The ALRC welcomes discussion on this principle, particularly in relation to the continuing relevance of ‘community standards’ in the context of media convergence, but also in relation to a diverse and multicultural Australian society.

The National Classification Scheme has attempted to balance the principle that adults should be able to freely access information, communication and entertainment media of their choice with reference to community standards around particular matters of concern.  The National Classification Code and the Broadcasting Services Act refer to “community concerns”, “community standards” and “standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.”

In responses to the Issues Paper, some submissions raised the point that as more media content is accessed from the home through the internet, it is increasingly private in nature, and suggested that this lessens the need for classification to make reference to community standards.

Other submissions argue that the development of the Internet does not in itself warrant abandoning some conception of community standards, around issues of public decency and fundamental human rights.

It is also important to note that, in addition to the diversity of ideas that exists in Australian society and culture, in Australia’s multicultural society cultural norms may differ across ethnic and religious groups.

Inquiry: 

Comments (10)

Free TV supports this principle as a key public interest objective for any new framework. Free TV members take very seriously their responsibility to ensure that programming and the way that it is promoted and delivered accords with community standards. Viewers are unlikely to be aware of the vast difference in regulation, including classification, that applies based on the content’s origin and how it is delivered, and have a right to expect the same acceptable community standards with respect to any material they access.

However, Free TV notes that limiting the availability of certain material based on community standards is inconsistent with Principle 1, which supports freedom of choice in accessing media.

Commercial free-to-air television broadcasters are committed to providing viewers with innovative, appropriate and popular material. This ensures a commitment to community standards. Viewer behaviour and established complaints systems enable commercial free-to-air television broadcasters to ensure that material on their screens is in line with community standards of the day. The market will naturally limit material that is unacceptable to the broader community.

Because community standards develop and change, a dynamic approach is required to encourage innovation and development in content. Gauging “community standards” in an objective, inclusive and responsive way is difficult. It is important to recognise that different communities within Australia have different standards, and standards change over time.

I'm generally in agreement with what most of the other commentators have said regarding the phrase 'community standards'. Unless government is really prepared to draw up a list describing exactly what features or qualities a 'reasonable adult' must or must not posses, and exactly how many like-minded 'reasonable adults' are required before they can determine what 'community standards' are, then this is an awfully wishy-washy principle. As it stands, it seems intended to allow for some abuse by those with power to inject their own personal morality into classification decisions.

I would suggest a slight re-phrasing of the statement:
"Communications and media services available to Australians should broadly reflect the diversity of community standards, recognising the plurality of views, cultures and ideas in the community."

The idea, I think, that needs to be got across is that there isn't a single, quantifiable set of parameters that would be universally agreed upon, throughout Australia, as THE 'community standards'. All Australians must therefore come to terms with the simple fact that there will always be material that they find offensive, even abhorrent, but others do not. In the absence of a universally agreed upon ethical or aesthetics framework, deciding who is 'right' can only be based on the grounds of provable harm, such as a crime having taken place in the production of the content. Classification should be about helping people avoid this offence. It should not be about eliminating material that could potentially offend some set of people, and these principles should avoid giving any group the scope for that kind of power.

In some ways, what this principle is trying to say is vacuous. What else can the communications and media services available to Australians represent other than the broad community standards of Australians? Do we mean foreign content? In which case the real question is why so little Australian content is made, and what can be done to improve that. Or is this really saying that there is a chance there will be a large amount of content available that won't be experienced because Australians, by and large, don't want to experience it?

Media experienced in Australia is done so almost entirely by the individual choices made by Australians. Therefore any media experienced in Australia is a reflection of some segment of the community's interests. The Chilling Effect, in the long term, has a much greater impact on what is publicly available than the Classification Scheme, as the Henson Case of 2008 made abundantly clear. The Classification Scheme, as of 2008, clearly decided that Henson's photographs were acceptable for a wide Australian audience, yet the public outcry has meant that far fewer artists are prepared to explore this aspect of the human experience.

The people who produce content do so because they have something to say, or they have a profit motive. They may have thought through their points, or they may not have. They may be criminal and malicious in their intentions, or they may be well meaning. What becomes popular does so because of the decisions of millions of Australians choosing to experience that content. If there is concern about what each of those individual choices mean for the longer term viability of Australian society, then the correct place to address that is by making people understand why those decisions could be potentially harmful. It is not to eliminate the ability to make those decisions entirely.

So, what this principle seems to really be about is there being an escape hatch in the Classification Scheme somewhere, that allows those with the power to make such decisions to say 'this particular content is not consistent with the Australia I want, and therefore no Australians should be able to experience it'. That is a point I must absolutely disagree with.

Not that long ago, the age of sexual-consent in the English world was 12 years old. That was considered 100% in line with the 'community standards' of the time. The point here is that regardless of what 'community standards' you choose as current today - they must be reviewed and changed regularly to keep pace with constant changes in 'community strandards'. Any alteration to current legislation should therefore mandate a more regular review of community standards (i.e. once every couple of years).

Community standards are naturally self-regulating. If a particular piece of content falls outside of the standards of a particular community, then that community will naturally avoid that content; likewise, if it particularly appeals to that community, they will embrace it.

Any paternalistic attempt by Governments to pre-empt this natural process sends the message that, not only are community members not to be trusted to look after themselves and each other, but that all communities have the same sets of standards.

The truth is, Australia is not one single community. It is a collective of diverse peoples and cultures, and there is no one set of content guidelines that can accurately or justifiably be shoehorned into place.

If you allow the diversity to flourish, then communities will naturally flock to - and emerge around - whatever genres or movements rise and flow. There's nothing wrong with providing advice as to the nature of content to assist that natural flow, but for Governments to forcefully dictate that "Community Standards shall be as Thus" is at best useless (because the public will just roll their eyes and carry on regardless) and at worst creates commercial disadvantage, stigmatises legitimate forms of content and entertainment, and fans the flames of the next wave of Moral Panics.

The 'community standards' test is just a broader application of the 'reasonable adult' test, with all the problems inherent to the application of the reasonable adult test in media classification, plus several, additional problems. I’ll look at the biggest four here.

At its most basic level, ‘community standards’ is an arbitrary and entirely subjective measure. What are community standards, exactly? How do you measure them? Who determines what they are? Which community is considered to be the most ‘broadly representative’? Bear in mind when considering these questions that, while our current classification & censorship framework are intended to be in keeping with ‘community standards’, Australian politicians are extremely reluctant to conduct research into what those standards actually are. On the rare occasion that they do do the homework, it’s typically ignored in favour of whatever conservative lobby group or senator has the most influence at that point in time.

This brings me to the second problem with the ‘community standards’ test. ‘Community standards’ is a loaded phrase. Having read through hundreds of submissions to this review to date, this phrase, with regards to media, has been used almost exclusively by those calling for greater media censorship. This is not an accident; appeals to ‘community standards’ are increasingly a way of appealing to ‘family values’ on the sly, where the family values desired are those of evangelic, typically conservative, religious sects.

This highlights another problem, namely that, being an effectively conservative value, the ‘community standards’ test has historically discriminated and continues to discriminate against minority groups. ‘Community standards’ can often be little more than the tyranny of the majority; it was not so long ago, after all, the ‘community standards’ included abhorrence of homosexuality, and, indeed, this is a phrase often brought up in efforts by some organisations and community members to deny GLBT Australians equal rights.

Finally, this test endangers an unresolvable tension between different community groups and individuals, particularly when the issue is seen as controversial. If community A and community B disagree on what ‘broad community standards’ are, who wins? Who is more broadly representative? What if they are of equal size and volume? Salo, as I mentioned in my own submission, highlights this problem. The film violates one set of community standards, but is considered acceptable by another.

No.

There should be no requirement that content that is available reflects community standards, whatever community standards might really mean today. Diversity in the community has never been greater.

Community standards should only come into play where content is made available in such a way that access of that content is unavoidable e.g. billboard.

"Community standards" seem to be protecting the interests of religious minority groups (who, in my opinion, have too much influence on the whole classification process). Their influence should be minimised as much as possible.

The problem with a "community standards" regime is that politicians tend to believe that they're representatives of the community, and that their standards are therefore, by definition, the same as the community's standards.


The fact that large sections of the community are frequently outraged at their decisions, opinions and behaviours doesn't seem to convey any kind of message in a language they understand -- which is, itself, symptomatic of the fact that our politicians are separate and distinct from our communities.


I'll go out on a limb and say that the absolute LAST people in the nation that I'd want to set up as an arbiter of community standards would be politicians, and the second last group would be individuals selected by politicians.


The reality of the way our society works is that we're actually comprised of thousands of communities, each with its own community standards, expectations, mores and conventions.


A one-size-fits-all approach is simply a way to guarantee that everyone except the people who write the rules will be dissatisfied with them.


Recognition of the multitude of communities in our country is the way forward. Each community should be able to respond to their own standards, without destructively interfering with any other community's standards.


I'm sure I make choices which communities of Christians, Muslims, Sri Lankans, North Sydneysiders, Lawyers or bicycle riders would profoundly disagree with. But they're my decisions, about my preferences, and my family situation, and I can make them without causing any harm whatsoever to anyone else.


Moreover, I'm a responsible adult, and the law should recognize that I'm no more likely to want to cause outcomes that destroy civilization than, say, Fred Nile.


There'll inevitably be differences of opinion. It is not the role of censorship law to settle them.


- mark

The concept of "community standards" has me concerned here and has for a very long time. We use terms such as this along with labels such as "reasonable adult". Who defines community standards? It is ludicrous to think that we can categorise or define such a subjective concept. In the capacity of classification there should BE no "community standard" or "standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults." as it is impossible to define without offending someone. What the hell is a reasonable adult? My sense of community standard could be completely polar to my neighbours however the same as a person on the other side of the country. Influences such as religion, upbringing, wealth and health impact on a person's perception making it unique. It is time classification removed itself from trying to put labels to groups of people (no matter how big or small) and focus on the fact we now live in the digital age, without playing political nanny and hand holding those who may take offense to something. If independant bodies such as Religious groups, multicultural organisations and other parties wish to add their own recommendations to a product or to a website they have set up recommending or warning people with shared ideals, then this can be done at their own expense.

"Community Standards" have probably never been a reflection of what community standards really are, even to the extent that such a single standard has existed. Mostly, "Community Standards" has been what a small, usually non-representative, group has believed that community standards ought to be. As such this catch cry represents an attempt to bring behaviour into line with a specific ideology. Even ignoring the fact that there is probably no agreed community standard anyway, even if there was, it would be virtually impossible to establish. The dialogue that a few years ago unsuccessfully attempted to establish an agreed set of human rights shows the difficulty.
And is there any place in a democracy for the imposition of community standards beyond those needed to prevent clearly identified community harm?