EFFORTS by the Australian Christian Lobby to censor outdoor advertising in Queensland could see final approval come down to the state’s Attorney-General.

A parliamentary review into outdoor billboards started last April after members of the ACL and other religious groups lobbied Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to intervene and increase regulation of advertising that they perceived to “sexualise children”.

After nine months, the bipartisan review recommended that an industry body be set up with the power to sanction advertisers even if no complaints were received.

If a ruling is breached, the Department of Justice or Attorney-General would ‘‘pre- vet’’ future outdoor ads. Advertisers seen to be broadcasting sexually explicit content would also be fined with escalating penalties for each subsequent offence.

Review chair Trevor Ruthenberg believed that such measures were required to combat ‘‘rogue companies that do not act in the best interest of their communities’’.

The ACL made news in 2012 following a complaint it made against the safe sex ‘Rip ‘n Roll’ campaign by the Queensland AIDS Council. Complaints were based around arguments that the ads were inappropriate for children to see in public areas.

Former QuAC executive director Paul Martin told the review to be cautious about lumping public awareness of safe sex in with explicit sexual material.

“It is not black and white. At one end of the spectrum there are things that are clearly pornographic. At the other end of the spectrum there is the ban on any public discussion and any outdoor advertising that in any way relates to sex,” he said.

“I guess our recommendation is that the line not be drawn at that extreme, that banning any discussion of sexuality and relationships in the public sphere would be detrimental to the health and well being of the community.”

A campaign from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays that featured an expectant woman holding her pregnant stomach alongside text that read “Congratulations, you’re having a lesbian” received several complaints last year based on the same claims that it was “sexualising children”.

PFLAG’s Shelley Argent said that she’d like clarification from the Justice Department on the regulations advertisers would have to follow.

“Advertisers need to have clear guidelines which should be independent, because opinions will differ from one government to another and we can’t have swinging legislation that depends on government of the day,” Argent told the Star Observer.

She highlighted the fact that advertisers were already subject to regulation by the Australian Standards Bureau and if changes were to take place, regulators would need to ensure that new guidelines were not religiously biased.

“Such bodies need to remain independent and relevant to societal standards, which could be open to abuse with the ACL having input,” Argent said.

“To be seen as fair the Attorney- General needs to ensure fairness and allow input and debate from all sides of the community.”

Bleijie said there would not be any potential issues surrounding censorship of safe sex ads from QuAC or the new Queensland HIV Foundation as the new regulations were purely focused on sexualising children.

“This is not an issue about sexual health, it is about the sexualisation of children and other adverse impacts on children through sexually explicit outdoor advertising,” he said.

“This issue is one that affects all Queenslanders as we are exposed to constant advertising in everyday life. This report will be of great use for the government as we go about ensuring children are protected”.

 

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