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Forum Rejects Call for Arts Watchdog


The following article was published in the Sydney City Hub Newspaper on June 19, 2008

By Reuben Brand

Australia’s censorship laws came under tight scrutiny at an Arts Censorship Forum convened after the recent furore surrounding artist Bill Henson’s latest exhibition.

Hetty Johnston, executive director of child protection agency Bravehearts, called for a tribunal to be set up that artists must approach before working with children.

“The arts industry does nothing in terms of meeting its obligation and responsibility to protect children,” she said at the forum.

Tamara Winikoff, executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, told the Sydney City Hub that although she didn’t agree with Ms Johnston’s ideas she thought the forum raised some important issues.

“Hetty Johnston’s proposal of artists having to go to a tribunal to get permission to use children in their work is really not a good idea, and I don’t support what she is saying. Hetty’s continued targeting of artists is a misdirection of her energy; what she needs to be concerned about are the genuine threats to child safety,” she said.

Raena Lee-Shannon, the public officer for Watch on Censorship, said Australian artists don’t need to have measures introduced to protect children.

“The film industry has strong industrial regulations and codes of practice to protect the rights of children. Art Galleries have protocols and industrial laws and professional artists do act responsibly. There is no evidence or public concern that the arts industry is being used as a cover for child pornography,” she said.

Ms Lee-Shannon told the Sydney City Hub that Ms Johnston’s response to Bill Henson’s exhibition caused more distress for the welfare, liberty and reputation of Mr Henson than it served to deter any would-be paedophiles.

“Potentially it did more harm than benefit for Braveheart’s cause by losing them credibility with people who in fact abhor paedophilia,” she said.

“Hetty Johnston is a creation of the modern media. She says some inflammatory things and gets noticed. I feel that Henson is the example of how to create this form of art correctly. Hetty used a bugle and a pack of dogs when all that was needed was a pair glasses and the Classification Board to see it was art and not crime.”

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