Editors of teenage magazines were furious this week after it emerged they could face prosecution for giving sex advice to teenagers.
Concerns were raised after the House of Lords rejected amendments to the sexual offences bill, which implies that problem pages in teen magazines constitute “arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence”.
The Periodical Publishers Association drafted its amendment to protect non-medical workers who provide information in good faith about the emotional and physical aspects of sex.
But it was rejected by Lord Falconer on the grounds that the current exemption did enough to protect people who give advice to children.
Exceptions have been made for advice on pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or avoiding physical harm, but there is no exception relating to the emotional aspects of sex.
Celia Duncan, editor of CosmoGIRL!, said: “Obviously they don’t regard it as a serious problem. We get 500 texts, e-mails and letters a week which is a phenomenal amount. Seventy three per cent of CosmoGIRL! readers don’t feel they can talk to parents about sex and as a result, teenage magazines are playing an increasingly vital role.
“They are basically anonymous so there is a low embarrassment factor. Girls do turn to teenage mags and always have done.”
CosmoGIRL! dedicates seven pages to advice per issue.
Solicitor for the PPA, Clare Hoban, said it was “extremely disappointed”, but would continue to lobby the Government on the issue.
“This bill could result in the absurd criminalisation of columnists who respond to a genuine need for advice. For many young readers, teen magazines provide the only accurate and informed information about sexual relationships at their disposal.
“This failure to protect the disseminators does nothing to improve the physical or emotional welfare of young people,” she said.
“The Lords and the Government may not intend for bona fide non-medical workers to come within the bill, but without provisions to protect them, the current wording exposes magazines to private, as well as public prosecution. Fear of this will hinder magazines’ ability to responsibly address the full scope of readers’ problems.”
Baroness Gould said: “It will be difficult for organisations to continue giving advice if they feel that there is any ambiguity in the bill.”
By Ruth Addicott