Public display of media content

8.71 Australians exercise some control over the content they choose for themselves and their families. Not only may they switch television channels and supervise children, but they may use home internet filters and parental locks on televisions. Consumers do not, however, have this level of control over media content shown in streets, shopping centres, parks and other public areas. Some submissions argued that stricter rules should therefore be applied to media content displayed in public. Civil Liberties Australia, for example, submitted:

the fact that content is accessed in public or at home should absolutely affect whether it should be classified … Public spaces are all about community, and therefore community standards should apply.[67]

8.72 Dr Nicolas Suzor argued that there is ‘a very strong distinction between access in public and in private’:

Classification policy should accordingly restrict public access to content that is likely to cause offence in a way that is consistent with community standards, but should generally not restrict private access.[68]

8.73 The ALRC considers that restrictions on the display of media content in public should be stricter than restrictions on the sale and distribution of content to be viewed in homes and cinemas. However, formal classification may not be the only means to impose such a restriction. The ALRC proposes earlier in this chapter that the Classification of Media Content Act should provide that material likely to be classified R 18+ must be restricted to adults, but otherwise does not need to be classified. Likewise, the Act might provide for a rule in relation to the public display of media content, perhaps prohibiting the public display of media content likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher. If the Regulator considered that a piece of content were likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher, the Regulator could issue a notice to the content provider, requiring the content to be removed or classified.

Outdoor advertising

8.74 The media content currently most commonly displayed in public is advertising—notably billboards. Outdoor advertising is largely self regulated, underpinned by the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code of Ethics[69] (currently under review) and a complaints-handling system administered by the Advertising Standards Bureau and adjudicated by the Advertising Standards Board.

8.75 In July 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs finalised its inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising with the release of its report, Reclaiming Public Space. The Committee made a number of recommendations, including the following:

The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department review by 30 June 2013 the self-regulatory system for advertising by evaluating the industry implementation reports and assessing the extent to which there has been effective implementation of the recommendations contained in this report. If the self-regulatory system is found lacking, the Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department impose a self-funded co-regulatory system on advertising with government input into advertising codes of practice.[70]

8.76 In its report, the Committee concluded that the current classification scheme was inappropriate for regulating outdoor advertising.[71] The Committee expressed concern about the regulatory burden on industry if all outdoor advertisements were required to be classified by the Classification Board. The report also noted that advertising industry self-regulation ‘is the standard practice in the developed world’.[72]

8.77 The ALRC has not proposed that advertising be made subject to the National Classification Scheme. However, this Discussion Paper provides for authorised industry classifiers and industry-specific codes. This means that, if advertising were brought into the proposed scheme, outdoor advertising could continue to be assessed or classified by industry, but decisions might be monitored by the Regulator and subject to review by the Classification Board. Industry assessment or classification might minimise any expected financial and administrative burden on industry, which the Senate Committee was concerned could come with ‘Government classification’.[73]

8.78 If the Australian Government chose to bring outdoor advertising into the co-regulatory National Classification Scheme, the ALRC would suggest that a law prohibiting the display in public places of media content likely to have a higher-level classification may be suitable.

[67] Civil Liberties Australia, Submission CI 1143, 15 July 2011.

[68] N Suzor, Submission CI 1233, 15 July 2011.

[69] Australian Association of National Advertisers, AANA Code of Ethics 2009

[70] House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, Reclaiming Public Space: Inquiry into the Regulation of Billboards and Outdoor Advertising: Final Report (2011), Rec 2.

[71] Ibid, par 3.55.

[72] Ibid, par 2.7.

[73] Ibid, par 3.57.