Reclaiming Public Space: outdoor advertising industry put on notice in committee report

Tighter scrutiny and accountability recommended

A parliamentary report tabled today has recommended a tightening up of the outdoor advertising industry through a more rigorous system of self-regulation. Outdoor advertising is one of the least regulated forms of advertising yet the hardest to avoid - billboards have a captive audience and cannot be turned off.


In Collective Shout’s submission to the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising, we wrote:

Collective Shout is critical of the self‐regulatory system and believes the advertising industry has used self‐regulation to its commercial advantage, to the detriment of the community, and women and girls in particular. The self‐regulation model enables the advertising industry to be seen to be responsible and to avoid real scrutiny of its long history of irresponsible and profit‐driven behaviour.

We have identified a range of inadequacies in the current system, including a weak code of ethics, the voluntary nature of the code, lack of pre-vetting, the Advertising Standards Board’s lack of power to order removal of advertisements, inadequate monitoring, de-sensitisation of panel members, little to no consultation with child development experts, and no meaningful penalties to provide any real incentive for advertisers to change their behavior.

sex-unzipped.jpgThe Committee’s 19 recommendations go some way to addressing our concerns. We are particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which relate to issues of objectification of women Of course as forms of discriminatory practice. It is extraordinary that in the Advertising Standard Board’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women is not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.

Recommendation 4—Australian Government

The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department investigate, through its anti-discrimination legislation consolidation project, how to include the unrestricted display of racist or sexualised images in the public space under the scope of discriminatory practice.

Recommendation 8— Australian Association of National Advertisers

The Committee recommends that the Australian Association of National Advertisers amend its Advertising Code of Ethics to proscribe sexual objectification of men, women and children.

We also welcome Recommendation 1: that industry bodies report to the Attorney-General’s Department by 30 December 2011 detailing their responses and how the relevant recommendations will be implemented and that that they provide a comprehensive report to the AG’s Department by 30 December 2012 detailing how the recommendations have been implemented and 2: If the self-regulatory system is found lacking, the Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department impose a self-funded co-regulatory system on advertising with government input into advertising codes of practice.

We also welcome the exposure of recalcitrant advertisers outlined in Recommendation 18: that the Advertising Standards Bureau address instances of advertiser non-compliance by establishing a dedicated webpage that names advertisers, and their products, who have breached advertising standards or refused to comply with Board determinations.

If the industry wants to keep self-regulation, it has to show it is worthy of it.

See also: Crackdown on racy billboards, Sky News

Collective Shout’s concerns about objectification of women taken up by Senate committee

How the advertising industry and classification system fail women

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