Scope of the Inquiry

1.29 The nature and extent of these forms of evidence gathering and engagement are framed by both the subject matter and scope of the Inquiry, and the timeframe in which the Inquiry must be completed under its Terms of Reference. This Inquiry has a potentially very broad scope, as it necessarily refers not only to a diverse and growing array of forms of media content, but also to the complex question of community standards. At the same time, the ALRC has been required to complete its deliberations within a nine-month time frame. The scope of the inquiry must, therefore, be clearly defined.

1.30 The Terms of Reference require the ALRC to review the classification cooperative scheme for publications, films and computer games, based on the Classification Act and complementary state and territory enforcement legislation. This regime applies not only to films exhibited in cinemas, but also filmed entertainment made available through DVD and similar technologies.

1.31 The other category of media content clearly covered by the Terms of Reference is online and mobile content. Since the passage of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999 (Cth), online content accessed through the internet has been subject to the Broadcasting Services Act. Schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act sets out provisions in relation to internet content hosted outside Australia, and sch 7 does so in relation to online and mobile content hosted in or provided from Australia. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) investigates complaints about online and mobile content that the complainant believes to be ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potential prohibited content’, with reference to the classification categories in the Classification Act.

1.32 In this Inquiry, the ALRC is also considering the place of broadcast media—radio and television—in a new National Classification Scheme. Broadcast media content is classified by relevant industry bodies, subject to co-regulatory arrangements and codes of practice approved by, or notified to, the ACMA.[17] Designing an effective framework for the classification of media content, as required by the Terms of Reference, necessitates considering television content, especially in light of the significance of television content in the lives of Australians, the important role played by television networks in providing community information about classification, and the sometimes contentious nature of this content—especially in terms of its suitability for children.

1.33 Where relevant in consideration of a new National Classification Scheme, the ALRC also discusses the possible place of other media content in relation to classification obligations. This includes areas where there are industry self-regulatory models currently in place, such as music and advertising, as well as areas where the principle of classification has been more contested, such as artworks and user-created content.

[17] Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth); Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Cth); Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 (Cth).