Hypocrite Garrett has forced the Australia Council into territory of ridicule: it has to request artists to even take images taken 18 years ago of fully clothed children of their websites if they want to continue to receive funding. And as for the removal of naked children: what is not already addressed by the law to protect children that the Australia Council’s new rules are forced to cover? Nothing. Apart from what lurks behind the new catch cry: exploitation.
Arts council pulls the wool, hat and trench coat over our eyes
Sydney Morning Herald
December 19, 2008
With a scrubbing brush in one hand and a packet of Ajax in the other, the Australia Council is scouring the internet of art. It’s not the arts bureaucrats’ fault, poor wretches. Being the cleaning ladies of the cyber age is not what they signed up for. They had dreams of “cultivating the nation’s creativity” until the Rudd Government put them to work to scrub pictures of children from the net.
Not pornographic pictures. Not obscene pictures. Not just pictures of naked kids. We’re talking any pictures of children at all. Once the council’s new “Protocols for Working with Children” come into effect on January 1, arts funding will be ripped from anyone posting pictures of children on the internet unless onerous conditions are met.
The nation is moving deep into wacky territory. Trials of compulsory internet filtering are about to start.
A poor bloke in Queensland is in court for forwarding from one internet site to another a weird but happy sequence of an adult swinging a kid around. And now the Australia Council is getting into the business of busting art online.
Even the glimpse of a child will be enough to attract the council’s scrubbing brush. A hand or a foot will do.
Children don’t have to be recognisable. They don’t even need to look much like children. Artists can out-Picasso Picasso all they like, but if they use a “real child under the age of 18” to make their picture – or poster or print or video or digital projection or sculpture – then it can’t go on the internet unless permissions demanded by the protocols are obtained.
Here’s how silly it is: the photograph of a 17-year-old dressed from top to toe in hat, gloves, greatcoat and working boots can’t be put on the net after January 1 by any artist or organisation taking Australia Council funding unless the parents or guardians of that overdressed model consent to the image being there. That the young person is old enough to drive and consent to have sex doesn’t matter. Unless Mummy and Daddy say so, the picture can’t go up.
While an unvoiced terror of the net seems to be at the heart of them, the protocols also apply to all books, magazines, advertising and catalogues funded by the Australia Council. The rule is: no publication without permission.
So here’s another weird possibility: the council could fund an exhibition of sculptures of fully clothed children but forbid publication of a catalogue of the show because a parent or guardian somewhere can’t be found to give permission. Note: we’re talking fully clothed children.
So photographs taken back in the early 1990s can’t be published now by Australia Council-funded organisations unless the child models can be tracked down and permission obtained – either from them if they are grown up or from their parents and guardians if they’re still kids.
“These are very onerous conditions that amount to de facto censorship,” says Tamara Winikoff of the National Association for the Visual Arts. “It seems excessively paranoid and misdirected.” She believes that after January 1 galleries and organisations that take core funding from the council will be stripping images of children from their websites.
The Australia Council didn’t wish this on itself. It is acting under orders from the Rudd Government following the Bill Henson uproar. The Arts Minister, Peter Garrett, says: “The Government is pleased that a rigorous process undertaken by the Australia Council, at the request of the Government, has delivered protocols which will now provide clear and sufficient certainty for artists applying for funding through the council.”
No one is quibbling with new protocols on the creation of art. They are fine: artists funded by the council must now vouch that they’re not breaking the law when they work with children, and that the parents have both given their full consent and supervised their children at work.
The trouble begins with the council’s weird restrictions on publication. What is the harm they address that is not already addressed by laws on child pornography, obscenity, defamation, employment, child welfare, copyright and privacy?
The protocols talk of fresh obligations arising from “the ease with which images and written depictions can be distributed nationally and internationally” on the internet. So what? We’re not talking porn or filth here. There are laws to deal with that. We’re talking art.
What’s wrong with paintings and prints and posters and photographs having the widest possible distribution on the net?
“Exploitation,” is the reply of the patient officers of the Australia Council. “The exploitation of a person’s image when they are not of an age to give permission.”
But if the images aren’t being sold, how are the models being exploited? “Because the artist is increasing his profile.”
But what’s the harm to the child in that? “Exploitation.”
The protocols won’t be policed. No plans are on foot, alas, to form an art squad in the Australian Federal Police. So, there are those who denounce the new rules as political rubbish that can be safely ignored. But if you take the radical view that all involved will follow the protocols scrupulously, the result’s going to be one hell of mess.