Jan 29, 2010

Has Australia really banned small breasts?

The internet is buzzing with outrage over claims the Australian Government has banned the depiction of naked A-cup breasts in films in case it encourages pedophilia. Never let the truth get in the way of a good trending Twitter topic.

The internet has its "outraged" face on over news that the Australian Classification Board plans to refuse classification to films depicting A-cup breasts in case it encourages pedophilia. The story was kickstarted by a press release on Wednesday from the Australian Sex Party on the censorship of female ejaculation in film, which included the statement:
The Board has also started to ban depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films. This is in response to a campaign led by Kids Free 2 B Kids and promoted by Barnaby Joyce and Guy Barnett in Senate Estimates late last year. Mainstream companies such as Larry Flint’s Hustler produce some of the publications that have been banned. These companies are regulated by the FBI to ensure that only adult performers are featured in their publications. “We are starting to see depictions of women in their late 20s being banned because they have an A cup size”, she said. “It may be an unintended consequence of the Senator’s actions but they are largely responsible for the sharp increase in breast size in Australian adult magazines of late”.
The piece was seized upon by website Somebody Think of the Children ("discussing censorship and moral panic in Australia"), blaring the headline "Australia bans small breasts":
The Australian Sex Party (ASP) said Wednesday that the Australian Classification Board (ACB) is now banning depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films. It comes just a week after it was found that material with depictions of females ejaculating during orgasm are now Refused Classification and Australian Customs directed to confiscate it.
The post quickly went viral around the likes of Twitter and Reddit, and was picked up by popular UK tech site The Register and snarky feminist blog Jezebel, prompting even more fist shaking and outrage. But it looks like the critics are the ones guilty of "moral panic" in this case. As an apparently more level-headed member of the Australian anti-censorship movement found after a bit of investigation:
One publishing  company mentioned, no specific decisions cited, no basis for the story other than the an unconfirmed statement by a leading figure of a political party. ... There is no information from the Classification Board on any specific ban, only a general statement that publications with depictions of persons who appear to be under 18 must be refused classification (that is, banned). The second article also says Ms Patten attended a training session at the Censorship Board where she was shown material that had been refused classificiation due to the size of women's breasts in the material. The article says Ms Patten says some of the banned titles include "Barely Legal", Finally Legal" and "Purely 18" - the links go to the Classification Board's database showing the bans on each of those publications. However, one of these bans was made in 2008, one in 2003, and the rest in 2001 or before.
For its part, the Australian Classification Board has responded to the original Somebody Think of the Children post:
A spokesperson for the ACB told me today that publications which contain offensive depictions or descriptions of persons who are or appear to be persons under the age of 18 (whether they are engaged in sexual activity or not) must be classified RC. They said the Board classifies publications on a case by case basis, in accordance with the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications, the Code and the Classification Act and that the Publications Guidelines do not specify breast size.
Not that the internet seems to have taken notice, as the original story continues to gain traction around the web. Never let the truth get in the way of a good trending Twitter topic. UPDATE 12/02: Given this topic is continuing to generate interest -- particularly due to the recent cyber attack on Australian government websites over the issue -- here's the latest from Somebody Think of the Children:
The Australian Classification Board (ACB) has confirmed to Somebody Think Of The Children that a person’s overall appearance is used by the Board to determine whether someone appears to look under the age of 18 in a film or publication. ... Asked whether breast size was considered by the Board when determining age, McDonald said he had no further comment to make.

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139 thoughts on “Has Australia really banned small breasts?

  1. Ms Naughty

    I’d like to weigh in and say that while the “Australia bans small breasts” headline may have been a bit over-the-top, it did an excellent job of drawing attention to the main issues involved. Issues which too many mainstream media outlets are happy to ignore because “it’s just porn”.

    But it’s not “just porn”. We’re talking about censorship here. And we’re also talking about the increasing moral panic surrounding child abuse and child porn.

    The Classification Board have only confirmed that they follow “the guidelines” but they haven’t actually said how they interpret the rules and the interpretation is everything. Fact is, arbitrary decisions about what Australians can see, hear and read are being made by a small group of people who are not elected and who don’t seem to rely on evidence for their decisions.

    The guideline that bans models who “appear to be under 18” is supposed to be part of the fight against child porn. But how does it *actually* protect children? If the (presumably small-breasted) model is over 18, she’s legal so no crime has occurred. As far as I can tell, the rule exists solely to discourage people from thinking that a young-looking woman is sexy. But that’s thought crime.

    And in the process, the rule defines a certain body type as being automatically juvenile. Which is rather insulting to those adult Australian women who might happen to be thin, or have small boobs, or who generally “look young”.

    The same goes for the female ejaculation issue. The Board have yet to officially say they don’t think it’s urination. But even if they do think it is… why are some sex acts and some bodily fluids declared to be “abhorrent” and others not? And this comes back to the official “guidelines” as to what aspects of human sexuality are “decent” and what’s “obscene”.

    How is it that in 2010 we have censors deciding what adults can see, hear and read in the privacy of their own homes? Why is it anyone’s business if an adult wishes to see depictions of female ejaculation, or “golden showers” for that matter? Why do we still rely on “community standards” to define what’s “offensive to reasonable adults” when the internet means we’re now part of a global yet incredibly diverse “community”? And when the internet means that an individual’s use of adult material can remain completely private within the confines of their own home?

    These are the issues hiding behind an inflammatory headline. I’m glad it snowballed the way it did because it at least gets us talking about the issue. And in the light of the planned internet filter, censorship is something every Australian needs to think about.

  2. David Jackmanson

    Glengyron, I am the journalist who wrote the article demonstrating that the Sex Party’s claims have not yet been backed up by evidence.

    We don’t know from the published articles that the Classification Board was even asked if the bans mentioned by Ms Patten were in fact based on breast size.

    I do understand this issue and understand that the Classification Board must refuse classification to publications with pictures of people who appear to be under 18. But the simple fact is the claims made by Ms Patten have not yet been independently verified. Fact-checking things like this is important if we want to keep our credibility in the face of a pro-censorship movement that would love to catch us out.

    To independently verify this story we’d need to know the names of the publishers who say their publications have been banned, the names of the publications, and ideally the chance to see copies of the notice from the Classification Board saying that classification has been refused or revoked. Until then, we only have the word of Ms Patten. While I support Ms Patten’s political aims, she is a partisan and any publication that reports her words as fact without verifying them is doing propaganda, not journalism. Which is fine but it needs to be seen as such, and when such propaganda that can’t be shown to be true spreads quickly throughout the Net and misleads people, it damages the anti-censorship cause.

  3. glengyron

    David, given that Fiona Pattern is even here in this thread I don’t think it’s that hard to clarify the story. It’s a matter of seeing if one of the four other companies is willing to come forward and corroborate the story. Given the fact that they have to get future product past the censors that might take a bit of work, but it’s eminently possible.

    The opacity in this story is in the guidelines and decision making that occurs at ACB. Turning a spotlight on the ASP doesn’t seem to be pointing in the right direction.

    The ACB has certainly not said that breast size is irrelevant to classification decisions, which they could easily do.

  4. Melinda Reist

    Thanks for cutting through Australian Sex Party panic on this Ruth. Another reality check can be found here.


  5. gerard

    So what is the policy on big breasts on under 18 years old? Some very young have size D and might well make it past the censor’s loupe.

    Talking about the loupe, how about looking at breasts with just one eye or just squinting? Would that be allowed?

    We must stay alert but not tumescent.


  6. David Jackmanson

    Glengyron, the point is that the story was *not* confirmed before publication. It’s sensationalist and can’t be shown to be true based on currently available information.

    I suspect that there may well be pressure on the Classification Board to ban more magazines of the “barely legal” type. And it’s entirely possible, even likely, that breast size is a big factor in making decisions to ban these magazines or not. But the simple fact is we have only the unverified word of someone who is both a partisan in this issue, and who represents organisations with commercial interests in these decisions. That is perfectly legitimate, and I broadly support the aims of the Australian Sex Party. However I don’t accept the word of any partisan in any issue without checking for myself.

  7. Ben

    Melinda Reist, I believe you are blurring the difference between correlation and causation.

    Yes paedophiles and rapists use porn (for the 99% of people who don’t commit sex crimes), but that in no way proves that porn made them into sexual deviants.

    Many of these research pieces look at porn as the first step, then trace it back to the paedophiles instead of the other way around.

    For every research piece that says that porn is evil, there is another which says that it isn’t and could even decrease the rate of sex crimes.

  8. barry saunders

    A spokesperson for the ACB told me today that publications which contain offensive depictions or descriptions of persons who are or appear to be persons under the age of 18 (whether they are engaged in sexual activity or not) must be classified RC. They said the Board classifies publications on a case by case basis, in accordance with the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications, the Code and the Classification Act and that the Publications Guidelines do not specify breast size.

    The point being then, that the ACB can make a call on how old someone appears, regardless of how old they are? How, exactly, are they making this judgement?

  9. Fiona Patten

    David J,
    I assume that my word is not good enough.

    Sadly the response from the Classification Board is vague at best when questioned about their decisions.
    It is not easy to get board reports and the reports given lack detail including the ones regarding the revocation of classification.

    When we last asked to see a report we were told that would need to apply via FOI.

    David, I do however have some letters regarding revocation of classification. In the main they just state that the image appeared to be under 18 and give no reason why they came to that decision. There are also some instances where they will cite the setting of the photo and the clothing worn by the model.

    But they said categorically in the training session that breast size was relevant in their decisions.

    If you want to contact me outside this forum about doing a story in more detail. I will try and help

  10. David Jackmanson

    Ms Patten, the word of no political partisan is good enough to remain unchecked. Would you believe something Mr Rudd or Mr Abbott said on a political matter without checking it? I certainly wouldn’t.

    However I’d welcome the chance to see details of Classification Board documents about political decisions so I can write a properly detailed, non-sensationalised article about the problems with our censorship regime. I will email you via the Australian Sex Party.

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