How to determine who should classify content

7.16 In Chapter 6, the ALRC proposes that all feature-length films and television programs produced on a commercial basis, computer games produced on a commercial basis likely to be classified MA 15+ or above and all media content likely to be X 18+ or RC, must be classified before being sold, hired, screened or distributed in Australia.[8] The following section discusses the factors that might influence which segment of this content should be classified by the Board and which may be classified by industry.

Volume of content

7.17 As discussed in Chapter 6, the volume of media content available today inevitably restricts what can practically be classified. Submissions noted that, with the ‘huge range of content being produced both online and offline, it is economically and practically unrealistic that a government body be charged with the classification of all content’.[9]

7.18 Submissions commented that the quantity of content is also a factor that influences the division of classification responsibilities, and that industry should therefore be permitted to classify the content it publishes.[10] For example, Daniel Bryar argued that:

Where the volume of content is too large for a classification body to adequately address every article, suitable industry codes are more effective and practical. This is particularly true for the adult entertainment industry, both online and offline.[11]

7.19 The Australian Home Entertainment Distribution Association (AHEDA) also suggested that DVD distributors should be allowed to classify children’s content, as the ‘amount of pre-school aged children’s specific TV programming is immense and the cost to classify is great’.[12]

Cost and administrative burden

7.20 The Board recovers fees for making classification decisions on a cost-recovery basis. The Board model of classification is resource intensive and therefore also costly. Financial and administrative burdens may therefore be a reasonable consideration in determining what content should be classified by whom. As Telstra explained:

the economics of the provision of online content are very different to that of publishing, film or television. In fact, given the costs of preparing a formal classification application and the scale of the classification fees charged by the Classification Board ($810–$2040 per assessment plus), it is likely that requiring large scale formal classification by the Classification Board would make the provision of most online content by Australian providers uneconomic.[13]

7.21 Allowing for industry classification that reduces costs, and the regulatory burden, was considered particularly important for independent developers and publishers of niche products.

Likely classification category

7.22 The features of particular content may also be useful for distinguishing what the Board or industry should classify. For example, submissions suggested that ‘low impact content’ or material that is not likely to be classified in a legally-restricted category could be classified by industry.[14]

7.23 Other submissions argued that a varied range of content could be classified by industry. For example, the Australian Christian Lobby, stated that:

media such as publications, music and sound recordings, websites, and so on could be self regulated when the content is likely to receive a rating below MA15+. Anything that is likely to be rated MA15+ or above should be referred to the Classification Board.[15]

7.24 AHEDA asserted that industry should classify all content, except for content likely to be classified R 18+ and X 18+, because such content is high impact and often controversial in nature.[16]

Straightforward content

7.25 Some submissions suggested that, where the classification of content may be straightforward, it may not need to be classified by the Board, for example, children’s content.[17] Other submissions supported industry classification of some G content, where an industry specialises in it and the producer’s intention is clear and fair.[18] It was suggested that sexually explicit content was another type of content that it would be easy for industry to classify, because it is provided by a sector that ‘caters only towards adults’.[19]

Efficiency of decision making

7.26 A key benefit of industry classification is that it is likely to generate cost savings and create other efficiencies, such as reducing the time it takes to classify products. Efficiency of classification may therefore be another useful way to decide what content should be classified by industry.

7.27 Submissions referred to speed of classification and familiarity with content as factors that supported industry classification.[20] Given the volume of media content and the dynamic nature of online content, submissions observed that the Board would not necessarily be able to keep pace with certain content-generating industries.[21] It was also suggested that industry should classify content where there are critical deadlines for publishing particular content.[22]

7.28 Industry classification may have particular advantages in relation to media content that can be accurately classified quickly, especially where that content is also published in large volumes and is subject to pressing time frames.


7.29 Given the apparent support for industry classification, some might question the need for an independent classification body at all. Despite the limits of the Board to classify all content that may be subject to classification requirements under a new system, some submissions asserted that ‘it is imperative that a government agency, rather than industry bodies, devise and apply the classifications’.[23]

7.30 Submissions variously referred to the importance of a ‘separate’, ‘impartial’ classification body while others, such as the Australian Council on Children (ACCM) and the Media, also remarked that ‘classification is a highly technical process, and having one central body will ensure accuracy and consistency’.[24] John Dickie emphasised the need for an independent standard-setting body:

There needs to be a base classification decision making body applying agreed upon criteria and with guidelines to assist in making the decision. In Australia that is most likely to be a government agency. That agency sets the standards and other agencies—government or industry—can take their cue from that.[25]

7.31 Some submissions noted that classification becomes more justifiable as a feature of fair trading in relation to content produced primarily for profit. Submissions highlighted the importance of unbiased decision making, particularly in relation to the classification of content where there may be profit or market advantages in under-classifying. Family Voice Australia observed, for example, that lower classifications generally lead to increased market share, ‘which is why classification applicants sometimes appeal against the classification of a film for public exhibition because it is higher than the applicant would prefer’.[26]

7.32 Independent classification decisions that are not influenced by commercial imperatives may be behind the suggestion in some submissions that films and computer games continue to be classified by the Board. Even if it might be pragmatic for industry to classify all media content, it is clear that a board or equivalent body with statutory independence from government and financial independence from industry, remains highly valued.

[8] See Chapter 6 for a discussion of what content must be classified.

[9] The Arts Law Centre of Australia, Submission CI 1299, 19 July 2011.

[10] F Hudson, Submission CI 402, 8 July 2011.

[11] D Bryar, Submission CI 1278, 12 July 2011.

[12] Australian Home Entertainment Distribution Association, Submission CI 1152, 15 July 2011.

[13] Telstra, Submission CI 1184, 15 July 2011.

[14] R Palmer, Submission CI 2296, 15 July 2011.

[15] Australian Christian Lobby, Submission CI 2024, 21 July 2011.

[16] Australian Home Entertainment Distribution Association, Submission CI 1152, 15 July 2011.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Confidential, Submission CI 2037, 15 July 2011.

[19] J Bui, Submission CI 873, 11 July 2011.

[20] C McNeill, Submission CI 1997, 15 July 2011.

[21] E Barker, Submission CI 1781, 13 July 2011.

[22] D Bryar, Submission CI 1278, 12 July 2011.

[23] Australian Council on Children and the Media, Submission CI 1236, 15 July 2011.

[24] Ibid.

[25] J Dickie, Submission CI 582, 11 July 2011.

[26] FamilyVoice Australia, Submission CI 85, 3 July 2011.