THE line in last Monday’s Four Corners program on ABC television, The Boy with the Henna Tattoo, was unequivocal. Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna condemned the practice once commonly called pederasty — homosexual relations between a male adult and a boy.

The program dealt with the shocking case of two men, the Australian Peter Truong and the American Mark Newton, whose adopted baby boy was both personally abused and trafficked for sex. Meldrum-Hanna referred to the “depraved world inhabited by … a small group of hardcore pedophiles who call themselves Boylovers”.

The Boy with the Henna Tattoo serves as an important reminder of how attitudes have changed at the public broadcaster and elsewhere with respect to pedophilia. Only four decades ago, pedophilia was a radical but fashionable endeavour within certain circles.

The then ABC radio program Lateline was established by the left-wing radical ABC operative Allan Ashbolt (1921-2005). It was Ashbolt who commenced the left-wing stack of the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster and his influence is still felt today. In his sympathetic history This is the ABC (MUP, 1983), Ken Inglis refers to “Ashbolt’s (ABC) kindergarten”.

It was in Ashbolt’s time that the ABC phenomenon emerged where debates were held in which everyone agrees with everyone else, including the presenter — all in a leftist way. And so it came to pass on July 14, 1975, when Richard Neville presented a Lateline program on pederasty where three adult men proclaimed what a great idea it was to have sex with boys. No other view was heard on the program.

Not surprisingly, the Lateline program on pederasty was subjected to considerable criticism by, among others, the Reverend Fred Nile (then of the morally conservative Festival of Light) and The Sydney Morning Herald. Needless to say, Nile and his fellow critics were dismissed and ridiculed. In his 1979 book Outside Interference: The Politics of Australian Broadcasting, ABC friend and one-time board member Richard Harding declared that the pederasty program “was too much for the susceptibilities of some worthy citizens”.

However, the most extraordinary intervention in the debate came from the then ABC chairman, Richard Downing. He said that “in general, men will sleep with young boys and that’s the sort of thing the community ought to know about”.

In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, published on July 19, 1975, Downing argued that “the phenomenon of pederasty” was “appropriate for public discussion in a society which, if it is to be open, democratic and responsible, needs also to understand the diverse natures of the people who compose that society”.

In other words, Downing stated that pederasty or “boylove” was an acceptable form of sexual behaviour which needed to be understood.

ABC staff today are invariably calling on others to apologise for the inappropriate and/or criminal behaviour in the past of individuals or organisations. Perhaps the current ABC board might consider a mea culpa for the position taken by the ABC chairman just four decades ago in favour of adult men having sex with boys.

In an article in the September 1984 issue of Quadrant magazine entitled “Paedophile Liberation and the Radical Homosexuals”, writer Andrew Lansdown documented how pederasty had become fashionable within sections of the Australian Left in the 1970s and 80s. He quoted an article in OutRage magazine which declared its “defence of the civil liberties of paedophiles”.

Of course, it was not only underage boys who were regarded as suitable sexual partners at the time. In his 1970 book Play Power, Neville (who was born in 1941) boasted of having a “hurricane f . . k” with a “moderately attractive, intelligent, cherubic fourteen-year-old girl from a nearby London comprehensive school”. In the early 70s, the author of Play Power had no trouble in getting an ABC gig when he returned to Australia and in receiving support from the highest echelons in the ABC for inviting three pederasts on to his program.

In his Quadrant article, Lansdown documented the existence in Australia at the time of a Paedophile Support Group. In recent weeks there has been controversy (in The Mail and elsewhere) over the Paedophile Information Exchange which existed in Britain in the 70s and 80s. The PIE was affiliated with the National Council for Civil Liberties.

Prominent members of the NCCL at the time included Patricia Hewitt (the Australian-born Labour MP who became a member of Tony Blair’s cabinet), Harriet Harman (currently the deputy leader of the British Labour Party) and Jack Dromey (the Labour spokesman on policing). As Toby Young has revealed in Britain’s The Daily Telegraph, in 1976 Hewitt, as the NCCL’s general secretary, issued a press release advocating that the age of consent should be lowered to 10 years of age. Hewitt has since apologised.

At the time, the PIE advocated that the age of consent should be lowered to four years of age. As Rod Liddle commented in The Sunday Times, the NCCL was “perfectly happy for its affiliate” to advocate sex between adult men and four-year-olds. Liddle quoted the NCCL at the time saying that “childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in with an adult, result in no identifiable damage”.

In November 2012, the British historian Dominic Sandbrook reviewed Ben Thompson’s edited collection Ban this filth!: Mary Whitehouse and the Battle to Keep Britain Innocent.

Whitehouse (1910-2001) was a morals campaigner and much mocked by self-declared progressive libertarians. In late 2012, Sandbrook reflected that when “reading this book during the fallout of the (BBC’s) Jimmy Savile scandal” he wondered if Whitehouse was “quite as cranky as she looked” at the time.

Sandbrook quoted from a letter Whitehouse wrote to the BBC in 1973 objecting to the words of a song on the show Crackerjack in which the male singer suggested that “Every growin’ boy/ Needs a little joy/ Do you want to touch me there?” The song was titled Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah!) and the singer-songwriter was none other than Gary Glitter — who, in time, became a convicted pedophile.

For all her oddities, Whitehouse spoke a truth denied by such pedophiles as Savile, Glitter and those, like Downing, who rationalised what was once termed “inter-generational sex”.

This might make for a revealing Four Corners story one day.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.