Independent Media Council rules it’s OK to talk about sex in our newspapers

Arylene Westlake-Jennings PerthNow Newspapers EditorPerthNow Local News
PerthNow Local sex columnist Jasmin Walker.
Camera IconPerthNow Local sex columnist Jasmin Walker. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

A landmark decision by the Independent Media Council has ruled it is OK for newspapers to talk about sex openly.

The IMC, a regulatory body whose purpose is to promote freedom of speech through responsible journalism and facilitate the resolution of complaints from readers, last week determined Seven West Media and PerthNow newspapers had “acted responsibly” in publishing our Sexploration column.

Michael Hope had complained the column was inappropriate for children.

“The fundamental underlying principle of the IMC’s Code of Conduct is freedom of speech, which means that the media are free to publish their own opinions as well as the opinions of others on matters of public interest,” it said in the findings.

“Sexual issues have always attracted public interest, and even more so now at a time when there have been significant changes in community attitudes as well as a greater willingness to openly discuss such matters.

“Even if it wished to, the IMC is not in the position to censor free speech or to be an arbiter of public moral values.

“SWM is free to publish opinions about the matters dealt with by the column in question and their publication is not a breach of the Code.”

While the IMC acknowledged the complainant’s concerns, it said there was value in destigmatising the discussion of sexual matters.

“There was once a time when the great majority of the public agreed that it was in the best interests of children for them to have limited knowledge about sexual matters,” the determination continued.

“While some people still hold to that view, the flood of revelations about historical child sexual abuse has shown that sexually ignorant children are more vulnerable to exploitation.

“This along with the greater openness in society about sexual matters has led to many (if not most) parents deciding that they can best protect their children by ensuring that they receive an early and age-appropriate sexual education.

“In this context SWM has acted responsibly in placing the ‘Sexploration’ column on a page headed ‘Parental Guidance’.

“In the end it is the parents who must guide their children towards healthy attitudes about sex and some (particularly those with teenage children) will see the column as an opportunity to have serious discussions about sexual responsibilities and relationships.”

In her column this week, Sexploration’s Jasmin Walker writes that talking openly about sex and intimacy is not only healthy but essential.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there and a lack of understanding of sexuality,” the former journalist said.

“We struggle with boundaries and communication, we grapple with feelings of shame around our bodies and kinks.

“Some of us don’t know the difference between a vulva and a vagina. Some of us don’t feel comfortable prioritising our pleasure. Surely that’s all worthy of discussion?

“I know exactly what some of you are thinking: what about the kids? If they’re curious and you’re not talking about it, they’re going straight to the internet.”

Ms Walker is also the founder of House of Theodora, a company that works with artists and creators to elevate sexual expression, and is a mother of two.

The IMC is chaired by former Supreme Court judge Peter Blaxell, who headed the inquiry which examined widespread abuse of boys at St Andrew’s hostel in Katanning during the 1980s.

Mr Blaxell’s determination on Sexploration (Michael Hope vs Seven West Media) was made alongside former politician Cheryl Edwardes as well as former WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty, who introduced the State’s Dangerous Offender Act in 2006 that has allowed serious sex offenders to be locked away indefinitely.

To read the IMC’s full determination, visit independentmediacouncil.com.au. Read this week’s Sexploration column in our PerthNow newspapers.

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