Monday, 21 December 2009

They Make It Sound So Appealing
Just one day after it was made official, there are calls to shelve changes to the code of practice for commercial television stations.

Television programs like the crime series Underbelly thrive on on-screen nudity and raunchy sex scenes. And while they attract controversy, they also corner huge audiences.

Now, the Christian group Family Voice Australia is worried that a new code of practice gives commercial TV networks the green light to push the boundaries of decency further.

Ros Phillips, the group's national research officer, says she is concerned that it waters down the guidelines to allow explicit pornography at 9pm, "when many children are still watching".

What has piqued her concern is a change to the guidelines for sex scenes in programs rated MA. Previously, the industry's code of practice required sex to be portrayed discreetly.

But the new guidelines only require sex scenes to follow the storyline and not be high in impact.

"Higher than what?" says Ms Phillips.

"As we've seen over the years, what one person thinks is high is not necessarily what the program manager for Channel 10 thinks."

That is a reference to a long running stoush over the Channel 10 show, Californication.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has upheld a complaint by Family Voice about one of the show's sex scenes.

"Absolute ... it was a threesome and it was extremely explicit," she says.

"I won't go into details, but if it wasn't for that word 'discreetly' in the guidelines, that complaint wouldn't have been upheld."

But media commentator Sue Turnbull from La Trobe University in Melbourne says the group is overreacting.

"If this particular group don't know what real pornography looks like, then maybe they should see some, so that they can actually make the kinds of distinctions that the people that are doing this classification make every day," she said.

Family Voice Australia is also worried about new guidelines for the new digital channels the networks have launched.

While the core channels will still be required to show only G-rated programs in the hours before and after school on weekdays and in the mornings at weekends, the new channels will not be.

"The new digital televisions provide all sorts of capacities for parents to lock their children out," says Ms Turnbull.

"In fact, if this family organisation is being really sensible, what it should be doing is talking about sex education, media education, media literacy.

"And what parents can actually do in the home as responsible parenting just to ensure that their kids know what's out there, know how to cope with it and are not traumatised by something that they might come across that can just kind of switch on past it and go 'yeah, I don't want to look at that'."
I liked Californication when it first came on the air. I got bored of the show midway through season 2 which by that time had descended into the formulaic escalated by the ever-more improbable storyline. So I stopped watching.

I remember that threesome scene. And that counts as porn? This demonstrates that we don't need an internet filter, it seems that if that is what counts as porn to this group then the internet is self-censoring enough already. From memory, the scene was quite funny. Like most of the sex in that show, it seemed more for comic effect than arousal.

But to be serious for a moment, once again the notion of a nanny state is rearing its ugly head. The guidelines for free to air already put such content on at a late time, but that never really seems to be good enough. The fact that there is a ratings system already should be enough to inform parents about how to make decisions affecting their parental responsibility for their children. But no, it's not enough.

Sue Turnbull makes a lot of sense here, and it's a shame that these moralists don't go down such a pragmatic path. Like the abstinence-only education proponents, it seems to be that those moralists are set on pushing their agenda (in this case the removal of sex from television) than it is for better practical outcomes for children. Why not put forth opportunities to help parents on how to use new technology? Why not push for more awareness of ratings? Instead we get hyperbolic rhetoric and the hysteric cry of "won't someone please think of the children!?!"

What adults watch in their own homes is their business. The law is already quite restrictive on what can be put on television at what times. Even on at adults-only times I've seen sex scenes cut from movies, profanity cut from dialogue, violence reduced, etc. Even something innocuous like Homer Simpson's infamous line "To alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems" doesn't air with the reruns of that memorable episode.

And what is all of this over? Essentially nothing. You can see more arousing television at 9am on a Saturday morning, just that they call them music clips. There's more arousing imagery put on billboards to advertise pretty much everything. Even a recent trip to a clothing store was full of scantily-clad women suggestively posing. Porn at 9pm? I wish. Hyperbolic rhetoric makes the concept sound so much more appealing than the reality.

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