9.110 The ALRC recommends that a function of the Regulator should be research activity, similar to the range conducted or commissioned by the former Office of Film and Literature Classification, the ACMA and broadcasters currently, that supports the maintenance of an effective classification scheme.

9.111 Research activities should develop a broader evidence-base to inform the development of classification policy, legislation and decision-making tools that continue to meet the needs of consumers but also responds to industry developments—new technologies and forms of media content. The Regulator should also make research findings available to the public to inform them on the operation and effectiveness of the classification scheme.

9.112 There were mixed views about research focused on community standards, as initially proposed by the ALRC. Some submissions supported such research,[106] while others opposed it because community standards are ‘contentious, nebulous and mutable’.[107] There was also concern about how findings may be used, for example, that it could ‘have the effect of setting an ‘official’ community standard by which all media content is measured’;[108] or that it would be used to ban content even if it would otherwise only be available to adults.[109]

9.113 Another submission expressed the view that community standards research would not necessarily address matters such as the possibility of expanding classifiable elements and the bias towards offensive content ‘inherent in the current regime’.[110]

9.114 The ALRC considers that research—whether it be on community standards or otherwise—should be tailored for the purpose and might involve commissioning academic or sociological research and seeking input from classification experts. In some instances it may involve attitudinal surveys, focus groups, community assessment panels, literature reviews, data collation and reviews of complaints. Research might be instigated at the Board’s request or where opportunities arise to partner with, or complement research conducted by others in the field.[111]

9.115 Recognising that young people are now not just consumers of media content, but actively involved in its production and dissemination, research should involve eliciting the views of children. This would be one way to take up the ACCG suggestion that,

consideration be given to how the new classification system could better enhance the capacity of children to make informed decisions about the media they use and incorporate their views in the design of the new classification tools.[112]

9.116 The ALRC considers that there may be value in consulting children directly about some classification matters rather than only referring to adult views about what may or may not be appropriate for them. For example, older children that select content for themselves could be involved in ‘testing’ changes to classification categories/criteria if these are contemplated in future.

Recommendation 9–4 The Regulator’s functions should include conducting or commissioning a range of research activities that consider matters such as:

(a) community standards in relation to media content;

(b) awareness of classification information;

(c) adequacy of classification categories, the classifiable elements and the impact test;

(d) content permitted in different classification categories; or

(e) alignment of classification decisions with the views of the public.

[106] Foxtel, Submission CI 2497; Advertising Standards Bureau, Submission CI 2487; Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Submission CI 2470; Telstra, Submission CI 2469; R Harvey, Submission CI 2467.

[107] A Hightower, Submission CI 2511; L Mancell, Submission CI 2492; J Denham, Submission CI 2464.

[108] National Association for the Visual Arts, Submission CI 2471.

[109] J Trevaskis, Submission CI 2493; Lin, Submission CI 2476.

[110] S Ailwood and B Arnold, Submission CI 2156.

[111] For example, the Advertising Standards Bureau, Submission CI 2487 has conducted extensive community standards research that might usefully inform classification and media content policy and regulation.

[112] Australian Childrens Commissioners and Guardians, Submission CI 2499.