Removing mandatory access restrictions on MA 15+ content

8.16 The ALRC proposes that mandatory access restrictions should no longer apply to content that has been, or is likely to be, classified MA 15+. Currently, MA 15+ is a classification to which certain restrictions apply, but restrictions vary considerably between platforms and jurisdictions. For example:

  • MA 15+ television programs may only be shown on free-to-air television after 9pm, but may be shown on subscription television at any time;

  • MA 15+ films and computer games on media discs may not be sold or hired to persons under 15, unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian;

  • MA 15+ content online does not need to be restricted at all, unless it is commercial content; and

  • cinemas must not permit persons under 15 to watch an MA 15+ film unless the minor is with a parent or guardian (precise restrictions vary between states).

8.17 Preventing persons under the age of 15 from seeing MA 15+ films and playing MA 15+ games is problematic offline and almost completely impossible online. The existing laws that endeavour to restrict online access to MA 15+ content are widely seen as ineffective and unenforceable.[9] The classification symbol and warnings may serve a useful purpose as consumer advice, but there is little or no further practical benefit in legal access restrictions for this content. Furthermore, restricting access at the R 18+ level, rather than the MA 15+ level, is more consistent with international norms concerning the regulation of online content, as the focus is on restricting access to adults.

8.18 This is not to say that MA 15+ content is suitable for persons under 15. Many violent films and computer games are now classified MA 15+, including some horror films. In the ALRC’s view, some content providers should continue to refuse to sell or admit young unaccompanied minors to these films and computer games, even if they are not required by law to do so. There are also arguments for maintaining the existing prohibitions on broadcasting MA 15+ content on television during the day and early evenings. This matter is discussed further below, but such time-zone restrictions are not necessarily inconsistent with the following proposal. Voluntary restrictions on MA 15+ content may be set out in industry codes of practice.

Proposal 8–3 The Classification of Media Content Act should not provide for mandatory access restrictions on media content classified MA 15+ or likely to be classified MA 15+.

[9] For example, I Graham, Submission CI 1244, 17 July 2011.