Who currently classifies content?

7.4 Responsibility for classification, content assessment and other related regulatory activities is allocated across independent classification boards, government and industry, as described below.

Films, computer games and publications

7.5 Films, computer games and certain publications are subject to direct government regulation, which involves mandatory classification by independent boards using statutory criteria and guidelines. Matters pertaining to the establishment of the boards and classification decision making are detailed in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) (Classification Act).

The Classification Board and Classification Review Board

7.6 The Board and the Classification Review Board (the Review Board) are separate statutory bodies independent of government and each other. Members are recruited through a competitive merit selection process and, while formal qualifications are not specified, the Classification Act requires that members be broadly representative of the community.[2] Membership turns over periodically as appointments are generally for a three-year fixed term, and no member can serve more than a total of seven years.

7.7 The Boards’ classification decision-making processes are expected to reflect sound administrative law practices. The Boards are required under legislation to prepare annual reports[3] and their activities are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Industry authorised assessors

7.8 Authorised industry-based assessors play a significant role in classification under schemes that provide for the classification of certain computer games, certain films for sale or hire and advertising for unclassified films and computer games.[4]

7.9 Using the same classification tools as the Board, industry assessors may make classification and consumer advice recommendations which are submitted to the Board with an application for classification. Assessors provide details about the content against each of the classifiable elements plus other information that substantiates their classification recommendation. Under these schemes, applicants pay a reduced application fee, but the final classification decision rests with the Board and is recorded as a decision of the Board. The only exception to this is the advertising scheme, which is a fully industry self-assessed process, that does not involve the Board at all.

7.10 The operation of these schemes is governed by provisions in the Classification Act and other legislative instruments that set out eligibility criteria, application conditions, training requirements and sanctions and safeguards to maintain the integrity of classification decisions and deal with misconduct by assessors.[5]

Other government decision makers

7.11 Although they do not make formal classification decisions, some government employees also assess content pursuant to obligations outlined in other Commonwealth and state and territory legislation. These include employees of the Attorney-General’s Department (the Department), who are delegated content assessment responsibilities; the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs), who assess and intercept prohibited imports and exports at the border; the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA), who investigate complaints about online content; and some state and territory law enforcement officers, who may issue notices regarding the likely classification of material for the purpose of prosecutions.

7.12 Government decision makers may receive Board approved classification training. They may also seek advice from the Board about content matters or refer content for classification as necessary.

Television content

7.13 Commercial television broadcast licensees, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and subscription television companies all engage classifiers to classify programs, films and, in some cases, other content such as promotions or advertising. Codes of practice concerning programming are a legislative requirement. Each respective broadcaster or industry sector has its own code[6] that governs classification activities, including exemptions, classification guidelines, time-zone restrictions, marking requirements and complaint mechanisms.

Online content

7.14 ‘Trained content assessors’ are engaged by industry mobile and online content service providers to determine whether content should be provided behind a restricted access system in accordance with requirements under sch 7 of the Broadcasting Service Act 1992. The circumstances under which content must be referred for assessment and the assessment process are set out under the internet industry content services code of practice, approved by and registered with the ACMA.[7]

7.15 Online and content service providers may submit media content to the Board for classification if they choose. The ACMA may also refer online content to the Board for classification if it has been the subject of a complaint alleging that the media content is either ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potential prohibited’ content.

[2]Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) s 48.

[3] Ibid s 67.

[4] Ibid ss 14, 14B, 17.

[5] Ibid ss 21AA, 21AB, 22D–J; Classification (Authorised Television Series Assessor Scheme) Determination 2008 ; Classification (Advertising of Unclassified Films and Computer Games Scheme) Determination 2009 .

[6] Codes of practice registered with the ACMA: The Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010 the ABC Code of Practice 2011; the SBS Codes of Practice 2006 (incorporating amendments as at August 2010); the ASTRA Codes of Practice 2007 Subscription Broadcast Television; and ASTRA Codes of Practice 2007 Subscription Narrowcast Television.

[7] Internet Industry Association, Internet Industry Code of Practice: Content Services Code for Industry Co-regulation in the Area of Content Services (2008).