Here we go again, with more moral bafflement from me. The lads mag FHM (a copy of which I can honestly say I haven’t looked at since I worked at Emap, where it’s pubished, in 1997, but its lurid covers assail my eyes as I walk past WHSmith) has had its well-exercised knuckles rapped by the Press Complaints Commission for publishing a topless picture of a 14-year-old girl without her consent. Its crimes seem to have been ones of privacy and protection of children. Fair enough. But what is actually going on here? The mag says, in its defence, that it believed the photo to be of an over-16 year old, as that’s what the bloke who sent it in told them. (He also said it was his live-in girlfriend. Let’s assume that was a lie too, since it was a photo of a 14 year-old girl. I’m not a lawyer, but I can see something wrong with that picture.) The PCC said, “the decision to publish the picture of the girl without adequately establishing consent represented a serious intrusion into her private life.” I’m taking from everything I’ve read that she didn’t mind the picture being taken, but she objected to it being submitted to a magazine, hence the “distress”. But how were FHM to establish whether the bloke who sent it in was lying or not? Call him up? It’s just a bloke sending a pic to a magazine. A sleazy one, but no more than that, on the surface of it, and these mags do put out requests for such material. Supply and demand etc. FHM, like all the other men’s mags, can no longer rely on famous women to strip off, and have thus invented their own celebrities. Somebody called Keeley is always mentioned by Nuts or Zoo. They’re even prepared to see the tits of non-famous women, or girls, if it helps to fill those pages. Suddenly, door policy is non-existent. Presumably, they would print a picture of a corpse’s breasts, as long as the rest of the body was cropped. Breasts, it seems, are breasts, in this non-judgmental world.
At any rate, the question we should be asking – to quote Woody Allen on the Holocaust – is not why it happened, but why it doesn’t happen more often. They apparently get sent 1,200 similar camera-phone and digitial snaps of topless “honeys” every week. Every week! Many of them from the self-empowering ladies themselves, but some from boyfriends. Who knew that “Readers’ Wives” would go mainstream in this technological age? Such sections used to mark a “gentlemen’s magazine” out as the scuzzier type, didn’t it? That they’d happily print Boots-shocking snaps of women hoiking their skirts up behind the bedroom door? Now it’s perfectly acceptable, apparently, indeed encouraged. But what are these 1,200 women doing flashing their tits every week? Do they all think a modelling contract will be the result? Are Jordan and Paris Hilton really such powerful role models to young women? Or have we crossed a moral line where exposure on this “playful” level is now the norm? A report I read about the “Son Of God” paedophile recently caught (aged 28, lived with parents, but had a girlfriend) made horrifying reading, not just about how guiltless some of these active paedophiles are (we’re talking about live sex and torture, beamed round dedicated rings of damaged men), but how easy it is for them to groom young girls, and how quickly, apparently, kids whose parents are downstairs, unaware, will “expose themselves” on webcams to strangers. Are we really all going to hell now? Is it all over? (I just went to the FHM website to grab the picture above. I was invited to “enjoy the view” – for some reason, I was unable to do this. What a fuddy-duddy I must be.)
Also, the magazine got off pretty lightly. The PCC got really tough and said FHM “should have been much quicker to recognise the damage that publication would have caused the girl, and offered to publish an apology or take other steps to remedy the situation.” Yes, that apology would have made everything alright, wouldn’t it? They might have done it unwittingly, but they have published child pornography, about which I assumed we still took a dim view. Were they fined? No. “More stringent measures have been put in place to ensure the provenance of pictures”, we’re told. That’s OK then. Carry on.