4.1 This chapter identifies eight guiding principles for reform directed to providing an effective framework for the classification of media content in Australia. These principles should inform the development of a new National Classification Scheme that meets community needs and expectations, while being more effective in its application and responsive to the challenges of technological change and media convergence.

4.2 The eight guiding principles are that:

(1) Australians should be able to read, hear, see and participate in media of their choice;

(2) communications and media services available to Australians should broadly reflect community standards, while recognising a diversity of views, cultures and ideas in the community;

(3) children should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;

(4) consumers should be provided with information about media content in a timely and clear manner, and with a responsive and effective means of addressing their concerns, including through complaints;

(5) the classification regulatory framework needs to be responsive to technological change and adaptive to new technologies, platforms and services;

(6) the classification regulatory framework should not impede competition and innovation, and not disadvantage Australian media content and service providers in international markets;

(7) classification regulation should be kept to the minimum needed to achieve a clear public purpose, and should be clear in its scope and application; and

(8) classification regulation should be focused upon content rather than platform or means of delivery.

4.3 These eight guiding principles provide the framework for the proposals for reform in this Discussion Paper. The principles are derived from existing laws, codes and regulations, as well as principles that have been identified in other relevant reviews and government reports. This chapter outlines the basis of each of these principles in legislation and other policy documents, and highlights relevant comments from stakeholders in this Inquiry.

4.4 A statement of guiding principles is considered important for three reasons. First, it acknowledges that, while classification is an inherently contested space, characterised by strong views on the relative importance attached to particular principles—for example, individual rights and freedoms as compared to the protection of children from potentially harmful media content—it is possible for policy makers and regulators to proceed on the basis of a common community understanding of underlying interests and principles. The National Classification Code has played an important role in this regard.

4.5 Secondly, it allows discussion of policy goals and policy instruments to be uncoupled. The ALRC proposes the application of a diverse range of policy instruments be applied to a new National Classification Scheme, involving a mix of direct government regulation, co-regulation, and industry self-regulation. As the Australian Public Service Commission has observed:

Each main category of policy instrument has something valuable to offer but they generally have substantial limitations as a stand-alone strategy for government intervention. Further, each category of policy instrument works well in only a restricted range of circumstances—no single instrument type works across-the-board.[1]

4.6 Thirdly, as changes in the context of media convergence will be difficult to anticipate, there is a need for regulation that can be adaptive to changes in the media environment. A statement of guiding principles allows for flexibility in the application of policy instruments, while being anchored in an understanding of policy goals that can remain more constant over time.

[1] Australian Public Service Commission, Smarter Policy: Choosing Policy Instruments and Working with Others to Influence Behaviour (2009), 12.