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All honour to Frances Killaly who made a complaint to the Australian Press Council about the use of pictures of random Aboriginal children in the Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald to illustrate stories about abuse of children in Indigenous Australian communities. (The story was reported in the rival The Australian).

Dishonour to all the newspapers, (including The Australian) which continue to illustrate stories (mostly negative) with pictures of random Aboriginal kids as 'emotional wallpaper' (evoking the 'gag-me-with-a-spoon' reaction that Will Owen had to the Australian's doggerel ad).

And absolutely totally completely all dishonour to their self-regulatory body, the Australian Press Council which found there was no case.

Adjudication No. 1369 (adjudicated September 2007)
"In dismissing complaints over the use of pictures of Aboriginal children in reports on the Prime Minister's plan to address matters of child abuse in Northern territory communities, the Australian Press Council reaffirms that newspapers and magazines have a duty to inform the public of important issues and have the right to illustrate these issues with photographs. However, they need to take special care when those images deal with children in circumstances where a false inference can be drawn.....While acknowledging Ms Killaly's genuine concerns the Council does not believe the publication of the pictures indicated the children had been abused."

So what if the photographs aren't of children who have anything to do with the problem? In a story about sex abuse??????

Hey! How about illustrating a story on the hidden sexual abuse/obesity epidemic/drug-taking in wealthy suburbs of Sydney with cute pictures of white kids playing on green lawns, say... identifiable pix of Rupert Murdoch's kids, or of kids linked to editors of The Australian, or to Jack Herman of the Australian Press Council?

The newspapers claim the parents gave consent for the pictures. I wonder if they can document this? I wonder if the parents really knew the implications of giving consent - was it informed consent? No way would Rupert or Jack Herman, or the journos give consent for pictures of their kids to be used in such stories. They know too much about what pictures and text side-by-side can do.

Wanna complain? ... complaints@presscouncil.org.au


Presumably, the duty to inform the public of important issues and the right to illustrate these issues with photographs are not separate, but rather the photographs must pertain in some way to the issues of which the public is being informed. That is, I would expect that the story illustrated with a picture of, say, Rupert Murdoch, is about Rupert Murdoch in some way, as opposed to the story being about Jacques Chirac for instance, and merely being illustrated with Rupert Murdoch's picture simply because he is picturesque (how fanciful).

That said, if the only relation that holds between the subject of a photo and the subject of an article that the photo illustrates is that they have ethnicity (roughly) in common, then I would contend that the Murdoch/Chirac example is equally as permissible.

Good news! As one of the people who e-mailed a complaint about the Killaly judgment, I received an e-mail which said:

"It has decided to revisit some of the issues raised by the Killaly complaint, in particular the question of the use of photos of children to illustrate news stories. [Jack Herman, Executive Secretary of the Press Council has] been asked to write a position paper, based on previous adjudications and other ethical codes, as to when children's images can, and should be used, and when the inferences of their use might be such that they should not be used. The paper will be considered by the Council's Policy Development Committee, which will consider the need for the Council to develop a guideline statement on the issue for distribution to editors."

I guess if you know about existing codes for using photographs of children, it might be good to pass them onto the Press Council.

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