Consumer advice

9.46 ‘Consumer advice’ refers to the words that appear alongside the classification marking, and is designed to give specific information about the content, for example ‘Strong violence’ or ‘Moderate coarse language’.

9.47 The Classification Act currently requires the Board to provide consumer advice for all films and computer games it classifies, with the exception of content classified G (for which consumer advice is optional) and RC (consumer advice is unnecessary for RC content, because the content is illegal to sell, exhibit or otherwise distribute).[54]

9.48 Consumer advice requirements for free-to-air television and subscription broadcasters are outlined in their respective industry codes of practice. Provisions differ across the codes and are also different from those prescribed under the Classification Act.

9.49 Consumer advice is generally mandatory for content classified M and above while PG classified content will carry consumer advice in certain circumstances. For example, under the SBS code, PG programs will carry consumer advice where SBS considers it contains material of strength or intensity which SBS reasonably believes parents of young children might not expect.[55] The Free TV Australia code has a similar provision in relation to consumer advice for PG classified content screened between 7.00 pm and 8.30 pm on weekdays or between 10.00 am and 8.30 pm on weekends.[56]

9.50 Submissions confirmed that consumers value this extra information.[57] It also has other useful applications, as the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association observed:

Australia’s classification framework should allow for the introduction of new content descriptors or consumer advice to address technological advances and any emerging consumer concerns.[58]

9.51 Some industry submissions that expressed reservations about changing the classification categories, also pointed to consumer advice as the preferable mechanism for improving the clarity of classification information.[59]

9.52 Notwithstanding broad support, the television industry (both broadcast and subscription) was opposed to the ALRC’s proposal to mandate consumer advice for all content classified PG and above, as it would result in a significant increase in the regulatory burden for their industry sector.[60] The sector contended that providing consumer advice for the large amount of PG classified content that they deliver—including back-catalogues of previously screened content—would have a substantial resourcing impact.[61] ASTRA further submitted:

Given that the PG category cannot contain content that is more than mild in impact, this category is unlikely to contain depictions, references or themes that are strong enough to warrant the requirement for advice. [62]

9.53 The ALRC considers that providing consumer advice—as advice that identifies the classifiable elements that contribute to the classification—should not substantially increase the regulatory burden as it would ordinarily be a by-product of making the classification decision itself. Any new classification laws would not apply retrospectively, further minimising the obligation to provide consumer advice for back-catalogues of content classified before the laws took effect.

9.54 In the ALRC’s view, consumer advice across the spectrum of classifications is important and valuable: for the lower classifications it enables parents and carers to be more selective about content for young children (a PG program with mild themes may be preferable over a PG film with mild violence) and for the higher classifications it guides older children and adults selecting content for themselves (some adults may wish to avoid films with violence).

9.55 The provision of consumer advice is consistent with the principle that consumers should be provided with information about media content in a timely and clear manner.[63] The ALRC therefore recommends that classifiers making classification decisions for content that must be classified must also provide consumer advice except in relation to content classified G. Consumer advice should be optional for G content, but classifiers should be encouraged to provide it where content may raise issues for some young children.[64]

9.56 Subject to minimum statutory requirements regarding display of consumer advice (for example with classification information at point of sale and at the commencement of television programs), the ALRC suggests that industry codes may detail how and where consumer advice would be provided—taking into account the technological capability of the relevant platform and the most appropriate and effective ways to convey this information to audiences.

9.57 Voluntarily classified content would not be required to carry consumer advice, though content providers would nevertheless be encouraged to do so. In this context, a classification decision is sufficient information, given that it is provided over and above what is required by law.

Consumer advice symbols

9.58 Although the ALRC is not recommending a C classification for children’s content, it considers there may be merit in considering alternative means for assisting parents to select content that is either appropriate or exclusively for young children.

9.59 Some submissions suggested that G classified content could be accompanied by special symbols that indicate to parents its suitability for very young children such as pre-schoolers.[65] This would have the advantage of achieving a similar outcome to a C classification that could be applied to all forms of media content, without creating confusion with the existing CTS-driven C and P classifications. If, in the future, the CTS were to be completely divorced from classification, the use of the symbols could potentially continue and replace the C and P labels.

Power to determine consumer advice

9.60 In addition to providing for authorised classifiers to make classification decisions, the Classification of Media Content Act should enable authorised classifiers to determine consumer advice and also change the consumer advice of already classified content—including for content classified by the Board.

9.61 Sometimes consumer advice for previously classified content should be changed, even if the classification does not need to be changed.[66] For example, an MA 15+ film with ‘Strong violence’ may be released on DVD with previously deleted sex scenes. If the impact of the additional sexual content is strong then there would be no change to the MA 15+ classification, however because it is a factor that contributed to the MA 15+ classification decision it should be noted in the consumer advice.

9.62 In these circumstances, the content provider should be able to determine new consumer advice without needing to formally classify the content again. Similarly, if separate items of classified content are packaged together or repackaged such that the consumer advice should be changed (even if the overall classification for the box-set has not changed), an authorised classifier should determine new consumer advice.

Consumer advice guidelines

9.63 To assist all classifiers to apply consumer advice in a consistent manner, the ALRC also suggests that the Board publish guidelines for applying ‘standardised’ consumer advice, including a list of familiar consumer advice lines that classifiers may choose to use with each classification category.

9.64 These guidelines are not intended to be prescriptive but rather to minimise discrepancies in the practice of applying consumer advice between classifiers. For example, the guidelines might provide that:

  • consumer advice should not list all the classifiable elements in the content in a ‘catch all’ manner (for example, ‘contains sex scenes’, ‘moderate themes’, ‘coarse language’ and ‘moderate violence’) but be a consistent and clear indicator of the principal elements—and their intensity and frequency—that determined the classification (for example, an MA 15+ film that received the classification due to the sexual content, would be accompanied by consumer advice for ‘Strong sex scenes’ even though the film might also contain moderate coarse language that would otherwise fall within a lower classification);[67]

  • consumer advice descriptors should match the impact threshold for the assigned classification. For example, under the impact hierarchy in the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games, content classified M is moderate in impact—therefore consumer advice descriptors should read, ‘Moderate coarse language’ or ‘Moderate sex’ or ‘Moderate themes’.

  • optional ‘extended classification information’ should take a standard form, for example MA 15+ for ‘Strong violence and lower level sex’. Where content contains classifiable elements that fall below the impact for that category, but a classifier considers it important to flag them, it should be clear which element/s determined the MA 15+ classification (eg, ‘Strong violence’) and which elements may be of interest to some consumers although they could actually be accommodated at a lower classification (eg, ‘Lower level sex’).

9.65 Board–published guidelines would not prevent or limit industry codes from developing consumer advice lines tailored to meet the needs of specific audiences or to reflect particular features of the content.

Recommendation 9–2 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that classification decisions for content that must be classified, other than G content, must also be assigned consumer advice. The Classification Board should publish consumer advice guidelines as a reference for all industry classifiers.

[54]Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) s 20.

[55] Special Broadcasting Service, Codes of Practice 2006: 4. Television Classification Code.

[56] Free TV Australia, Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (2010) <
content_common/pg-code-of-practice.seo> at 13 November 2011.

[57] For example, S Farrelly, Submission CI 245; A Wells, Submission CI 166.

[58] Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Submission CI 1101. See also Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Submission CI 2136 that suggested consumer advice be used to provide better guidance in relation to media content that may include suicide themes or depictions of suicide.

[59] Joint Submission Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcasting Service, Submission CI 2521; Free TV Australia, Submission CI 2519.

[60] Joint Submission Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcasting Service, Submission CI 2521; Free TV Australia, Submission CI 2519; Foxtel, Submission CI 2497; Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, Submission CI 2494.

[61] Free TV Australia further explained that there are many multi-episode (or daily) series which consistently contain low-level content (such as morning lifestyle programs) that are rated PG usually on the basis of the anticipated content rather than viewing every program in a series.

[62] Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, Submission CI 2494.

[63] See Ch 4, Principle 4.

[64] Under the existing classification scheme, G classified content is for a general audience and should not exceed ‘very mild’ in impact. However, it is possible that G classified material might sometimes contain content that might affect some younger children and therefore warrants additional advice. For example, the public exhibition film Toy Story 3 was classified G ‘Some scary scenes’.

[65] For example, Joint Submission Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcasting Service, Submission CI 2521.

[66] See also the discussion about modified content in Ch 6.

[67] Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, Submission CI 2513; Classification Board, Submission CI 2485.