Common classification categories for all media content

9.27 The ALRC proposes that the introduction of common classification categories and markings would be a considerable improvement to Australia’s classification landscape. This would mean that the same classifications and markings are used in cinemas, on television, on DVD and games packaging, and on websites with classified content. In line with two of the guiding principles for reform discussed earlier in this Discussion Paper, consumers would benefit from information that is clear and consistent and the approach reflects the goal of platform-neutrality.[30]

9.28 Many submissions argued that ‘different classification of the same content, according to different criteria, across cinema and DVD as compared to television is inconsistent and confusing’.[31] Others described it as ‘illogical’ and ‘archaic’.[32] In particular, submissions referred to the different categories for publications (which are not well known or understood) and for some television content screened by certain television broadcasters.[33] The disparate range of categories across media platforms contributes to consumer uncertainty in relation to the meaning of respective classifications which ultimately undermines the value of classification information. As MLCS Management asserted:

Simply use the same classification categories and markings for all types of content. There is no reason to differentiate. Consumers find understanding and applying information easier if it is not complicated.[34]

9.29 The ALRC agrees that simple, clear and consistent classification information should be applied uniformly across all media content and platforms.[35] The full range of classification categories should also be available for all media content; laws and other rules relating to access can be managed separately. For example, that material may be classified X 18+ does not necessarily mean it is legal to sell. Similarly, there may continue to be restrictions on commercial broadcasters screening R 18+ content. The policy and legislative framework should be adaptive and able to manage media content developed in the future flexibly, rather than have to ‘catch up’ after the fact.

What this means for publications

9.30 In Chapter 6, the ALRC proposes that all media content—including publications—likely to be X 18+, must be classified. However, publishers may also choose to classify some of their other content. Classified publications could then be given any one of the proposed classifications: C, G, PG 8+, T 13+, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+ or RC, accompanied by consumer advice where required or appropriate.[36]

9.31 These classifications are not only more familiar to consumers than those currently used for publications, but they provide more guidance. The broader range of categories also provides classifiers with greater flexibility to assign a classification that better reflects the content of the material. For example, a sexually explicit adult magazine would be assigned the X 18+ classification, while a book such as American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis might be classified R 18+, with appropriate consumer advice for high level violence and sexual violence.[37]

9.32 Most publications that are currently required to be classified are sexually explicit magazines. Under the scheme proposed by the ALRC, these publications would be classified X 18+, rather than Category 1 restricted or Category 2 restricted. In the ALRC’s view, this is the appropriate classification for this content, because the X 18+ classification is specifically for depictions of consensual sexually explicit activity.[38] The proposed change also reduces the risk that industry classifiers would misclassify sexually explicit adult magazines—because they could only be classified either X 18+ or RC.

9.33 Proposing that sexually explicit adult magazines should be classified X 18+ is distinct from the issue of the legality or illegality of selling and distributing these magazines or that all X 18+ content should necessarily be restricted in the same way. Whether some or all X 18+ media content may be legally sold or distributed in Australia is a matter for government and is a matter separate from classification of the content.

What this means for television

9.34 To harmonise the classification categories, the ALRC also proposes the removal of the MAV 15+[39] and AV[40] classifications used by SBS and commercial television broadcasters respectively. The ‘V’ in these classifications refers to violence, but, in the ALRC’s view, consumer advice is the better place to refer to the level of violence in a television program. Consistent with this view, SBS has submitted that it may drop the MAV 15+ category in its next codes review, as the content which falls within that category could be classified MA 15+ with the consumer advice for ‘strong violence’.[41] SBS said this would lead to greater consistency across industry.

9.35 Family Voice Australia also observed that the distinction between MA 15+ and AV in the Commercial Television Code of Practice is arguably unnecessary and potentially unhelpful:

While many parents are rightly concerned about the adverse impact of violence on their children, many are equally concerned about the adverse impact of sexual depictions, coarse language, adult themes and drug use. Such parents see no reason to differentiate these elements by separate classifications. The provision of consumer advice meets the needs of those parents who wish to permit their older children to view some but not all material from the adult classification range.[42]

9.36 Free TV Australia indicated that it would be open to a harmonised approach based on research to assess whether ‘this inconsistency should be rectified by removing the category and subsuming the content within the MA15+ category.[43]

9.37 As noted below, the ALRC has identified that ongoing research into community standards and their relationship to classification categories will be a vital component of the proposed new National Classification Scheme.

Proposal 9–1 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that one set of classification categories applies to all classified media content as follows: C, G, PG 8+, T 13+, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+ and RC. Each item of media content classified under the proposed National Classification Scheme must be assigned one of these statutory classification categories.

Proposal 9–2 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide for a C classification that may be used for media content classified under the scheme. The criteria for the C classification should incorporate the current G criteria, but also provide that C content must be made specifically for children.

Consumer advice

9.38 Consumer advice refers to the words that appear alongside the classification marking, and is designed to give specific information about the content. It is a short description that highlights the classifiable elements in a film, computer game or publication with the most impact, for example, ‘Strong violence’ or ‘High level sex scenes’—in other words, the elements that led to the classification.

9.39 The Classification Act currently requires the Classification Board (the Board) to provide consumer advice for all films and computer games it classifies, with the exception of content classified G (for which consumer advice is optional) and RC (consumer advice is unnecessary for RC content, because the content is illegal to sell).[44]

9.40 Submissions confirmed that consumers value this extra information.[45] Consumer advice also has other useful applications, as the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association observed:

Australia’s classification framework should allow for the introduction of new content descriptors or consumer advice to address technological advances and any emerging consumer concerns.[46]

9.41 Consumer advice is an efficient way to highlight content that may be of particular concern as well as demonstrate to the community that the Board has considered a specific matter in its deliberations. For example, a 1994 version of the children’s film Lassie was classified PG with the consumer advice ‘some smoking by minors’, reflecting concerns of the Australian community about smoking but particularly in relation to depictions of children smoking.[47]

9.42 The ALRC agrees that consumer advice is important and consistent with the principle that consumers should be provided with information about media content in a timely and clear manner.[48] The ALRC therefore proposes that consumer advice must be provided for all classified media content, except content classified C and G. Consumer advice should be optional for C and G content, but classifiers should be encouraged to provide it whenever content may raise issues for young children.

9.43 In the interests of consistency, the ALRC also suggests that the Classification Board publish guidelines for generating standardised consumer advice including a list of familiar consumer advice lines that classifiers may choose to use with each classification category.

Proposal 9–3 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that all content that must be classified, other than content classified C, G or RC, must also be accompanied by consumer advice.

[30] See Chapter 4, Principles 4 and 8.

[31] S Ailwood and B Arnold, Submission CI 2156, 15 July 2011.

[32] S Bennett, Submission CI 1277, 12 July 2011.

[33] For example, I Graham, Submission CI 1244, 17 July 2011; Collective Shout, Submission CI 2450, 7 August 2011.

[34] MLCS Management, Submission CI 1241, 16 July 2011.

[35] For example, Australian Christian Lobby, Submission CI 2024, 21 July 2011; D Self, Submission CI 466, 8 July 2011.

[36] See discussion later in the chapter that refers to combining the classification guidelines and criteria to provide for one set of criteria that is used to make classification decisions across all media content.

[37] The novel American Psycho is currently classified Category 1 restricted.

[38]The X 18+ classification currently only applies to films. The classification is a special and legally restricted category which contains only sexually explicit material. That is material which contains real depictions of actual sexual intercourse and other sexual activity between consenting adults: Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games (Cth).

[39] This classification is used by SBS for content warranting an MA15+ classification for the element of violence.

[40] This classification is used by commercial television broadcasters for content that is unsuitable for the
MA 15+ classification due to the intensity or frequency of the violence or because violence is central to the theme.

[41] SBS, Submission CI 1833, 22 July 2011.

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

[43] Free TV Australia, Submission CI 1214, 15 July 2011.

[44]Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) s 20.

[45] For example, A Wells, Submission CI 166, 6 July 2011;S Farrelly, Submission CI 245, 7 July 2011.

[46] Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Submission CI 1101, 14 July 2011. See also Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Submission CI 2136, 15 July 2011 that suggested consumer advice be used to provide better guidance in relation to media content that may include suicide themes or depictions of suicide.

[47] Classification database, <> at
15 September 2011.

[48] See Ch 4, Principle 4.