Responses to the Discussion Paper

5.11 The recommendations reflect affirmation by industry, government and community stakeholders that the existing classification framework is in need of reform.

5.12 As discussed in Chapter 2, stakeholders identified several significant flaws with the current classification framework, which is widely seen as resulting from its development in an ad hoc and reactive manner. The need for more fundamental reform was also a common theme in individual responses to the Inquiry.[6]

5.13 As observed in Chapter 3, the existing classification framework is particularly poorly equipped to respond to the challenges of media convergence. It is characterised by inconsistencies in its treatment of similar content across different media platforms, and there is a need to develop an architecture for classification of media content that can be more adaptive to unanticipated changes in media technologies, products and services. Commentators have described the existing framework as being ‘like a bowl of spaghetti … complex, tangled and, from a media user point of view, impossible to tell which bit of media content connects to which regulatory framework’.[7]

5.14 The arguments outlined in the Discussion Paper for a new scheme were supported by many stakeholders. For example, Telstra observed that

The scale of technological, commercial and cultural change that has occurred over the past years and the ongoing pace of change in media industries justifies taking a holistic approach to the reform of the National Classification Scheme rather than attempting further incremental reform.[8]

5.15 The Arts Law Centre of Australia stated that the ALRC’s proposals for a new classification scheme, rather than seeking to amend the current one, ‘recognises the need for fundamental comprehensive reform particularly for the digital environment’.[9] Similarly, Free TV Australia supported greater harmonisation of regulatory requirements across convergent media platforms:

Harmonisation and common classification markings across all regulated media will ensure the communication of clear and consistent information on content, regardless of the delivery method or platform … In particular, Free TV supports the development of a single set of classification criteria, underpinned by common high-level principles which can then be specialised for each industry as appropriate.[10]

5.16 The development of a new National Classification Scheme that provides a proactive response to the challenges of media convergence is consistent with the analysis of the Convergence Review Committee, as outlined in its interim report:

Given the opportunities offered by convergence, it is timely to rethink our approach. Australia would benefit from a new policy framework that reflects the vitality of services provided on new and existing communications infrastructure.

Whilst technology has eroded the traditional divisions between free-to-air (FTA) television and the internet, newspapers and websites, radio and streaming services, our policy and regulation is still based on the industry and service structures of the early 1990s.

Calibrating the policy and regulatory framework for the new environment is vital. The reforms recommended by the Convergence Review will require fundamental changes to communications legislation.[11]

5.17 A small number of respondents, however, argued against the implementation of the proposed new National Classification Scheme. Some argued that the case for an ongoing role for a media classification scheme had not been made sufficiently, particularly in terms of the scope of the current Refused Classification (RC) category. For example, one respondent stated:

This review starts with the unstated premise that censorship of what adults watch is necessary and will continue because a vocal minority claim to have a special insight on what represents ‘community standards’. How can this be a valid review if the possibility that censorship is not necessary is not included in the review, and no attempt is made to determine if there is actual proof that censorship of legal adult material and video games for adults is required?[12]

5.18 The ALRC’s recommendations relating to the RC category (to be renamed ‘Prohibited content’) are discussed in Chapters 11 and 12. However, it is worth reiterating that, since the 1970s, the Australian classification system has largely operated around a principle of classification, with censorship or the banning of content occurring only in exceptional circumstances.

5.19 The 2010–11 Annual Reports of the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board record that, of the 5,579 films, publications and computer games submitted to the Classification Board in 2010–11, only 26 films not for public exhibition and two computer games were classified RC, or 0.5% of media content classified by the Board. No publications or films for public exhibition received an RC classification in 2010–11.[13]

5.20 Others argued that the proposed provisions for classification of online content, including obligations to restrict access to some content likely to be classified R 18+ or X 18+, were too onerous for non-commercial content providers, and would inappropriately impinge upon freedom of online communication. For example, Amy Hightower submitted that:

While the current framework is outdated and ineffective, it is actually less impactful and poses fewer restrictions on ‘ordinary Australians’ than the scheme effectively proposed in [the Discussion Paper]. I therefore cannot support a new Classification Scheme based on the proposals in [the Discussion Paper] unless it undergoes substantial revision.[14]

5.21 Issues concerning the application of the new scheme to online content and content providers are discussed in more detail below.

[6] See Australian Law Reform Commission, Responses to ALRC National Classification Scheme Review Issues Paper (IP40) – Graphical Representation of Submissions (2011) <
publications/responses-IP40> at 26 January 2012, Responses to Question 1.

[7] Professor Catharine Lumby, Director, Journalism and Media Research Centre, University of New South Wales, statement at launch of K Crawford and C Lumby, The Adaptive Moment: A Fresh Approach to Convergent Media in Australia (2011), Sydney, 5 May 2011.

[8] Telstra, Submission CI 2469.

[9] Arts Law Centre of Australia, Submission CI 2490.

[10] Free TV Australia, Submission CI 2452.

[11] Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Convergence Review: Interim Report (2011), iv.

[12] L Mancell, Submission CI 2492.

[13] Classification Board and Classification Review Board, Annual Reports 2010-2011 (2011), 32–35.

[14] A Hightower, Submission CI 2511. Similar views were expressed by: I Graham, Submission
CI 2507
; J Trevaskis, Submission CI 2493.