Rainbow Report on Obscenity

Tonight we tackle a contentious topic with some contentious guests.

What is obscenity? How do you define it? Who defines it? What’s the difference between obscene, for example, and pornographic? How is it policed? And who does the policing? Is obscenity in the eye of the beholder, just a matter of taste, or can we get some objectivity into the debate?

Obviously this is too huge a topic to cover completely in a one hour program, so tonight we’re going to focus on one particular area where the debate has been hottest – outdoor advertising.

Outdoor advertising – on public transport and on billboards – unlike any other potentially obscene material, doesn’t have to be sought out. It’s right there in front of you when you go shopping, to school, to work.

This has led to some lively debates over the suitability of out-of-home ads, as the industry calls them, for products such as erectile dysfunction clinics, HIV prevention, sex industry businesses, and even political parties.

One of the most trenchant opponents of outdoor ‘obscenity’, as she sees it, is Wendy Francis, Queensland director of the Australian Christian Lobby and wife of Peter Francis, the senior pastor of the City Tabernacle Baptist Church in Brisbane. She wants all outdoor advertising to be G rated.

(There’s a Parliamentary Report into outdoor advertising here which includes submissions from all sides, if you need some background and have the time)

Wendy’s political career as a candidate for Family First was perhaps best known for controversial comments on Twitter comparing gay marriage to ‘legalising child abuse’. However, she maintains that she’s not homophobic and has been misinterpreted: judge for yourself as she joins us on the line tonight to set the record straight.

On the other side of the divide – perhaps about as far as you can get – is the leader of the Australian Sex Party, Fiona Patten. Fiona once debated Wendy live on Sunrise during the last election, with the predictable result that both sides claimed a win.

(Catherine Deveny’s take on that debate is well worth a read)

Fiona also famously had a run in with local police during the election over campaign material emblazoned with the Australian Sex Party name, and even got into a fight with Google over advertising. She joins us in the studio.

So who sits in the middle of this, so to speak, deciding, basically on our behalf, what we get to see on our streets?

There have been lots of stoushes over recent times over outdoor ads, but strangely enough, none of the companies who own billboards, not even Yarra Trams, wanted to talk on air. They referred us to the Outdoor Media Association  whose CEO Charmaine Moldrich joins us tonight. The industry currently regulates itself ; should it be subject to government oversight?

Riding shotgun with me today is one of Wendy’s fellow Queenslanders, James Newburrie.

Streaming: Expect some interesting exchanges of views, tonight on the Rainbow Report Joy 94.9 7pm Australian Eastern Standard Time in Melbourne, streaming round the world live online or via the smartphone app.

Contacts: You can join in the show: send your questions ahead of time to rainbowreport@joy.org.au (click for full address). During the show: tweet @rainbowreporter, post on the Facebook page, use the smartphone app, or SMS 0427 JOY 949

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)