Family First - Additional Comments
Inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media
The Committee found significant community concern about the
sexualisation of children. From parents, through to community groups, non-government
organisations and expert bodies, there was agreement, backed by thorough
research and evidence, that sexualisation of children is excessive, harmful,
and must be addressed.
The Committee report acknowledges much of this concern. It
Regulation of children's advertising is also undermined by the
strongly sexual character of all-pervasive adult advertising and media. Much of
the evidence put to the inquiry confirms this analysis. Submitters and
witnesses continually expressed concern about children's exposure to sexual and
objectifying images in the media and society more broadly.
In addition, the Committee acknowledges that commercial
interests commonly seek to test the boundaries of regulations and standards in
order to seek advantage in the market. For this reason, recommendations made in
later chapters seek to improve regulatory complaints systems to ensure that
parents and other individuals are able to contribute to the setting and
application of the prevailing community standards by which media standards are
Advertising which targets children and presents
inappropriately sexualised images helps contribute, cumulatively, to creating a
climate which can lead to the abuse of children. This exploitative behaviour is
having a worrying impact on the health and wellbeing of children. The
sexualisation of children takes away their childhood and makes them vulnerable
to exploitation in various forms.
Family First is concerned that the report has not adequately
reflected these concerns and not provided recommendations strong enough to
address them. While the Committee says a “precautionary approach” is justified,
it should have taken a tougher stand.
Family First is disappointed the views of Professor Catharine
Lumby and Professor Alan McKee were prominent in the report. Professors Lumby
and McKee are authors of The Porn Report. They questioned concern about
sexualisation and characterised community concern as 'moral panic'.
But the Committee also heard from other experts that the sexualisation of
children is a real problem.
Amanda Gordon, President of the Australian Psychological
I am concerned because I see in my practice what I believe are
the consequences of some of this overt sexualisation of girls. I see girls
younger and younger becoming depressed. We see girls younger and younger being
hospitalised with eating disorders and with concerns about their body and their
self-esteem. We have heard the evidence about girls younger and younger being
engaged in sexual intercourse, before they can possibly have a sensible
definition of themselves as whole people, as real human beings, with the
ability to make decisions and to understand what it means to say yes or no.
The Australian Childhood Foundation also gave evidence that:
There is ample evidence of sexualised messages being presented
to Australian children. Over the past two years, the Foundation has identified
and publicly commented on advertising campaigns which have positioned children
and young people in a sexualised fashion and promoted products which are
associated with sexualised content to children ... it is our view that a
contributing factor to the genesis of problem sexual behaviour is the
increasing volume of sexualised imagery and themes available in popular culture
and accessible to children.
It is clear that a problem exists and should be addressed by
the government and by other parts of the community.
Advertising Standards Board
Family First is extremely disappointed - as will be those
who have provided evidence of the many failures of the Advertising Standards
Board (ASB) - that while recommending a more streamlined complaints system, the
Committee designates this task to the ASB, along with Free TV Australia.
Both the ASB and Free TV Australia are industry bodies established
by and representing advertisers and commercial broadcasters. Both industries
have been reluctant to address the issue of sexualisation.
What is clearly required is an independent complaints
handling mechanism, outside the industry body. The Committee report has not
kept faith with the public, many of whom have complained about the ASB, by
giving this responsibility to the very body which has come in for so much
As Dr Lauren Rosewarne, manager of the Centre for Public
Policy at the University of Melbourne told the Committee:
My research identifies a series of problems with the operations
of the board which contribute to the continual display of sexualised outdoor
advertising images, as well as the continual dismissal of complaints about
these ads. These problems include the voluntary nature of the participation of
advertising agencies, the board’s low profile, the lack of pre-vetting of advertisements,
the lack of media monitoring, the weak code of ethics, the flawed complaints procedure,
the flawed notion of community standards, inappropriate board composition, regulatory
capture, flawed funding mechanisms, and the board’s inability to punish
A clear case has been established for additional regulation.
A body such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) should be
given a more active role in receiving complaints and addressing the failure of industry
Penalties and enforcement powers
Family First is disappointed that the Committee report did
not see fit to recommend penalties or greater enforcement powers for
advertisers who are found to be in breach of advertising codes.
The report states that compliance rates are "excellent".
However this fails to take into account the fact that by the time the complaint
has gone through the process, the ad campaign has often finished, as pointed
out by Dr Rosewarne, in her evidence to the Committee.
Family First is disappointed the Committee report has not
taken on board numerous recommendations from concerned organisations for
amendments to the Australian Association of National Advertisers' (AANA) Code
of Ethics. The Code must be amended to incorporate and
implement the concept of sexualisation, so that problematic advertising that
can harm young people is able to be identified and stopped.
Amendments to the Code are crucial to ensuring industry is
able to effectively address the problem and to demonstrate good faith
participation in self regulation. Without such amendments the industry can
continue to duck responsibility by refusing to acknowledge the extent of the
The ASB should be required to focus on taking complaints
seriously and apply an improved Code. Regular research such as that completed
last year on community attitudes to ASB decisions should continue. However, the
ASB must be committed to adjusting its decision making as a result of this
research and also as a result of complaints.
Research in 2007 found the community indicated strong levels
of dissatisfaction with the ASB’s handling of matters of sexual content.
Despite this, and despite admitting receipt of a very large number of
complaints about the Nandos pole dancing ad, for example, the ASB continues to
defend its decision. So far there has been only a minimal change in the ASB's
treatment of sexual content or possible sexualising impacts.
The Committee recommends that publishers may wish to
consider a degree of self-regulation by providing some reader advice on their
covers indicating the presence of material that may be inappropriate for
children. This is an improvement, but it does not go far enough as it avoids
addressing inappropriate content in magazines marketed to children.
The report quotes a response to a question on notice from
Pacific Magazines and ACP, publishers of Dolly, who state:
[In general the]...limited number of complaints [received]
indicates that the vast majority of consumers have no concerns around their
current ability to choose age-appropriate publications.
The Committee should have asked how many pre-teen girls
would even consider writing to publishers of magazines questioning
inappropriate content for their age level. Quoting these comments shows a misunderstanding
of the culture of childhood and adolescence.
Family First supports recommendation 3 calling for
broadcasters to "review" music video classification, but would prefer
the recommendation was stronger. Broadcasters have consistently demonstrated a
reluctance to take action to protect children from the sexualising impacts and
the strong sexual themes and messages in music videos.
Proper classification of music videos requires broadcasters
to show some understanding of the likely effects on children and young
Critical media literacy skills
A number of submissions called for programs to provide
critical media literacy skills to enable students to assess advertising and
media. They also wanted to see positive body image programs established in
schools. The recommendation for a 'comprehensive sexual health and relationship
education program' does not adequately capture this. The case has not been
established that sex education is the best way to address the issue of
Proposals for greater implementation of comprehensive sex
education programs are misplaced in this inquiry.
This Committee report has not put forward the
recommendations necessary to address the issue of sexualisation of children,
which authorities worldwide have recognised as causing exploitation, harm and
violence to children and young people. The better recommendations are not
expressed strongly enough to make them effective. The industry has gotten off
The evidence for harm is now on the public record and Family
First will continue to work to bring about the change needed in the long run.
Senator Steve Fielding
Family First Leader
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