Scope of the Inquiry

1.16 This Inquiry had a potentially very broad scope, as it necessarily referred not only to a diverse and growing array of forms of media content, but also to the complex question of community standards and how they evolve over time. At the same time, the ALRC was required under its Terms of Reference to complete its deliberations within a year. The scope of the inquiry therefore needed to be clearly defined.

1.17 The Terms of Reference required the ALRC to review the classification cooperative scheme for publications, films and computer games, based on the Classification Act and complementary state and territory enforcement legislation.

1.18 The Terms of Reference also required the ALRC to consider classification as it relates to online and mobile content. The regulation of media content is provided for under the Broadcasting Services Act. Schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act sets out provisions in relation to internet content hosted outside Australia, and sch 7 does so in relation to online and mobile content hosted in or provided from Australia. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) investigates complaints about online and mobile content that the complainant believes to be ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potential prohibited content’, with reference to the classification categories in the Classification Act.

1.19 In this Report, the ALRC also considered the place of television content in a new National Classification Scheme. Broadcast media is currently classified by industry, subject to co-regulatory arrangements and codes of practice established by industry bodies and approved by, or notified to, the ACMA.[13] In preparing this Report, the ALRC has been aware of the significance of television content in the lives of Australians, and the important role played by television networks in providing information about classification.

1.20 Media convergence has particularly important implications for the regulatory treatment of television. Services such as Internet Protocol television (IP TV), online ‘catch-up’ services, and delivery of TV content through tablet devices and mobile phones, mean that platform-based distinctions between broadcasting and the internet are also becoming harder to sustain.

1.21 In this Report, the ALRC uses the phrase ‘National Classification Scheme’ broadly to refer to the existing classification cooperative scheme for publications, films and computer games, together with classification-related laws applying to online and mobile content and television under the Broadcasting Services Act. This Report also refers to the ‘new National Classification Scheme’, or ‘the new scheme’. This is the scheme recommended in this Report, to be based on a new Act, the Classification of Media Content Act.

1.22 The ALRC has also discussed other media content in relation to possible classification obligations. This included areas where there are industry self-regulatory models currently in place, such as music and advertising, as well as areas where the relevance of classification principles has been more contested, such as art works, books and eBooks, and user-created content provided on a non-commercial basis.

[13]Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth); Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Cth); Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 (Cth).