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Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Page: 9355

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (12:43): Today I want to draw attention to two issues of concern currently being championed by the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and about which I have spoken previously in the chamber. These are the need for our parliament to take action on promoting healthy body image by putting tighter regulations on digital enhancement of media images and opposing the premature sexualisation of children and young people through overtly sexual advertising. I am sure everyone in this chamber is well aware of its damaging effect on the self-esteem and the wellbeing of young people.

Just last year the American Medical Association released a scathing assessment of the advertising industry in that country. The association pointed to the large body of literature linking media propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.

Dr Barbara McAneny, spokesperson for the AMA, said, 'We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.'

Of course, the photoshopping of media images is not the sole contributing factor to the widespread problems of depression, eating disorders and social isolation which plague young people. It has, however, been identified in country after country as a major contributing factor and one which can and should be regulated by responsible governments. It comes as no surprise then that in recent years attempts have been made around the world to introduce legislation mandating that digitally enhanced photographs of models carry disclosure statements. These are statements that would inform consumers that the image they were viewing had been altered and was not an accurate representation of the model photographed.

In 2009 a group of UK parliamentarians, led by Jo Swinson MP, sought to introduce such legislation because, as Swinson pointed out, 'There's a problem out there. Half of young women between 16 and 21 say they would consider cosmetic surgery and we've seen eating disorders more than double in the last 15 years. The way excessive retouching'—of digital images—'has become pervasive in our society is contributing to that problem.' Also in 2009, French parliamentarian Valerie Boyer and 50 of her parliamentary colleagues proposed a similar law, which would apply not only to advertisements but also to press photos, political campaigns, art photography and photos on product packaging. French parliamentarians proposing these laws considered disclosure statements to be in the interests not only of public health but also of consumer protection.

In 2011 in Norway, Audun Lysbakken, the minister for children and equality, pushed for warning labels to help consumers, particularly young people, distinguish between digitally altered images and unaltered ones. Minister Lysbakken bemoaned the fact that in Norway hundreds of thousands of young girls endured eating disorders while living with a distorted self-image obtained partly by hopeless comparisons with digitally distorted beauty ads. I might add that this issue does not pertain just to young women; it also affects young men.

Given the global groundswell against the undisclosed digital enhancement of photographic images in advertising, it was no surprise that the government of Israel achieved success in March this year in introducing laws to mandate disclosure. It is now law that any advertisement published for the Israeli market must have a clearly written notice disclosing if the model shown in it was digitally altered. I have referred to Israel in my previous speeches. The facts have been put before this chamber previously.

I would like to urge this parliament not to be left behind by this international groundswell. Let's place ourselves at the forefront of the international push to require disclosure of digitally altered images in advertising not only as a matter of public health but also as a matter of protecting consumer rights to the accurate presentation of images in advertising.

Let me now turn attention from the need to regulate the digital enhancement of media images to the need for us to oppose, as a parliament, the premature sexualisation of children and young people through overtly sexual advertising. In April this year the Australian Medical Association called for a new inquiry into the premature sexualisation of children in marketing and advertising. They have subsequently been joined by media commentators and social policy advocates also insisting on the need for a new inquiry. I would urge the parliament to support this call.

In 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts undertook an inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment. The committee consulted widely with the community, received many informative and helpful submissions and came up with a raft of excellent recommendations. The inquiry put the onus on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take into account widespread community concerns. Of its 13 recommendations, we as a government have acted on two: funding a children's channel on the ABC and amending the children's television standards. There has been little action on other recommendations, including a longitudinal study into the effects of sexualisation on children, a review of music video classification, improved complaints and vetting systems and a review of the progress which was due within 18 months of the release of the 2008 report.

In 2009, a private member's motion was moved in the House of Representatives highlighting concerns about the premature sexualisation of children in the media. The motion had the support of members from the major parties. And yet still, as Dr Steve Hambleton of the Australian Medical Association pointed out, we are left with a system of self-regulation by the advertising industry which is clearly not working.

Speaking on the Today show in April this year, Dr Hambleton revealed that the AMA decided to go public about their concerns because of a spate of advertisements appearing in the Australian media which featured very young children in images and with messages that were disturbing and sexually exploitative. 'These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it,' Dr Hambleton said. Dr Hambleton spoke of the research linking sexualised advertising with depression and eating disorders in young people as well as creating a blurring of normal sexual development in children and young people. 'There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health,' Dr Hambleton said. Further, he stated, 'The current self-regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising.'

At present, complaints about ads go to the Advertising Standards Bureau, which considers each case by reference to a code of ethics. In theory the code deems that the implication of sexual appeal in any image of a child 'will always be regarded as exploitative and degrading'. But critics say that too many ads slip through the net and that the bureau's decisions are not binding. Advertisers are simply asked to modify or withdraw ads deemed to breach the code. An increasing number of parent groups want tougher and binding regulations. Among these groups are Collective Shout and Kids Free 2B Kids, which target products and marketing that sexualise children.

Last Monday the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group hosted a Twitter forum on the topic of body image and the sexualisation of children in the media. We received several hundred comments and, on the basis of these, we perceived that the dominant mood of the public is of frustration at the amount of sexualisation going on and cynicism about the commitment of politicians to back up parents by enforcing community standards in advertising and the media. Some of the comments we received were:

the sexualisation in this country is like a tsunami hitting our shores where can u hide? TV, mags, bus shelters, music

kids & young ppl currently exposed to ads with essentially no gatekeeper. Media harm & sexploitation the norm.

Key take home message from OS inquiries is that Oz is being left behind. Lots of talk no action

I agree. It's embarrassing. Even the French are putting better boundaries around kids & sex than us

Seems that corporates can simply palm off objections to sexualised content with no ramifications

I think self regulation is a joke!

Responsibility should fall on biz and consumer but decades of history tells us this isn't enough. Govt step up!

Another interesting comment was related to smoking. It was:

Can't smok within 10m of playgrounds but I've seen many dads in them wear explicit porn shirts

Another one was:

child on child sexual abuse increasing like never seen b4, what changed? the children or the society they grew up in?

It seems, at least anecdotally, that the mood in the community concurs with the view of the AMA that stronger action is needed to stop the practice of pushing adult themes to young children. In its statement in April the AMA said:

We urge the Government to start a new Inquiry with the view to introducing tougher measures, including legislation, to protect the health and development of our children by shielding them from sexualised and other inappropriate advertising.

Since the AMA statement in April other media commentators and social policy advocates have come out in support of Dr Hambleton. They point to significant new research which has been done since the 2008 inquiry, exploring the links between sexualisation of children in the media and detrimental health outcomes.

I put it to you, my parliamentary colleagues, that the mounting body of new evidence from Australia and overseas needs to be reviewed and considered with a view to introducing more realistic and enforceable regulation of the advertising industry. We need to decide as elected representatives what is more important for our society: that the advertising industry flourish unfettered, regardless of whose welfare they might be putting at risk, or that we show enough concern for younger members of our society at vulnerable stages of their development to examine the research and introduce legislation which protects their right to healthy development.

I have spoken on numerous occasions in this chamber about the sexualisation of children in advertising. I know that there is a lot of support around the chamber for the idea that changes be made to advertising regulations, and I urge my colleagues to support a review of the regulations. The onus is on us to protect the most vulnerable people in our community. Without a doubt the greatest gift we can give to our community is the protection of our young people and children. I urge this parliament to support calls for a new inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising and media.