Scottish political website Wings Over Scotland claims it is a victim of "censorship" after a billboard advertising campaign on trains was removed for being too "political".
The site paid for the adverts with some of the £100,000 it has raised through crowdfunding.
The ads read: “There are 37 national or daily newspapers in Scotland. Just five of them are owned in Scotland. None of the 37 supports independence. Wouldn’t you like to hear both sides of the story?”
Editor Stuart Campbell booked a month long campaign with UK-wide billboard and transport advertising specialist Prime Sight to run the adverts with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, a public body that runs subway and bus stations in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.
The artwork was send to Prime Sight last week and Campbell was told the carriage cards would be on display from Monday. But on Tuesday he received a call from Prime Sight to say that SPT had received “complaints” and as a result the ad was being pulled as it breached SPT’s guidelines on political advertising.
He said: “We don’t believe the banners break the rules. They don’t state any political position, merely offer people a source of information. We have not been told the nature of the complaints.”
A SPT spokesperson said: "SPT advertising contract guidelines state that Subway sites should not be used to campaign or lobby for political benefit. Our advertising agency applies that standard to all commercial bookings but unfortunately this particular ad slipped through their net. The ad was taken down as a result."
The spokesperson added that its guidelines state that: “…any advertisement of a political, religious, sectarian, racist or sexual nature or which is likely to bring SPT into disrepute will not be permitted or approved”.
Asked about complaints, the spokesperson said there had been “several” complaints but said this was not the reason the ads were pulled. “Prime Sight noticed at the printing stage that the ads could be in breach of the guidelines. They took the decision to remove them,” the SPT spokesperson added.
Prime Sight confirmed it took the decision.
Regional director Keith Lammie said there had been “human error” by staff which meant the advert was booked as being from a charitable cause so no immediate concerns were raised.
“A misunderstanding in communication meant that our normal checking process did not pick up the political nature of Wings Over Scotland. Once the advert was placed a member of staff drew it to my attention and I took the decision to pull it,” he explained.
Asked how he came to this decision Lammie said: “The words used in the advert invited people to visit the website where the phrase ‘soaring above Scottish politics’ is prominent. I decided that this breached SPT’s guidelines.”
Campbell said he was bemused. “It's absolutely not what Prime Sight told us on Tuesday. We were told it was SPT who'd called the ad in as a result of complaints. It seems very weird to pull an advert because of something that isn't actually on the advert.
Now Prime Sight has refused to take any adverts from the website. Campbell had accepted an offer from the agency for the banned advert to run at other locations in Glasgow but received a phone call on Wednesday afternoon to say that he would be getting a full refund instead.
"This story is taking up too much of our time. We are a commercial organisation that makes money from selling advertising and do not have the staff and resources to deal with all the queries we are getting from journalists,” Lammie told Press Gazette.
Both SPT and Prime Sight said they could not recall a case of an advert being pulled for political reasons in the last 10 years.
Campbell said the ad ban amounted to “censorship”, he said: “We're disappointed. The content of our website is political, but no more so than the numerous Union-supporting newspapers the Subway does accept advertising from, and the advert itself made no political statements whatsoever. It simply advertised the site as a source of information.”