Sexist advertising could disappear from the streets of Germany’s capital after the parties in Berlin’s ruling coalition agreed a ban on degrading or discriminatory advertising, even on privately owned billboards.

The move follows similar decisions in various districts of the city state, and could mark a departure for a city known as a party town that has long traded on its association with the licentiousness of its avant-garde 1920s.

The Social Democrat, Green and far-left Die Linke parties in Berlin’s government have said they intend to proceed with the measure, despite objections from opposition parties who say it infringes on free speech.

“The coalition will establish an expert committee to examine and prevent discriminatory advertising,” the parties said in their coalition agreement from last year. Already, advertisers are being prevented from placing discriminatory content on city-owned billboards.

A committee of experts will decide whether individual adverts are sexist or degrading in nature.

Portrayals of ‘weak, stupid’ women

The Linke in one Berlin district have suggested that advertisements that present women as beautiful but also as “weak, hysterical, stupid, not of sound mind, naive and completely controlled by emotions,” or as objects of lust should be regarded as sexist, the German daily Tagesspiegel reported.

The coalition is also taking aim at ads where “a woman is barely dressed and smiling without reason, while a man is completely and comfortably clothed,” the newspaper reported.

Opposition parties have criticized the proposal, with Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats saying that politics had “no right to intervene in the free advertising market,” while the liberal Free Democrats are worried the measure is a constraint on freedom of expression.

Others have argued that sexist advertising is rarer today than in the past, meaning a ban is unnecessary.

But Petra Koch-Knoebel, the equality commissioner for the borough of Friedrichshain disagreed, saying the fact that it was rarer meant people had become “sensitized” to excessive advertising.

From 2019, the city-wide government will assume the power to regulate public advertising from the boroughs with whom it currently resides, meaning the planned ban is likely to go into effect from then. 

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