By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — Following the decision of the Western Australian government to restrict the distribution of People and Picture magazines to outlets registered for the sale of "adult publications", the Victorian government announced that it would ask the chief Commonwealth censor to impose a national ban on the public display of advertising posters featuring naked or semi-naked women.
These developments follow some 150 complaints to the chief censor about recent issues of the two magazines, which are published by Kerry Packer's Australian Consolidated Press. People featured a cover picture of a naked woman on all fours wearing a dog collar. Picture illustrated an article about hunting which showed a laser aimed at a woman's genitals and the words "Killing's never been so easy or so much fun".
The complaints from women's and community groups said that these magazines were inciting hatred and violence against women. Liz Connor of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence Propaganda told the April 24 Age: "Women's feelings of unsafety can only be intensified when the community tolerates representations which endorse, celebrate and instruct violence against women.
"On a day-to-day basis, women have to face these magazines in petrol stations, milk bars and newsagencies, in their workplaces and within their homes.
"This constant reminder that violence against women is not responded to as criminal behaviour, and is instead made into profits for the producers of Picture, is in fact an accurate indication of prevalent attitudes about violence against women, and of the daily corroding of women's feelings of well-being, worth and safety."
Responding to accusations by conservative Age columnists Geoffrey Barker and Terry Lane that CASVP and other women's groups were arguing for a new era of "neo-wowserism", Anne Gunter of the Women's Electoral Lobby said that if Aborigines or any recently arrived ethnic group were displayed weekly and publicly as objects for violence, exploitation and vilification, there would be demands for racial vilification and racist incitement laws.
"We do not ask much", she wrote in a letter to the Age. "The unfortunates whose enjoyment of vicarious abuse of women keeps these publications solvent, will find fodder for their tastes illegally if not legally. We merely ask, as equal citizens, that we and our children not be confronted by such material every time we pass or patronise newsagents, milkbars, service stations, railway stations and convenience or liquor stores."
Christine Craik, the Australian Democrats spokesperson on women's affairs, urged national censorship of magazines like People and Picture. "It's not nudity that's the problem. It's the fact that these magazines celebrate and instruct violence against women." Writer and lawyer Jocelyn Scutt also applauded the WA and Victorian moves. "Let men buy or hire these goods if they will, but make them trail off to some industrial area to do so", she argued in a feature article in the April 26 Sunday Age. "This ... may make them recognise their anti-social behaviour and, hopefully, change it."
A Democratic Socialist Party spokesperson, Pat Brewer, said that there were dangers that the move on advertising posters could end up strengthening censorship laws. "The recent examples from People and Picture magazines are just a few of many more anti-women images used to make a profit. They have become ubiquitous, and women are angry.
"However, censorship is not an effective strategy to combat sexism. At best it forces it underground and at worst even promotes it."
Brewer said sexism was best combated by addressing the real inequalities between women and men and by the promotion of education and debate on these issues. At present, publishers and distributors could require outlets to display particular posters; this power should be outlawed so that the outlets could respond to community concern about offensive material.
Victorian attorney-general Jim Kennan also announced on April 23 plans to make the possession of child pornography an offence. Currently only trading in child pornography is an offence, and the Victorian police have complained that this makes prosecution difficult.