The need for fundamental reform

The major principles that have informed media classification in Australia—such as adults should be free to make their own informed media choices and children should be protected from harm—continue to be relevant and important. While a convergent media environment presents major new challenges, there is a community expectation that certain media content, such as films and television programs, will continue to be accompanied by classification information based on guidelines that reflect community standards.

However, industry submissions to this Inquiry were almost universal in condemning the current National Classification Scheme for not responding adequately to the challenges of media convergence. The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) (Classification Act) was said to be ‘an analogue piece of legislation in a digital world’. Respondents drew attention to aspects of the current classification framework that have become dysfunctional, are failing to meet intended goals, and create confusion for the industries involved and the wider community. Among the problems identified are:

  • inconsistent classification obligations for the same content delivered on different media platforms;

  • inconsistent classification guidelines and markings across media platforms;

  • pervasive ‘double handling’—with some content being classified multiple times for different platforms;

  • cost and regulatory burdens applying unevenly across media industries;

  • anomalies in the treatment of media content between different states and territories, such as inconsistent laws relating to the sale and distribution of sexually explicit adult content;

  • the fragmentation of regulatory agencies and administrative oversight, and the division of authority between the Commonwealth, the states and territories;

  • the need for Commonwealth, state and territory ministers to reach unanimous agreement on any amendments to the National Classification Code or to classification guidelines;

  • low compliance with classification obligations in some industries;

  • the breadth of the current Refused Classification (RC) category, particularly in light of its possible application in mandatory or voluntary internet service provider (ISP) level internet filters; and

  • confusion and legal uncertainty surrounding schs 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth), which regulate online content.