Published on 30 September 2011.

Commissioner in charge of the Review, Professor Terry Flew, talks about problems inherent in the current system, and the new model proposed in the ALRC Discussion Paper.

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Sabina Wynn (SW): Hello, I’m Sabina Wynn, the Executive Director of the Australian Law Reform Commission and I’m here with Professor Terry Flew, the Commissioner in charge of the National Inquiry into the Classification System.

Terry Flew (TF): Thanks, thanks very much for having me here, Sabina.

SW: So Terry, the ALRC’s just released a Discussion Paper about proposed reforms to the classification system, I was just wondering if you could outline what’s actually wrong with the current system.

TF: Well, there’s two levels of problems with the current system. The first is that it is highly fragmented. It’s fragmented in terms of lines of authority between agencies and departments, it’s fragmented between the Commonwealth, States and Territories, it deals with very similar content in very different ways, perhaps most famously with the absence of an R18+ classification for computer games. It also is very poorly equipped to deal with the challenges of convergence. Much of the regulation uses, as one of our submitters described it, analog legislation in a digital world, and it doesn’t really deal particularly well with online media and the range of innovative digital services, platforms and devices that are becoming increasing mainstream for ordinary Australians.

SW: The ALRC is proposing a new model in the Discussion Paper, could you just outline what the key elements are of the new model.

TF: The key elements of the new model are that we are proposing a new framework with a greater role for co-regulatory codes in classifying what might be described as lower level content, that is to say content below the level of MA15+. We envisage this being part of a new classification of media content act that would aim, where possible, to apply comparable provisions to online and offline media, achieving the principle of platform neutrality. We also envisage bringing together the various regulatory agencies and authorities under Commonwealth jurisdiction, to manage the activities currently undertaken across some platforms by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and in other areas by the Classification Board. We also envisage the development of new classification categories, moving from a platform-based framework to a content-based framework. These would include the new categories of PG8+ and T13+ which would replace the current M classification. And we’re also going to provide content providers with the option of developing content that fits a C classification that is to say specifically for children.

SW: And what do you think the key things will be that will be affected, or achieved, by these reforms?

TF: Well, a lot of what we’ve heard from both industry and the community is that the current framework is confusing and uncertain in its goals and in its application. So we believe greater consistency, greater certainty, the element of platform neutrality, that is to say to treat content in a similar way across different media platforms, the development of more consistent laws across Australia, enabling industry to deal more directly with the classification of content, a better alignment of the treatment of online content and content in other areas, and a system that can better adapt to technological convergence as we’re seeing it now and as we will see it into the future, in ways that are more cost effective, reduce the regulatory burden and allow Commonwealth agencies to be better focused on the areas of content in which there are the highest levels of community concern.

SW: The ALRC’s Discussion Paper has around 44 proposals for reform that go to those issues that you just described. What now would be the process for people providing feedback?

TF: Well, we received almost 2,400 public submissions in response to the Issues Paper so we are certainly aware of a high level of interest in the work being undertaken. We encourage members of the public to make submissions in response to the Discussion Paper. We ask some specific questions, for instance, around the continued relevance of time banding for television or the scope of the Refused Classification category particularly as it pertains to online content. Also if people believe that there are proposals there that they don’t agree with they should let us know. If there are areas that they feel haven’t been adequately covered we also want to hear about that and we want to continue the conversation across a number of media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, up to the release of the Final Report in February 2012.

SW: Thanks Professor Flew. People have until 18 November to get their submissions in to the ALRC and as with other Discussion Papers and Issues Papers, you’re able to put your submission in online using an online form and you can, of course, respond to as many questions or proposals as you would like and also, if you would prefer, you can always email your submissions directly to the ALRC. Thanks.

TF: Thank you.