some people may like to watch programmes aired on buses or in apartment lobbies. But the fact is that those who don't should be equally respected. Their rights to enjoy a bus ride in quiet should be fully protected.

To this group of people, the bus companies' actions are simply offensive.

Because of the bus screens, students cannot focus on reviewing their lessons or preparing for a test. People who like to read a novel or reflect feel unsettled by the noise. Youngsters who like to listen to music on their iPods must increase the volume to offset the competing audio.

If you already feel stressed after a hectic day in a city like Shanghai, the compulsory bus video advertising certainly escalates the tension of both your muscles and nervous system.

Bus drivers and conductors are surely the worst victims because they have to bear it at least eight hours a day, non-stop.

A high public tolerance for - and low public awareness of - noise pollution has provided bus video advertisers with a paradise in which to expand their businesses.

Some companies involved in the business have already become rising stars on the stock market.

But opposition has already started to make its voice heard.

Some people have already accused bus companies of violating their contracts, since their obligation is to deliver passengers to their destinations, not bombard them with noisy broadcasts.

People are also complaining to consumers rights associations at various levels.

In Urumqi of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, parents protested against improper obstetric/gynaecology commercials on video-equipped buses that might be disturbing to their children.

While the bus TV market may be lucrative, bus companies and their collaborators - the advertising firms - are simply unethical in planting the screens in buses without getting a nod from commuters, or residents in the case of apartment lobbies.

Even if the majority of passengers and residents enjoy the programming, the minority should still be respected and given a choice.

Similar situations are dealt with much better on planes, where passengers are given headphones if they want to listen to programmes. Those who don't can still sleep soundly or read their books.

Lawmakers should legislate against such sight and sound pollution in public places, just as they deal with any other kind of pollution.

There is a reason why you don't see such annoyances in other major international cities around the world, definitely not because they don't have the money and technology to do this. It is simply a matter of civic conduct.

The government should take action to stop the blatant abuse of the public interest and protect the consumers' rights.

The general public that relies so much on public transit system and opposes the bus video screens should also make more noise to consumer rights associations, bus companies and advertisers, before those companies discover more places for the screens.

Companies betting on the bus video bonanza should start to revise their business strategy, because rising public discontent may hurt their bottom lines.

Bus video screens do not strike a chord of harmony among passengers at a time when our whole nation is talking about building a harmonious society.

Shanghai, which aspires to become a world-class city and host the World Expo 2010, should set an example for the rest of the country. It should first adopt world-class behaviour in its massive public transit system.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page4)


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