Australian Council on Children and the Media

AANA revised Code of Ethics fails to tackle scary ads, fails children September 25, 2020

The newly released AANA Code of Ethics for advertising has been criticised by national peak organisation, the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) for failing to change its Code so it would be effective in preventing the exposure of children to scary and harmful ads. 

ACCM President, Prof Elizabeth Handsley, said “horror movies are promoted in public spaces such as main road billboards, bus shelters, on the sides of public transport, boundary screens at sporting events, and via trailers on free-to air TV”.

“The scary images used are causing children much distress, and can cause ongoing harm. Their parents are rightly complaining that they cannot protect their children from such images,” Prof Handsley said. 

“Child psychologists tell us that the distress is real, and so are the consequences.”

Child psychologist and adviser to ACCM, Dr C Glenn Cupit said the impacts of exposing young children to such promotions are “not trivial”.

“Ongoing issues from exposure to alarming images can include continuous nightmares, bed-wetting and fatigue due to disturbed sleep, which can interrupt children’s education and daily life,” Dr Cupit said.

“When children are exposed to an image that does not fit within their schemes of what they know, they tend to attend more closely to try to make sense of the image. 

“Children who have been distressed by a frightening image will continue picturing the image in their head and at bed time when they are not distracted by other things, this can lead to a fear of going to bed, a fear of not wanting to be alone and nightmares.” 

Prof Handsley said that the impacts can be life-long. Eminent researcher in this field Prof Joanne Cantor has found that 30 per cent of students reported ongoing fear impacts from early exposure to frightening images.

She said ACCM argued to the AANA it was time to insert a prohibition against advertising in public spaces, that uses “images or events in a way that is unduly frightening or distressing to children”. Such a Code provision would require advertisers and the AANA’s Community Panel, to inform themselves about which types of images fall within that description and to consult the research literature. 

ACCM also believes FreeTV Australia’s Clearads division should revise its classification processes for TV trailers (advertising) for violent and horror movies.

For interview Prof Elizabeth Handsley 0448898185 Dr C Glenn Cupit 0468632643