By Anthony Barich
Christian, family and children’s media lobby groups have slammed a Senate report into the premature sexualisation of children as an advertising industry whitewash.
The Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee, comprising Coalition and Labor Senators and two Democrats, released the report on June 27 and made 13 recommendations. These included a call for States and territories to introduce nationally consistent sex and relationship education in schools and a longitudinal study of the effects of premature and inappropriate sexualisation of children. Australian Family Association national spokesperson Angela Conway said the committee allowed itself to be influenced by the advertising industry.
“There is a massive groundswell of anger among parents on both sides of politics about this issue, and the Senate committee have deluded themselves that this is not a real feeling in the community. Our message to them is: don’t expect us to go away.”
She said that “Kinsey-an groups” who advocate comprehensive sex education have hijacked the inquiry for their own ends.
“My big concern is that much of the comprehensive sex education has been a key driver of the sexualisation of kids in the western world, as their core tenets are that they read young children as sexual beings and impose an adult sexuality onto young teenagers.
“There is no reseearch that shows the programs that have been run have reduced STIs (seexually transmitted infections) or unplanned pregnancies, and have actually seen a rise in these things and coercion in young people.
Womens Forum Australia director Melinda Tankard Reist said that the Advertising Standards Board (ASB), “set up by industry to police itself,” received a raft of criticism during the inquiry, saying it was taken to task for its weak code of ethics, inadequate complaints procedures, dismissal of most complaints, not reflecting community standards, lack of diversity in its composition and inability to punish advertisers who flout the code.
“Despite this, the Committee has handballed the need for a media and advertising complaints clearing house back to the ASB – the very body which has been found so ineffective in the first place,” she said, and that the committee failed to support calls for the ASB to consult child development experts about the potential impact of ads on children before they are released.
Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace said: “Instead of dealing with the need for greater government regulation which gives priority to the interests of children, they have been snowed by the very industry they were inquiring into and are “effectively leaving the issue in their hands.” The 13 recommendations are:
l The onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of community concerns on inappropriate sexualisation of children.
l A longitudinal study into the effects of premature and inappropriate sexualisation of children by the Commonwealth through the National Health and Medical Research Council.
l The Australian Communications and Media Authority revise the requirement that Children’s Television Standard content be broadcast for at least 30 minutes a day so broadcasters can schedule it in extended blocks at times when children are more likely to watch it.
l Broadcasters review their classification of music videos specifically regarding sexualising imagery.
l Broadcasters establish dedicated childrenís TV channels.
l Publishers provide Office of Film and Literature Classification-guided reader advice on magazine covers indicating the presence of material that may be inappropriate for children.
l In 18 months the Senate review the effectiveness of the operation of the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code for Advertising and Marketing Communications to Children, introduced in April 2008.
l The ASB and Free TV Australia consider establishing a media and advertising complaints clearing house to receive complaints and forward them on to the appropriate body; advise complainants that it had been forwarded and give them contact details and processes of the organisation they’d forwarded it on to.
l ASB to produce a half-yearly list of complaints where the impact of ads is on children.
l Advertising Standards Bureau pre-vets ads either when advertisers are concerned their product pushes boundaries or where an advertiser/agency has regularly produced material that has been subject of complaints.
l ASB to make determinations according to community standards and the Australian Standards Bureau develop a process of community consultation, including focus groups, and research acting as a benchmark for ASB decisions.
l ASB to rigorously apply standards for billboards/outdoor advertising to more closely reflect community concern about appropriateness of sexually explicit material and parents’ inability to restrict childrens’ exposure to such material.
l State and Territory governments introduce comprehensive sexual health and relationships education programs inclusive of youth and parents, with a consistent national approach.