Following the June 2011 Government-commissioned report on the sexualisation of children, the Advertising Standards Authority has published new guidance on sexual imagery in outdoor ads and seven media regulators have set up a new website for parental feedback. George Pearse reports.
Who: Department for Education, the Advertising Standards Authority and the website, ParentPort
When: October 2011
Law stated as at: 31st October 2011
In June this year, the Department for Education published 'The Bailey Review' (the "Review"), a report concerning the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. The Review adopted a broad brush approach to the issue and aimed to establish ways in which businesses, parents and regulators alike could help to "reduce the pressures of the commercial world and of premature sexualisation to a minimum".
The Review aimed to bring outdoor advertising more into line with what parents find acceptable whilst also trying to make public space more family-orientated and friendly. Whilst the Review did not envisage the need for any new primary legislation to be introduced at this stage, a number of suggestions emerged as how to best go about achieving its aims.
The Review also addressed the idea of children as consumers. Whilst children need to be protected from marketers overstepping the mark, it was acknowledged that we live in commercial times and there are certain benefits to having children exposed to a modicum of commercial activity. The Review envisaged achieving this moderation with comprehensive regulation that incorporates parental opinion, conscientious marketers and finally the improving of parental awareness of marketing techniques.
The Review encouraged the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") to conduct more regular research with both parents and children in order to firstly gauge their opinions about the current advertising and marketing regulations in place to protect children. It was felt that ASA interpretation of the CAP Code should reflect parental views. Secondly, the ASA should work in conjunction with the advertising industry in order to raise awareness of such regulations and furthermore, complaints procedures.
Since then the industry has responded.
Action by the ASA
The ASA has responded strongly to the Review, which suggested that more needs to be done in order to reduce the amount of alfresco advertising that contains sexualised content in locations where children are likely to encounter it, near schools for example.
In order to effectively implement the Review's proposals about protecting children from "irresponsible sexual imagery", the ASA has established a two-tier approach. Complaints that are submitted to the ASA concerning advertisements with such subject matter will be reviewed in light of evidence that has been received about the public's views on the subject. As a body that makes decisions on behalf of the public, the ASA is keen to give as much weight as possible to public opinion. The new approach is as follows:
Step 1: Outdoor advertising will be carefully considered, taking into account new evidence of the public's opinion of outdoor images.
Step 2: In light of the Review, there will now be a focus on images in locations where restrictions on sexual content are most strongly needed. This should help create a proportionate response to the advertising of sexually suggestive imagery.
The ASA has stated that its approach will also develop on a case by case basis, as new adjudications are decided over the coming months. In its recently released statement, the ASA lists factors that it will take into account when judging complaints.
These include the nature of the product advertised, both the context and location of the advertisement, the medium in which it appears and finally the audience and their likely response to the image. Specific examples of what is and what is not acceptable for outdoor publication are featured here.
Establishment of www.ParentPort.org.uk
Another suggestion in the Review was that industry regulators should facilitate collecting parental feedback with the creation of a single, user-friendly website.
In response to this has come the launch of the ParentPort website, established by the following UK media regulators; the ASA, the Authority for Television on Demand, the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification, the Office of Communication, the Press Complaints Commission and the Video Standards Council, all working in collaboration.
The website aims to provide straightforward information for parents as to what action they can take when they (or their children) feel they have witnessed something inappropriate, with the regulators setting and enforcing standards across the media to protect children from inappropriate material.
The website's complaints procedure allows parents to direct their concern to the correct regulator with a series of simple steps. There is also a section which permits informal feedback to be relayed in the expectation that regulators will review the comments in order to better gauge public opinion on the subjects of commercialisation and sexualisation of children as a whole. Finally there is direction as to how parents can best go about ensuring their children's safety online and guidance for parents about how they can proceed about product
Why this matters:
It is encouraging that the advertising industry has responded constructively on an issue which is clearly front of mind for many UK parents and on which the Coalition Government has obviously struck a chord. Whether these measures will in themselves prove sufficient to turn back a cultural tide that some see overwhelming UK childhood remains to be seen.