Tabloid Soft Porn – It’s a Child Protection Issue

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It was about fifteen years ago that I first noticed my three little boys gazing at an up-skirt shot on the front of the Star newspaper; and fifteen years ago that I made my first complaint to a store manager.

Supermarkets have since taken some steps to protect children from adult material: lads’ mags have been placed on the top shelf following the Mumsnet campaign last year, and display policies were recently tightened up further in response to the ‘Lose the Lads Mags’ campaign.

Child Eyes has also achieved some success in the battle against ‘chat mags’ with lurid headlines – such as ‘Rape First, Toys Later’ – and their placement next to children’s magazines, with Morrisons promising to conduct a review of their magazine sections. However, when it comes to tabloids containing images similar to those in lads’ mags (sometimes on the front page), as well as sensationalist sex headlines – ‘It’s OK To Have Sex With 10-Year-Olds’ was a recent offering from the Sun – there has been no such acknowledgement of any obligation to display them responsibly.

The responses from supermarkets to complaints are depressingly uniform; this one from Tesco sums them up:

“We’re in the position of offering our customers a choice rather than appointing ourselves as censors or moral guardians. This is entirely a matter for the Sun, and Tesco are not in a position to comment on editorial decisions.”

There has been a collective, wilful reluctance amongst supermarkets to accept responsibility for the in-store placement of these tabloids – other than the justification that display policies meet all age-restricted legislation, and that currently there are no such restrictions on newspapers. We have heard from David Cameron himself that it is parents’ responsibility to somehow prevent their children from seeing Page 3, so we can be fairly sure that there is no likelihood of age-restricted legislation being applied to newspapers any time soon.

Child protection is a serious issue in every other area in society, and the tabloids themselves are the first to scream ‘Perv!’ or ‘Paedo!’ So why is it that they are exempt from normal rules?

This is not good enough. If parents can’t take their children into ‘family’ supermarkets without needing to keep a constant eye out for ‘adult’ material, where can we go? Should we be leaving the kids in the car park so we can do a recce first? To check there’s no prominently-displayed images of a naked woman and the words ‘Hello Boys!’ covering her breasts? Or a sultry ‘babe’ in skimpy underwear, accompanying the headline ‘Have you seen Abby’s pussy?’ And if such covers are on prominent display, what do we do then? Enter the store by a different route? Blindfold them?

Even if this excessive vigilance were practical, what about other customers? They have the legal right to use newspapers as newspapers, flicking through them on the news-stand, opening them up to read in front of children – do we have to rely on them to be aware that there are kids around?

Of course parents have a responsibility to educate our children on these issues, but there is only so much we can do when they are constantly surrounded by images that contradict our messages – messages about respecting women, and consensual, loving relationships. These images influence young minds: in public spaces we are drip-drip-drip feeding our children the idea that women are commodities for sale, and blurring the line between sex and sexual exploitation.

This is not a ‘censorship’ issue – it’s a child-protection issue. The tabloids continue to be uniquely exempt from society’s usual measures to protect children, and, as my kids have grown up, I’ve watched these newspapers cynically exploit their protected status by using worse and worse images. Child protection is a serious issue in every other area in society, and the tabloids themselves are the first to scream ‘Perv!’ or ‘Paedo!’ So why is it that they are exempt from normal rules? I wonder how the red tops would report it, if a man approached a young boy in the street, thrust a semi-pornographic photo into his face and asked: ‘Have you seen Abby’s pussy?’

If the supermarkets can change their policy on the placement of chat mags and lads’ mags in response to customer concerns, without any change in legislation, then there’s no reason why the same can’t apply to the display of tabloids. Putting them on the top shelf is a simple solution which would not only keep these images out of children’s eyeline, but also send a strong message to readers of these tabloids that they are not suitable to be opened around kids.

So what can concerned parents do? Recently, through the campaign group Share Action, I was given the fantastic opportunity to attend both the Tesco AGM and the Sainsbury’s AGM where I was able to publicly challenge their out-going CEO Justin King. In both cases the Chairmen gave indication that this question had been expected, and it was clear that the issue of soft-porn tabloids is beginning to be a bit of a headache for those at the top.

So let’s make sure the pressure continues. No More Page 3 and Child Eyes have decided to join forces to launch the ‘Supermarkets, Top Shelf Pornpapers!’ campaign. Do join us – we need to make it clear to supermarkets that we’ve had enough, and let’s see if they really do listen to customer concerns as they claim to. I now have a daughter of fourteen and I would love her to see that society can change.

 

Originally published on Mumsnet

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