Tuesday 26 July 2011

Limited access art

One of my favourite London magazines, The Stylist [not only free, but full of great content – bit like this blog] recently ran a short piece of news from my homeland. It reported that the Australian government [not known to be the most liberal of governments] had issued a report urging that works of art, as visual works, be given an age-restriction classification in the same way as films. Intrigued I did some digging and, voila, stumbled across the Australian Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee's “Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance”. Unfortunately, not only is the title a mouthful, but the report itself is huge. So in my quest to achieve the right balance between too much information and not enough [and between work and life], here is a summary of the main points I picked up.

- The Senate referred the Australian film and literature classification scheme to the committee for inquiry and report, with particular reference to inter alia the application of the National Classification Scheme to works of art and the role of artistic merit in classification decisions.

- In the committee's view, the National Classification Scheme is flawed in a number of key areas including: (i) Aside from the complexity of its legislative framework, the scheme does not protect children from material that is likely to harm them; nor does it protect others more broadly from exposure to unsolicited material that they may find offensive, and (ii) 'Artistic merit' remains a defence to child pornography and child abuse material offences in many states, meaning that sexualised images of naked children can be exhibited in public galleries under the guise of 'art'. [This refers to the case of photographer Bill Henson whose artworks were seized by police from an exhibition in Sydney in 2008 due to the fact that they depicted naked children (of 12 and 13).]

- Accordingly, the committee believes that significant changes should be made to the National Classification Scheme.

- As a starting point, the committee identified several key principles should underlie a classification scheme in Australia.

- One of these principles is the application of the National Classification Scheme to artworks. In this respect, the committee noted that the application of the National Classification Scheme to artworks for public exhibition or display is limited. In the committee's view, obtaining classification will assist in ensuring that audiences can be provided with appropriate advice (and, where necessary, warnings) regarding the nature of the artwork. However, since the cost of application fees for classification could present difficulties to artists, the classification of artworks should be exempt from those fees.

- The committee also strongly opposes the inclusion of the artistic merit defence for child pornography offences in state legislation [which was removed from the NSW laws following the Henson case]. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, pursue with relevant states the removal of the artistic merit defence for child pornography offences.

It is not really clear where we go from here. That could however just be because my knowledge of Australian Constitutional Law is a distant memory. So, if anyone knows, please enlighten us.

If you would like to read the whole report, you can find it here.

Image from olinda.com

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