Voluntary classification

6.87 Although the ALRC proposes that only a limited range of content must be classified, content providers may choose to have other content classified to meet consumer demand for classification information. The idea of voluntary classification was popular in submissions to this inquiry. The iGEA, for example, submitted that the computer game industry is familiar with and supports voluntary classification schemes, and that it ‘welcomes the opportunity to develop codes of practice to encourage computer game providers to classify and mark content in accordance with approved and agreed industry standards’.[78]

6.88 Similarly, Telstra said that media content providers have ‘substantial incentives’ to classify content, including ‘brand preservation’ and ‘customer satisfaction’:

Telstra believes that many providers would avail themselves of voluntary classification processes. This would be particularly likely to occur if the costs of these voluntary classification processes can be minimised, for example through the new forms of standardised classification instruments [proposed by the ALRC].[79]

6.89 The Arts Law Centre said that ‘given the incredibly huge range of content being produced both online and offline, the government must rely and work with industry to develop suitable codes and guidelines to allow self-classification and regulation’.[80]

6.90 Consumers may demand more classification information for particular types of content. For example, although the ALRC proposes that only computer games likely to be MA 15+ or higher must be classified, distributors of popular games may choose to classify lower level games, because parents and guardians value this information. Content providers will be more likely to choose to meet this consumer demand for classification information if, as is recommended in Chapter 7, this content may be classified by an authorised industry classifier or using an authorised classification instrument.

6.91 Music is another type of content for which there are calls for further classification information. FamilyVoice Australia, for example, provided examples of music with explicit, violent and degrading lyrics, and recommended that ‘music with lyrics which is likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher should be required to be classified’.[81]

6.92 However, the Australia Council for the Arts suggested a cautious approach to music classification. There is an enormous volume of music, it said, and ‘numerous providers of music, including online music stores, subscription streaming services, and social media’.

To implement the classification scheme’s categories for online music in a way that provides effective advice will require cooperation that spans multiple industries, territories and international jurisdictions.[82]

6.93 The ALRC suggests that the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) and the Australian Music Retailers Association (AMRA) consider adapting their industry code so that it provides that music distributors, online and offline, should classify music with a strong impact using the classification categories and criteria of the National Classification Scheme. Music with a strong impact would be music likely to be MA 15+ or R 18+ under the National Classification Scheme, or Level 1, 2 or 3 under the existing ARIA/AMRA code. This would mean using the statutory classification markings of the National Classification Scheme, which are perhaps more widely understood and recognised by Australians than the Level 1, 2 and 3 markings. This would also harmonise music classification with the classification of other media in Australia.

6.94 Voluntary codes should be approved by the Regulator, to help prevent content distributors in any particular industry from using the classifications or markings inconsistently or improperly, or in a way that undermines the classification scheme. Accordingly, the ALRC recommends the new Act provide the Regulator with the power to approve voluntary codes. The ALRC also suggests that the Regulator should actively encourage the development of suitable voluntary codes.[83]

Recommendation 6–4 The Classification of Media Content Act should enable the Regulator to approve industry codes that provide for the voluntary classification and marking of content that is not required to be classified. The Regulator should encourage the development of such codes for:

(a) computer games likely to be classified below MA 15+;

(b) magazines likely to be classified R 18+ or X 18+; and

(c) music with a strong impact.

[78] Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Submission CI 2470.

[79] Telstra, Submission CI 2469. See also Pirate Party Australia, Submission CI 1588.

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

[81]FamilyVoice Australia, Submission CI 2509.

[82] Australia Council for the Arts, Submission CI 2508.

[83] Codes and co-regulation are discussed more broadly in Ch 13.