Doubts over Labor’s anti-sexist push

Article by David Rood /
The Age /
June 16, 2010 /
Click here to view original /

ADVERTISERS would strongly resist Victorian Labor plans to regulate against exploitative or discriminatory depictions of women in the media, according to industry experts.

Advertising is regulated by an industry code that prevents advertising that discriminates against women.

It is alleged breaches of this Australian Association of National Advertisers’ code that forms the basis of consumer complaints.

University of Sydney media expert Fiona Giles questioned how the proposed Victorian regulations would differ from the existing code of ethics.

Melbourne University gender and media expert Lauren Rosewarne questioned how Labor would put a ban on exploitative ads, given the advertising industry is self-regulating.

Labor is planning the regulations as part of its November election policy platform, if adopted at this weekend’s state conference.

The measures would result in advertisers being encouraged to say when an image has been digitally altered, for example to increase a woman’s breast size, and the positive presentation of women would become part of the school curriculum.

But media analyst Steve Allen said any push to regulate advertisers would be resisted.

”Regulations by and large are a proscriptive form and you can’t proscribe creative,” Mr Allen, of Fusion Strategy, said referring to the people who make ads.

Former Cosmopolitan magazine editor and chair of the federal government’s National Body Image Advisory Group Mia Freedman welcomed discussion on the policy, and said the status quo was appalling.

”If you look at any billboard, if you open any magazine, you would be excused for believing that women are uniformly five foot 10, size six to 10, white Anglo-Saxon and made of plastic,” she said.

Predicting an industry backlash against outside regulation, Ms Freedman, who writes a column for The Sunday Age, backed the disclosure of digital alteration of images.

”In real estate, you can’t have a picture of a view that doesn’t exist, there has to be a disclaimer,” she said.

Yesterday, Premier John Brumby said he and the cabinet felt strongly about advertising that exploited or sexualised women.

”The exploitation of women, and particularly portraying women in demeaning roles, is something we would not want to see,” Mr Brumby said.

Nationals leader Peter Ryan said the Coalition would welcome any crackdown, because ”all too often” the advertising industry failed to meet appropriate community standards.

But Mr Ryan accused Labor of raising the issue to distract attention from a range of policy problems, such as transport woes in Melbourne and insufficient investment in regional Victoria.

According to the Advertising Standards Bureau, concerns about discrimination and vilification as well as sex, sexuality and nudity made up more than half of the issues attracting complaints last year.