ABC News sinks to new the usual lows

On the weekend the ABC News reported on the excitement about Bill Henson being given permission by a primary school principal to trawl for photography models. The news then covered the various photo ops put on by Kevin and Malcolm telling us how disgusted they were. (Malcolm who is the proud owner of some Hensons – having played the ‘free speech’ card last time the issue blew up).

Yet if you read David Marrs article in which this dastardly deed is divulged what it does make crystal clear is that Henson goes to great lengths to try to ensure that there is fully considered, untroubled consent – from the models and their entire families and that throughout the numerous photo shoots the models feel entirely comfortable, and that if they don’t the process stops.  If he agrees to do a show, the gallery owner must acknowledge that it may not go ahead if the photoshoot is not sucessful for this or any other reason.

As Marr points out, there are no ex-models coming out of the woodwork reporting their bad feelings about the experience. None of this means that one mightnt object to what Henson does, or to the school principal allowing him to trawl for models in a school. They are difficult matters which would give any decent and sane person pause.  

And as far as Kevin and Malcolm are concerned, pollies will be pollies and they will go in search of headlines. But for the ABC News to report the story in such a way as to leave out the most central fact – that Henson goes to great lengths to obtain what consent can be got – for the ABC News to cover the story in such a way that someone watching the story would most likely associate Henson with paedophilia?

Its an outrage.  The usual outrage.

And it just goes to show the emptiness of contemporary news values (now theres an oxymoron if ever there was one). Though not a lie was told, a moments reflection on behalf of the journalists putting the story together would have led them to realise how completely it would mislead its viewers and defame Henson and the school principal involved.

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Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
13 years ago

Yes and Glen Milne in his confected outrage does the same thing in this mornings paper.

trackback

[…] if their child would like to be part of his work, something that is voluntary, something that as Nicholas Gruen writes on Club Troppo, hasn’t had any model complaining about […]

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

Personally, I see enough outrage in the principal letting him wander around the school in the first place. I would be absolutely livid if my kids’ principal did that, at the principal, the people that gave him/her the job, the photographer for even asking, etc. And that’s without even counting with my wife!

Note that you aren’t focusing on the same consent that everyone else is talking about, ie the consent to actually being looked at not to the modelling bit itself.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

Sorry, further, who gives a rat’s arse who this guy is – what would be your immediate reaction to the principal of your kids’ school saying,

oh, yea, we’ve been letting this nice guy in to scope out the kids from time to time, has to get permission before he actually takes any photos of course, but his work is so talented…

You would think: ‘what the f*** planet is this principal coming from‘, wouldn’t you?

Saul Eslake
Saul Eslake(@saul-eslake)
13 years ago

And as far as Kevin and Malcolm are concerned, pollies will be pollies and they will go in search of headlines

But Turnbull actually took a principled stand in round 1. I don’t for a minute believe he’s changed his mind. So is it really politicianly original sin, or just plain old cowardice in when face to face with the idiocies of Australian media and population?

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

Or different facts???

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor(@geoff-honnor)
13 years ago

I suspect that Marr chose to showcase the incident as a pre-publication teaser precisely because the image of Bill Henson trolling a playground looking for models is like touchpaper to the newscycle flame given Henson’s preferred photographic oeuvre, his previous adventures in artistic controversy and the hypersensitivity that attaches to any potential whiff of child exploitation.

And I’m sure that Marr “reflected” on that at length Nicholas. His book goes on sale today.

FWIW, I think it’s entirely reasonable to acknowledge Henson’s right to artistic expression while recognising his model recruitment strategy, in this instance, to be singularly ill-advised – consent notwithstanding. Possibly nearly as ill-advised as discussing it with David Marr.

Saul Eslake
Saul Eslake(@saul-eslake)
13 years ago

Geoff: True enough perhaps. But there’s a big, big difference between a considered position against schoolyard talent-spotting (which has nothing specifically to do with Henson, who was just making use of an apparently routinely-used facility) and the kind of reflexive outrage that the politicians feel pushed to simulate, and which the much of the population apparently is easily herded into feeling.

Patrick: I don’t believe Turnbull’s “outrage” for a minute. His liberalism seems genuine (and a genuine liberal just couldn’t be outraged at this innocuous affair). But I could be reading him wrong.

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
13 years ago

The most useful outcome of this episode would be a discussion of the role of journalists in providing information as distinct from editorial comment or what amounts to the same thing, highly selective reporting. The intrusion of commentary into what is supposed to be reportage has reached the point where the facts of many situations can be quite hard to find and often turn out to be roughly the oppposite of the first impression that was conveyed.

It is apparently irresistable to press the “child molester” button to generate excitement and interest in a story but the sorry end point is things like restictions on parents taking photos at swimming events and the hyseria spreads far and wide so parents don’t want their children to walk around the block to play with a friend or buy an ice cream.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Patrick would you be livid if the principal of your children’s school gave permission for say, a casting agency, to look for potential young actors or actresses? How about a choir looking for new recruits (I was recruited into the VBC at about the age of 7)?
What on earth is so different about wanting to take photographs?
Indeed, what possible risk does Henson’s sheer presence at the school present to the children?

My 3 yo will be attending kindergarten next year. Even at that age, I can’t imagine being anything but disappointed if the supervisor there point blank refused to allow in Bill Henson or any other notable artist looking for potential subjects for their work.

Having said that, it would perhaps have been more sensible for Henson to examine photographs first, and then contact parents before actually interviewing the children.

Saul Eslake
Saul Eslake(@saul-eslake)
13 years ago

Im a fairly genuine liberal, but as it was described on the TV I found it creepy-sounding. A fuller picture indicates that permission is sought, the scouting is supervised, parents are advised etc etc. Personally I find it creepy, but I cant fault the process which seems to be pretty spotless and complete.

But that’s exactly the kind of critique I might expect from someone socially liberal. I don’t suggest that the issue is obvious or unarguable; I’m just canning the reflexive, show-me-no-details, “it’s all disgusting” response.

I suspect most reactions are going to be related to dumb preferences. I’m interested in and value art, so my reaction to artists talent-spotting is mildly positive. I’m somewhat hostile to business, so would probably have an initial prickle at the thought of an entirely commercial equivalent. But we would surely hope to be able to do better than allow views to be dictated by initial reactions.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor(@geoff-honnor)
13 years ago

crispin, I think we’ll shortly discover – via Premier Brumby’s hastily summoned inquiry – that the Victorian Dept of Education never, ever envisaged that their school visitor protocols should incorporate an artist scouting for the sort of artfully undraped pubescent photographic talent that has made him celebrated and more than a tad controversial.

I can understand the sense of disquiet engendered by images of the sort of playground appraisal upon which Henson’s oeuvre is predicated – I can also understand that it is a separate issue to Henson’s right to artistic expression.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Ms Gillard’s words were apparently: “That someone has been allowed to go into a school to look at children, I think would send a shudder through people’s spines”.

To which my reaction is “so what? Body piercings send a shudder through my spine – but it’s really none of my business”. The only possible justification for politicians getting involved in this issue is if there is genuine evidence that children are being exploited. As it is, there’s a fair bit of evidence that the children Henson has worked with have benefitted from the experience (certainly that seems to be the opinion of the parents involved).

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
13 years ago

Good one NPOV! I was going to propose the hypothetical of recruiting for a choir!

This debate has been dogged by hyperbole on both sides. There are people who assert the right of the artist to follow their vision and get in the face of society and there are people who think that works of art should be censored the moment they cross some of moral decency, defined by themselves.

A plague on both your houses!

The first group need to be asked: What are you trying to achieve, is it really a good idea and do you think that your work is going to progress it (whatever it is).

The second group needs to be asked pretty much the same questions.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor(@geoff-honnor)
13 years ago

“To which my reaction is so what? Body piercings send a shudder through my spine – but its really none of my business.”

To which my reaction is, you’re obviously not the Deputy PM, NPOV.
Of course she – and they – were going to react in the way they did (as David Marr shrewdly assessed). Bill Henson has achieved fame/notoriety for photographing young adolescents “in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry” as the gallery blurb has it and he went to a Melbourne primary school to source more talent.

This is not a debate about artistic freedom. It’s more a case of whether your average primary school parent would be OK with some middle-aged photographer dude canvassing the playground to see whether your kid might wash-up OK in the back-lit nuddy.

I absolutely accept that there is no indication that Henson’s motivation is anything other than artistic but there is every indication that the guy has displayed the most breathtaking naivete in not realising that his actions might be open to misinterpretation.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Since when has grooming taken on its new PC moniker “scouting”?

‘As David Marr says…’ FMD.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

And if the events in question had taken place after the recent storm of controversy about his work, I’d agree Geoff. But it happened over a year ago.

FWIW were I a politican with high media exposure, my position would simply be “I do understand why some parents feel uneasy about this incident, but at this point there is no reason to be concerned that any child is at risk of being exploited in any way, and we will work with schools to ensure that no such risk eventuates”.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

NPOV

In other words, the community’s outrage over his photos was underdone given his nefarious sniffing around playgrounds for grooming talent!

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Australia’s most irksome haute bourgeois Luvvie – David Marr – exploits for profit Henson’s trawling – again for profit – for 12 year olds to pimp to haute bourgeois Luvvies and ephebophiles.

What sort of moral universe do these freaks live in?

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

NPOV, this isn’t a debate about Bill Henson in the sense you seem to think it is. The subject of the actual debate (not the one mis-framed by NG) is people running around primary schools, and specifically whether anyone should be allowed to do so.

Only if you answer that in the positive (which you and NG may well but not many do) can you sensibly pose the question whether Bill Henson should be allowed to do so.

My bet is that 99 per cent of the population answer the first question in the negative and so have no need to consider whether Bill Henson has some special artistic quality that exempts him from the punch in the face most parents would probably think was his due.

FWIW if you were such a politician it would be in the Pauline Hanson/Bob Brown mould and not the Gillard/Rudd/Turnbull/serious ambitions of actual leadership mould, judging by the comments you would hypothetically be making.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Patrick, what do you mean about “running around primary schools”? The Victorian Boys Choir sent representatives to my primary school when I was 7 and “ran around” class rooms auditioning pupils. I don’t even believe my parents had to consent to that (of course they had to consent to my eventually signing up).

If choirs are allowed to “run around” primary schools scouting for talent (as are numerous other organisations and individuals that they represent), why shouldn’t Bill Henson be?

And note also, the photos he took in this case involved no nudity. Indeed, if Henson’s name had never been associated with nude teenagers I don’t believe for a moment we’d even be having this conversation.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor(@geoff-honnor)
13 years ago

“Indeed, if Hensons name had never been associated with nude teenagers I dont believe for a moment wed even be having this conversation.”

Indeed. So what’s your point?

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

That people are somehow assuming that because Henson photographed nude teens that his motives in scouting for talent in a primary school are suspect.

Even if he was explicitly looking for primary school children to photograph nude (which he wasn’t) I wouldn’t have an issue with it. The moment there is the slightest evidence that being photographed nude by artists such as Henson can be potentially damaging to children (of any age) I will happily change my mind.

I’ll accept that if there is a democratic consensus that artists should not be allow to scout for talent at primary schools, then so be it, but I’d like to think that society would eventually come to regret such a move.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

BTW JG, I agree that if Marr’s primary motive for bringing yet another Henson controversy into the public idea was to help boost sales of his book, then he has a lot to answer for – the poor principal in question may well end losing her job over this. But I don’t know enough about how exactly the story made it into the media to make that accusation.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Er…public “eye”, not “idea” (very weird “thinko”!)

Niall
Niall
13 years ago

Listening to Marr on RN this morning, I understand completely where his argument comes from, however, I do not believe that schoolgrounds are the place for an artist to be touting for talent. Schools are, or ought to be, sacrosanct

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Niall, what on earth does “sacrosanct” mean? And “tout” is a deliberately loaded term. Again, I’ll stick with my example – were the VBC “touting” for talent when they auditioned at my primary school?

Ultimately this surely comes down to the fact that people can understandly feel uneasy about the thought that there’s an older male on schoolgrounds wondering what their child might look like naked. I would be lying to state that such a thought doesn’t make me instinctively uneasy too. But I’d like to think that in this day and age we can step beyond that and use a bit of rationality to determine whether such “uneasiness” is actually grounds for governments determining who can and who can’t be safely trusted to accompany school principals around the playground.

Bingo Bango Boingo
Bingo Bango Boingo
13 years ago

The real issue is why the hell hasn’t the taxpayer been dealt in? If we’re going to let commercial interests SCOUT for talent in primary schools, why aren’t we getting a cut? Since when do we value a principal’s time so lowly?

BBB

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Patrick, re your “99%”, online Age readers must be an extremely rare bunch, as only 50% of them think that the prinicipal acted inappropriately:

http://www.theage.com.au/polls/results.html

I’d actually be quite interested to see a wider poll done. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if over 75% felt the principal acted inappropriately, but I think it’s fair to say your 99% figure is unwarranted.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

Ok, NPOV, I’ll cop that.

Jacques, what do you mean by this:

A fuller picture indicates that permission is sought, the scouting is supervised, parents are advised etc etc. Personally I find it creepy, but I cant fault the process which seems to be pretty spotless and complete.

My understanding was this:

After Henson selected two children, a boy and a girl, the school sought the parents’ consent, on his behalf, for the children to be photographed. The boy’s parents agreed, while the girl’s declined.

As I pointed out above, I’d want permission prior to any scouting. And that is what, pace NG’s misrepresentation, is driving the controversy.

Btw, NPOV at 24:

The boy was not photographed naked, but with his shirt off.

Ok so not nude. The distinction is not one I would harp on in this case.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Patrick, how could permission “prior” to scouting be achieved – the school would literally have to contact every parent, and then what would happen if all but 1 parent objected?

I ask again, do you think that schools should gain permission from every single parent before allowing choirs in to recruit possible members?

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Bleh…that is, “if all but 1 parent consented”…

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

BTW, I will say I that would accept that schools could at least announce such events in school newsletters etc., in order to give parents a chance to object or withdraw their child from the school (either just for the day, or permanently if they feel strongly enough about it).

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

I agree with your last contribution NPOV. I have to say that I actually think that much should apply even to the choirs.

Which is not to say that I can’t see a qualitative difference between choirs and photographers.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Patrick, OK, can you clarify what you think the qualitative difference is?

Statistically I’d be prepared to wager that your child is more at risk of abuse and/or exploitation in a choir than in a photographer’s studio, for a start.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

I note that the Age poll is now 55-45 in favour of the principal (and I suppose, by extension, Henson), with over 1000 votes counted. Which I have to say truly surprises me, even accepting that the sample is obviously not representative of Australia as a whole.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

Re #36: the bit about the interest being voices and the interest being bodies, NPOV.
Re #37: I always did mistrust Age readers. I’ll have to bash any of them what comes wandering out near our school too, I guess :)

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Ok, so why is interest in bodies problematic whereas interest in voices not?
And if that’s your distinction, then how about sports coaches, who obviously are look at bodies as much as anything?

BTW, it seems that if you have anybody to worry about, it’s the lifesafers wondering around the beaches wondering what your kids look like naked (assuming they aren’t already):

http://www.theage.com.au/national/exlifesavers-massive-child-porn-stash-20081007-4vdy.html

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

(and yes there’s at least 3 typos in that previous post…please can we have post editing or at least a preview feature?)

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
13 years ago

I actually know for a fact what the majority of those lifesavers are interested in, and it is certainly not my pre-pubescent kids. I’d be more worried as to whether they actually were watching my kids at all!

That said we often do go to lifesaver-free beaches, maybe I’ve just got good instincts :)

PS: We live in the cancer age, our kids are very rarely naked on beaches, they are usually decked out in long sleeves, ‘boardies’ and a cap.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

I note you didn’t answer my question Patrick…

I seriously hope the worst that will come out of this is that schools will be required to send home notices to parents before allowing anyone who isn’t a parent or school employee/regular contractor on to the ground. Personally, I still think *that’s* unjustifiable, but if it’s needed to placate the masses then so be it.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Well I for one would find it quite troubing if “society” decided it didn’t want Henson doing what he’s doing. While it’s true photographic artists don’t really make up an underprivileged minority, it still whiffs of “tyranny of the majority”.
The “meaningful consent” argument doesn’t really wash with me because where are we drawing the line as to what sort of activities require “meaningful consent”.
Why is it OK for a parent to take their child to a shopping-mall portrait photographer, but not OK for them to take them to Bill Henson? Where’s the evidence that Henson’s work and the process of creating it is somehow more damaging or dangerous to children than any other form of photography?

Actually it must be said that the moral panic over this issue has now meant that these children are being exposed to something damaging. But I don’t know how you can justify a poistion that the best response is to make it illegal for children to participate in any activity that *might* spark outrage among politicans and certain sections of the public.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

BTW, I have to ask – where is the outrage over the media visiting the school in question, and not only looking at the children there, but actually taking photographs and TV footage, all without parental supervision, and (at least indirectly) for commercial benefit? Indeed I would be quite willing to bet that reporters deliberately kept an eye out for the sort of children that when seen on a news bulletin would provoke the most reaction out of audiences (i.e. vulnerable but reasonably pretty looking girls). Are they not “scouting”?

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Ok, but I also think it’s a relatively unlikely thing for someone who’s aged thirty to say to their parent that an artistic photograph that may involve partial nudity was a huge mistake. And there really doesn’t seem to be a good case for not accepting that the parent and child together are the best people to make such a decision.