Opinion

Join my petition against online petitions

paul merrill headshotNo stranger to an angry mob, Paul Merrill leaps to the defence of magazines as online petitions attempt to bring them down.

Magazines are under attack. First Zoo was forced into a grovelling apology for running a competition to find the ‘Hottest asylum seeker’ and then Cleo was pilloried for retouching models. In both cases, the weapon of choice was the online petition.

Unlike petitions where you’re stopped in the street, these simply need the click of a button and hey presto, it’s sent off to those concerned. They spread like wild fire through social media and are latched onto by newspapers as evidence of public opinion. Just look at the one targeting the advertisers on Alan Jones’s show running into the tens or hundreds of thousands. Overwhelming public opinion? Well, maybe, but still some way short of his breakfast audience who are probably wondering what the fuss is all about.

In the case of the one aimed at Zoo (for a competition I’d already run two years earlier that obviously went under the radar), I wonder how many of the signatories would have been as committed if they’d known it was organised by a fundamentalist Christian whose organisation believes the Bible is the absolute word of God. Last time I looked, the Bible wasn’t particularly liberal in its views on abortion, slavery, rape, homosexuality and women’s rights. Out of Zoo and the Old Testament, I know which I find the most offensive.

And what of Cleo? Well, this campaign was started by a well-meaning Melbournite called Jessica Barlow who says she plans to start her own magazine using only non-retouched girls. Well, good luck with that. Does she think that major retailers and advertisers don’t airbrush? That Miranda Kerr looks like that in the morning? Ironically, Jessica wrote a piece for mamamia.com.au which appeared next to a soft-focus, obviously-airbrushed photo of teen idol and ‘role model’, Taylor Swift.

Yes, young girls are bombarded with unrealistic images, and I’m sure it has an effect, but let’s not single out magazines for criticism. They are a business and need to sell copies, and this is how they do it. Don’t like it? Fine, don’t buy them. Television and film aren’t exactly overrun by ‘realistic’ looking people either. Maybe that explains why Jones and Kyle Sandilands stick to radio.

When I edited a women’s mag in the UK, I experimented with untouched ‘real women’ on the cover, and sales bombed. Like it or hate it, retouch exists for a reason.

Meanwhile go to change.org and sign my petition against online petitions. So far I’m the only signatory: http://goo.gl/87J0E

Paul Merrill was founding editor of Zoo Weekly and editor-in-chief of a number of ACP titles.

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