Public display of media content

8.96 Australians exercise considerable control over the content they choose for themselves and their families. They switch television channels and supervise children’s entertainment, and may also use internet filters and parental locks on televisions. The public does not, however, have this level of control over media content shown in streets, shopping centres, parks and other public areas. Some submissions argued that stricter rules should therefore be applied to media content displayed in public. For example, Civil Liberties Australia submitted that ‘public spaces are all about community, and therefore community standards should apply’.[75]

8.97 Dr Nicolas Suzor argued that there is ‘a very strong distinction between access in public and in private’, and that, therefore, classification policy should

restrict public access to content that is likely to cause offence in a way that is consistent with community standards, but should generally not restrict private access.[76]

8.98 The ALRC considers that restrictions on the display of media content in public should be stricter than restrictions on the sale and distribution of content to be viewed in homes and cinemas. However, this does not mean that all public media must necessarily be classified.

8.99 In Chapter 10, the ALRC recommends that content providers should take reasonable steps to restrict access to adult content, including media content on public display.[77] This would apply to media content displayed in public. However, the new Act could provide for further restrictions on the public display of media content. It might, for example, prohibit the public display of media content likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher. If the new Act contained such a provision, and if the Regulator considered that a particular piece of media content displayed in public was likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher, the Regulator could issue a notice to the content provider, requiring the content to be removed or classified.

Outdoor advertising

8.100 The media content currently most commonly displayed in public is advertising—notably billboards. Outdoor advertising is largely self regulated, underpinned by the AANA’s Code of Ethics[78] and a complaints-handling system administered by the Advertising Standards Bureau and adjudicated by the Advertising Standards Board.

8.101 In July 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs finalised its inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising with the release of its report, Reclaiming Public Space. The Committee made a number of recommendations, including the following:

The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department review by 30 June 2013 the self-regulatory system for advertising by evaluating the industry implementation reports and assessing the extent to which there has been effective implementation of the recommendations contained in this report. If the self-regulatory system is found lacking, the Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department impose a self-funded co-regulatory system on advertising with government input into advertising codes of practice.[79]

8.102 In its report, the Committee concluded that the current classification scheme was inappropriate for regulating outdoor advertising.[80] The Committee expressed concern about the regulatory burden on industry if all outdoor advertisements were required to be classified by the Classification Board. The report also noted that advertising industry self-regulation ‘is the standard practice in the developed world’.[81]

8.103 The ALRC does not recommend that advertising be brought into the new classification scheme. However, this Report provides for authorised industry classifiers and industry-specific codes. This means that, if advertising were brought into the new scheme, outdoor advertising could continue to be assessed or classified by industry, but decisions might be monitored by the Regulator and subject to review by the Board. Industry assessment or classification might minimise any expected financial and administrative burden on industry, which the Committee was concerned could come with ‘Government classification’.[82]

8.104 If the Australian Government chose to bring outdoor advertising into the new co-regulatory classification scheme, the ALRC would suggest that a law prohibiting the display in public places of media content likely to have a higher-level classification may be appropriate.

[75] Civil Liberties Australia, Submission CI 1143.

[76] N Suzor, Submission CI 1233.

[77] This does not mean this content must necessarily be classified.

[78] Australian Association of National Advertisers, AANA Code of Ethics 2009.

[79] House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, Reclaiming Public Space: Inquiry into the Regulation of Billboards and Outdoor Advertising: Final Report (2011), Rec 2.

[80] Ibid, [3.55].

[81] Ibid, [2.7].

[82] Ibid, [3.57].