ALRC Recommends a New National Classification Scheme

“Australia needs a new classification scheme that applies consistent rules to media content on all platforms—in cinemas, on television, on DVDs and on the internet,” said Professor Terry Flew, Commissioner in charge of the ALRC’s review of the National Classification Scheme. “But the scheme also needs to be flexible, so it can adapt to new technologies and the challenges of media convergence.”

This is one of the key messages in the ALRC’s 118th report, Classification—Content Regulation and Convergent Media, tabled in Parliament today. The report makes 57 recommendations for a national classification scheme in the new media landscape.

The key features of the new scheme in the ALRC’s report are:

  • Platform-neutral regulation with one set of laws establishing obligations to classify or restrict access to content across media platforms.
  • Clear scope of what must be classified: feature films and television programs, as well as  computer games likely to be MA 15+ or higher, that are both made and distributed on a commercial basis, and likely to have a significant Australian audience.
  • A shift in regulatory focus to restricting access to adult content, by imposing new obligations on content providers to take reasonable steps to restrict access to adult content and to promote cyber-safety.
  • Co-regulation and industry classification, with more industry classification of content and industry development of classification codes, but subject to regulatory oversight.
  • Classification Board benchmarking and community standards, with a clear role for the Classification Board in making independent classification decisions that reflect community standards.
  • An Australian Government scheme that replaces the current cooperative scheme with enforcement under Commonwealth law.
  • A single regulator with primary responsibility for regulating the new scheme.

“Classification criteria should also be reviewed periodically, to ensure they reflect community standards”, said Professor Flew. “One category that may no longer align with community standards is ‘Refused Classification’ or ‘RC’. The scope of this category should be narrowed, and the ALRC suggests changes for government to consider.”

ALRC President, Professor Rosalind Croucher said, “Australians value classification information about films, computer games and television programs, and the new scheme will continue to deliver this important advice. The ALRC has recommended a balanced approach, recognising that it is not practically possible in a digital age to classify everything. An effective scheme of content regulation must address this context.”

“The ALRC’s scheme also expects content providers to take reasonable steps to restrict access to adult content, so that children are better protected from material that might harm or disturb them,” Professor Croucher said.

The Report can be viewed, downloaded or purchased on the ALRC website.