Turner to pay $2M for ad campaign that prompted bomb scare

Monday, February 5th 2007, 10:14 pm
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Turner Broadcasting Systems and an advertising agency agreed Monday to pay $2 million in compensation for planting blinking electronic devices around the Boston area in a publicity stunt that set off a terrorism scare.

The agreement between Turner, Interference Inc. and several state and local agencies resolves any potential civil or criminal claims against the two companies, Attorney General Martha Coakley said.

``We hope that this painful lesson will not be lived or learned again either by the communities involved or ... Turner Broadcasting and Interference,'' Coakley said.

Bomb squads were called in and bridges and highways were shut down last Wednesday when authorities found more than three dozen electronic boards depicting a boxy cartoon character giving the finger.

The devices _ planted in a subway station, on bridges and other spots _ turned out to be part of a publicity campaign for Cartoon Network's ``Aqua Teen Hunger Force.''

The campaign also had been staged in nine other big U.S. cities in recent weeks without drawing as much attention.

Turner, a division of Time Warner Inc., and Interference, a New York City-based marketing company, issued a statement accepting full responsibility and apologizing.

``We understand now that in today's post-Sept. 11 environment, it was reasonable and appropriate for citizens and law enforcement officials to take any perceived threat posed by our light boards very seriously and to respond as they did,'' the statement said.

They said they were reviewing their policies on marketing strategies.

Officials said $1 million will be used to reimburse the agencies that dealt with the incident and $1 million will go toward homeland security and other programs.

``Last week's events caused a major disruption in the greater Boston area on many levels,'' Coakley said, ``crippling public transportation, causing serious traffic problems, negatively affecting local businesses and perhaps most significantly, costing Boston and surrounding communities thousands of dollars.''

As for whether the penalty was commensurate to the disruption, she said: ``In the end, we have a marketplace and we think that people will judge with their clickers or their buying of this.''

Authorities said two men were paid to hang the signs around the city. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, have pleaded not guilty to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. Coakley said prosecutors were in discussions with the men's lawyers to resolve the charges ``relatively shortly.''