Advertising for content that must be classified

8.59 The current classification scheme provides for restrictions on the advertising of films, computer games and submittable publications. If the content has been classified, advertisements must usually display the determined classification marking,[59] and should only be shown to ‘commensurate audiences’ (for example, advertisements for MA 15+ films should not be shown before films classified G, PG or M).[60] If the content has not been classified, the advertising must display a ‘Check the Classification’ (‘CTC’) marking. Advertisements for unclassified films and computer games must be assessed by an ‘authorised assessor’ to determine their likely classification; advertising is then restricted by this likely classification (for example, advertisements for films likely to be classified MA 15+ should not be shown before films classified G, PG or M).

8.60 Advertisements for television programs are subject to comparable restrictions, prescribed in the industry code. Section 3 of the code for commercial free-to-air television, for example, provides for program promotions and is intended to ensure that:

  • no program classified higher than PG is promoted in programs directed mainly to children;

  • higher classified programs are only to be promoted elsewhere in the G and PG viewing periods if the excerpts shown comply in every respect with the classification criteria of those viewing periods and with other the more stringent content restrictions specified [in the code].[61]

8.61 The code for free-to-air television also provides that:

Clearly visible classification symbols must accompany all press advertising of programs on behalf of a licensee, and all program listings in program guides produced by a licensee.[62]

8.62 The Australian Council on Children and the Media recommended that the ‘promotion of legally restricted cinema films and games to under-age audiences or in public places’ should be prohibited.[63]

8.63 Many films are advertised well before they are classified; restrictions on the advertising therefore often turn on the likely classification of the film. One criticism of this is that it is difficult to predict the likely classification of a film. Some say that the advertisement itself should therefore be classified, and restrictions should attach to the actual classification of the trailer, rather than the likely classification of the film. This is essentially how trailers are dealt with in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In the United States, for example, advertisements are placed into one of three categories (All Audience, Appropriate Audience, and Mature or Restricted Audience), but where an advertisement is placed depends on both the content of the film and the content of the advertisement.[64] The British Board of Film Classification classifies trailers for feature films as stand-alone works.[65]

8.64 It is also argued that, because trailers and film clips are widely available on the internet well before they appear in cinemas, restrictions on when the advertisements may be shown in cinemas is unnecessary.

8.65 The suitability of an advertisement for a film, computer game or television programs should not depend, in the ALRC’s view, solely on the content of the advertisement. Rather, it should also depend on the advertised product itself. That an advertisement for an alcoholic beverage may only feature a cuddly bear does not mean the advertisement should be shown in or with media content designed for children. In the ALRC’s view, the likely classification of advertised media content is a relevant and convenient—if imperfect—measure of the suitability of an advertisement.

8.66 However, a strict commensurate audience rule is perhaps ill-suited to a media environment in which users move freely between different types of content. Such a strict rule, applied consistently, might also mean that many films, computer games and television programs could not be advertised in public spaces.

8.67 Accordingly, the ALRC proposes that the new Classification of Media Content Act feature a principled rule regarding advertising for content that must be classified, such as the following: ‘An advertisement for content that must be classified must be suitable for the audience likely to view the advertisement. In assessing suitability, regard must be had to: (a) the likely audience of the advertisement; (b) the impact of the content in the advertisement; and (c) the classification or likely classification of the advertised content.’

8.68 This principled rule is intended to allow more flexibility in relation to where advertisements for classified media content may appear. For example, an advertisement on the side of a bus for an MA 15+ film may have a very low impact; the low impact of the advertisement may mitigate any potential harm caused by young minors seeing an advertisement for a film that is not suitable for them. Industry codes, discussed in Chapter 11, may usefully elaborate on how suitability may be measured and assessed. Industry codes may also provide that advertisements for some classified content (such as films likely to be R 18+) should never be shown with children’s content.

8.69 The new scheme should not need a separate scheme for assessing advertisements. Instead, authorised industry classifiers (proposed in Chapter 7) would be suitable persons to assess the likely classification of this content.

8.70 Advertisements for classified content should continue to be subject to other advertising standards, such as those in industry codes relating to misleading or deceptive advertisements, and portrayals of violence, sex and nudity, and obscene language in advertisements.[66]

Proposal 8–6 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that an advertisement for media content that must be classified must be suitable for the audience likely to view the advertisement. The Act should provide that, in assessing suitability, regard must be had to:

  1. the likely audience of the advertisement;
  2. the impact of the content in the advertisement; and
  3. the classification or likely classification of the advertised content.

[59] For example, ‘A person must not publish an advertisement for a classified film, classified publication or classified computer game unless: (a) the advertisement contains the determined markings relevant to the classification of the film, publication or computer game’: Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995 (NSW) s 42(1).

[60] For example, ‘A person must not, during a program for the exhibition of a classified film (the feature film), publicly exhibit an advertisement for another film or a computer game unless the advertised film or advertised computer game has the same classification as (or has a lower classification than) the feature film’: Ibid s 40(1).

[61] Free TV Australia, Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (2010) <http://www.freetv.> at 1 September 2011, s 3.

[62] Ibid, cl 2.18, 2.19.

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

[64] Motion Picture Association of America, Advertising Administration Rules (2009) <> at 20 September 2011.

[65] British Board of Film Classification, FAQs <> at 15 August 2011.

[66] See Australian Association of National Advertisers, AANA Code of Ethics 2009, s 1.2.