The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), an independent statutory body established for law reform and review in Australia, has released its final report on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, commonly referred to as the National Classification Scheme.
The report makes 57 recommendations for the National Classification Scheme, marking the first major review of the country's Classification Act since 1991.
Key recommendations from the report include:
- New Classification Act: Enact a new National Classification Scheme regulating the classification of media content
- Platform neutral regulation: Determine one set of classification categories for all media platforms
- Classification Decision Makers: Enable the regulator to determine, of the content that must be classified, what the Classification Board should classify
- Adult Content regulation: Ensure content providers take reasonable steps to restrict access to adult content
- Codes and Co-regulation: Provide for the development of industry classification codes by sections of industry or persons involved in the production and distribution of media content, subject to regulatory oversight
- The Regulator: Establish a single regulator responsible for the regulation of media content
The recommendations, subject to Federal Government approval, will apply consistent rules to media content on all platforms including cinema, games, online, television and video. As a result, a single set of standards will rate and censor media in Australia. This should improve the efficiency of classifying content in Australia. At present, a film classified for theatrical release is then re-examined for video distribution where it may obtain a different rating. In addition, a balanced approach to classification, whereby the Classification Board need not rate all content, will also ensure classification is done effectively. Content that will be free of classification ratings includes non-commercial content, mobile applications and websites.
Australia will also have a new media content regulator under the new scheme. As a result, the existing bodies that oversee film and television in Australia will merge. This includes the Classification Branch of the Attorney-General's Department, the director of the Classification Board, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The recommendations have formally been tabled in Australian Parliament and are expected to be considered as part of the Federal Government's ongoing Convergence Review. The Convergence Review, established through DBCDE in 2011 is reviewing Australia's broadcasting, telecommunications and radio-communications sectors in the context of media convergence. The Convergence Review Committee is expected to present its final report to the Australian Government by 31 March 2012. The review is one of many currently taking place in Australia. Other significant reviews relate to ISP filtering, computer game classification codes, establishing a national cultural policy, cyber-safety and outdoor advertising.
Australia's attempt at a unified classification system is one of the first worldwide. Partially unified classification systems for all kinds of media including film, video, TV and games are in place within many countries, namely:
- Brazil: Departamento de Justica, Classificacao, Titulos e Qualificacao (DJCTQ) apply the same classification system for film and television content.
- Netherlands: Nederlands Instituut voor de Classificatie van Audiovisuele Media apply the same classification system for film and television content.
- New Zealand: Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) apply the same classification system for film, video and some games content.
- Nigeria: National Film and Video Censors Board apply the same classification system for film and video content.
- Pakistan: Central Board of Film Censors apply the same classification system for film, TV and games content.
- Philippines: Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) apply the same classification system for film, TV and video content.
- South Africa: Film and Publication Board apply the same classification system for film, TV, video and games content.
- UK: British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) apply the same classification system for film, video and some games content.
Other countries have raised the issue of a single classification system, notably the US where industry committees currently decide on ratings. However, differing committees and classification systems remain after questions were raised as to whether the proposed Government-enforced rating system was in danger of violating the First Amendment rights of content producers. Protestors deemed such a system unconstitutional under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech for media to individuals. In other countries, there is no classification system but rather laws forbidding and/or age restrictions for certain content.
A unified classification system does have its advantages. One system should be a more efficient use of resources and more cost effective for content providers as there is only one submission fee. One system also provides clearer guidelines for content providers and especially parents as they need only remember one set of ratings.
However, a unified classification system is not without disadvantages as it runs the risk of effectively monopolising classifications. This may reduce the quality of ratings and satisfaction of users as well as increase the price of classification fees due to the absence of competition.
Meanwhile, a truly unified classification system may not be desired as long as a widely accepted regional rating system is in place, such as in Europe where the voluntary Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system provides video game ratings for more than thirty countries.
Australian Law Reform Commission; +61/2 8238 6333; www.alrc.gov.au
Australian Classification website: www.classification.gov.au