Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws appear to support claims by The Australia Institute that retailer David Jones used advertisements that intentionally sexualised children as young as 10, according to the Director of advocacy group Kids Free 2B Kids Julie Gale. The documents reveal a brief outlining that the girls, aged 10 and 12, should be portrayed as “slightly more adult and sexy”.

But it looks like David Jones and Saatchi & Saatchi have found a fall guy, citing a “freelance photographer” as the author of the memo.

The FoI request was made by Gale to the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG), which regulates the employment of child models. Gale initially submitted her FOI request in May last year after the controversy surrounding the 2006 release of The Australia Institute’s “Corporate paedophilia – sexualising children by advertising and marketing” report which led to David Jones suing the institute and its then director Clive Hamilton.

The girls appeared in an Alison Ashley advertisement created by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for David Jones:

According to Gale, “… it also interested me that the lawsuit was dropped just before the senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment.”

The Australia Institute’s accompanying media release to the study back in 2006 stated:

Children are increasingly being portrayed in clothing and posed in ways designed to draw attention to adult sexual features that they do not yet possess … Children are being er-ticised in the interests of the corporate bottom line.

It is particularly disturbing that this exploitation of young children appears to be becoming accepted as mainstream. Major retail chains such as David Jones and Myer have jumped on the bandwagon…

David Jones was the only company to pursue legal action under the Trades Practices Act. In a statement of claim filed in the Federal Court, David Jones said it had suffered “loss or damage” as a result of the actions of the institute and Dr Hamilton. The statement said: “David Jones does not knowingly cause the publication of material which can be used by paedophiles for their s-xual gratification.”

David Jones dropped the legal action in May 2008.

Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids lodged a request for all documents relating to advertising involving children by David Jones in the three months leading up to the Corporate Pedophilia report.

On July 1st 2008 OCG provided Gale with 225 documents but withheld nine. Gale told Crikey she was “… surprised to learn that the OCG had made this decision after representations from lawyers acting on behalf of Saatchi & Saatchi — the agency responsible for DJ’s advertising campaigns.”

“The efforts made by Saatchi & Saatchi to prevent public access to certain documents intensified my curiosity,” says Gale. “…so I made a request to see the nine documents.”

After an internal review — this was refused. Gale then went to the NSW Ombudsman who redetermined that certain information be released to her. Kerry Boland of the OCG wrote to Gale on the 1st April:

Following a written suggestion from the NSW Ombudsman, I have redetermined your application and concluded that some phrases in those pages are not exempt under clauses 7(1)(b), 7(1)(c) or 13(a) of Schedule 1 in the FoI Act.

Gale waited the required 60 days in the event of an appeal and then emailed the OCG. She received this response from Boland on Friday evening:

In response to your complaint to the Ombudsman I redetermined your application and decided that some additional material should be released. As you know, I then had to wait until the end of the time during which an appeal could be lodged against that decision. That period ends today and I have been informed that there will not be an appeal.

The additional information that can now be released is as follows:

  • Allison Ashley’s spread is set around a tropical garden and pool.
  • The age is from 10 to 12 years so slightly more adult and sexy.

My redetermination was made in accordance with section 52A of the FoI Act, following a recommendation from the Ombudsman. I understand that the Ombudsman’s investigating officer has concluded that release of those two sentences would resolve your complaint.

Gale told Crikey that she was set to write back over the weekend to ask for more information such as context, who wrote the memo and when the document was dated, when she “was totally shocked to see the information appearing in The Daily Telegraph only hours later.”

“However it seems that the journalist has been provided with much more information than I was given,” says Gale. The article, headlined ‘Row brews over children’s ‘sexy’ David Jones ad‘ reveals that the “s-xy” reference was submitted by a freelance photographer:

An email obtained by The Daily Telegraph revealed that a freelance photographer working for Saatchi & Saatchi told the Children’s Guardian the campaign was meant to be a bit provocative.

“The age is from 10 to 12 years so slightly more adult and sexy,” the photographer said.

The correspondence was revealed to David Jones after it sued think-tank The Australia Institute over a 2006 discussion paper on “corporate pedophilia”, a case that was settled out of court.

“Apart from The Ombudsman, the OCG, David Jones, Saatchi & Saatchi and Clayton Utz — I was the only other person with this information,” Gale told Crikey. Comments from David Jones and Saatchi & Saatchi in The Daily Telegraph story seem to lay the blame at the freelance photographer’s feet:

David Jones’ group marketing manager Damian Eales said DJs had “strict policies” to ensure children were portrayed as children in their advertising.

“We do not believe that the freelancer did the right thing in writing it,” he added.

A Saatchi & Saatchi spokesman said the freelancer no longer worked for them.

“Who is this ‘freelance photographer’?” says Gale, and “why would DJ’s spend loads of money on a campaign and allow the ‘photographer’ to dictate how the shoot goes?”

Gale has today requested more information from the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian.