May 22, 2014 / 10:25 PM / 5 years ago

San Diego airport relents, allows anti-SeaWorld ad

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The San Diego airport has agreed to run an animal rights group’s advertisement asking visitors to avoid SeaWorld, a major tourist attraction in the city that has faced criticism over its killer whale shows, the ACLU said on Thursday.

Visitors attend the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014 REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL) - RTR3HTF4

The airport agreed to run the advertisement as part of a legal settlement after the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a federal lawsuit in March accusing the airport and the company that handles its advertising of infringing on PETA’s free speech rights by initially balking at the ad.

“There appears to have been viewpoint discrimination and we are glad that issue was resolved,” said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties which helped represent PETA in the lawsuit.

Officials at San Diego International Airport, without admitting wrongdoing in a legal settlement filed in court this month, agreed to allow the PETA advertising poster to go up this week in their baggage claim area.

The ad welcomes visitors to San Diego and features film and television actress Kathy Najimy, a San Diego native. “If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld,” the script says.

The legal tussle over the advertisement comes as SeaWorld faces increased scrutiny over conditions for its killer whales, in large part due to last year’s broadcast of the documentary “Blackfish” which tells the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld’s park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

A California Democratic lawmaker has said he was inspired by “Blackfish” to introduce legislation proposing to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales to perform tricks in famed “Shamu” shows at its California park. The bill was effectively killed last month, as other lawmakers called for more research.

Representatives for SeaWorld and the airport did not immediately return calls on Thursday.

An official with JCDecaux, the company that handles advertising at the airport, initially told PETA its ad featuring Najimy could not go up because it violated the company’s internal policies against “disparaging” and “demeaning” content, according to the animal rights group’s lawsuit.

Najimy has guest-starred on the HBO comedy “Veep,” played a supporting role in Kirstie Alley’s 1990s sitcom “Veronica’s Closet” and had a supporting role in the 1992 film “Sister Act.”

Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Walsh

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