There are a number of reasons why we believe it is necessary to regulate the media.
• One of the reasons that we regulate the media is the possibility of copycat behaviour. Both the FreeTV Australia and the Advertising Standards Bureau have guidelines for the advertising of food and beverages to children which state that they should not promote an ‘inactive lifestyle’ or ‘unhealthy eating or drink habits’. FreeTV Australia and Commercial Radio Australia have guidelines relating to the portrayal of suicide. Commercial television and commercial radio codes of practice have guidelines pertaining to the portrayal of women, indigenous people and cultural diversity because it is believed the media should not promote prejudice and intolerance.
• To protect children from potentially harmful or damaging media images.
• To protect adults from seeing unsolicited material that is likely to offend.
• In Australia, there are minimum requirements for the amount of Australian content on television and radio, a reflection of the belief that overseas content may erode our cultural identity. The Australian Content Standard (2005) mandates a 55% quota of Australian content on television between 6 am and midnight. Similarly, commercial radio stations must broadcast minimum quotas of Australian music.
• There are controls on foreign ownership in the media because the media is considered a ‘sensitive sector’ and it is important that the media is distinctively Australian.
NATIONAL CLASSIFICATION SCHEME
The classification of films, video games and publications in Australia is the responsibility of the Classification Board. A Classification Board and Classification Review Board make decisions about the classification of films, video games and publications which are available for sale and hire in Australia.
Under the Commonwealth Classifications Act, the following matters are taken into account when classifying films, video games and publications:
• the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults;
• the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the publication, film or computer game;
• the general character of the publication, film or computer game, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character;
• the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.
Classification decisions are made according to the following principles:
• adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
• minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
• everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;
• the need to take account of community concerns about: depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.
In Australia, there are a number of classification categories, including: G, PG, M15+, MA15+, R and X. If a film, computer game or publication is deemed inappropriate by the Classification Board, it is refused classification and prohibited from sale in Australia.
The classification of films and video games often attracts controversy.
One of the difficulties faced by the National Classification Scheme is the sheer volume of content that needs to be classified. In 2016, Netflix global public policy manager Josh Korn told IT News that television programs might screen later in Australia to accommodate the time it takes to have these classified by the Classification Board.
“As Netflix increases its investments in content, more and more titles will need to be given an Australian classification,” Mr Korn said. “However, there are significant obstacles associated with classifying large volumes of content. Processing delays could result in content being premiered later in Australia than in other Netflix markets.”
In 2017, the Australian government partnered with Netflix to create a tool that would allow the streaming giant to classify its own content. The Classification Board started reviewing some of the self-classified titles, including the program 13 Reasons Why, after many criticised the program’s depiction of suicide.
Between March 2014 and June 2015, the Classification Board refused classification for 220 video games, four times more than they had in the previous twenty years. These games included titles like Douchebag Beach Club, Drunk Driver and HoboSimulator. As of July 2015, International Age Rating Coalition tool will be used to rate the enormous number of video games being released digitally.
In 2012, there was controversy of the classification of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Despite the fact that the film featured graphic science fiction violence, it was given an M classification which meant that children under the age of fifteen could watch the film.
In 2013, actor James Franco weighed into the classification debate when the film I want your love was refused classification by the Classification Board for its depiction of homosexual sex. “Because films have been banned because of sex, sex and films hasn’t had a chance to grow and become a sophisticated storytelling device,” he said. “And frankly adults should be able to choose. They’re not going in blind. I don’t know why in this day and age, something like this — a film that is using sex not for titillation but to talk about being human — is being banned. It’s just embarrassing.”
In Australia, the classification of video games was a source of considerable controversy. Until 2011, when the Attorney Generals agreed to introduce an R18+ category for video games, games that exceeded the MA15+ classification were deemed unsuitable for an Australian audience. Games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Manhunt were refused classification by the Classification Board. In 2010, the Attorney General’s Department conducted a public consultation on the proposed introduction of an R18+ classification. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of its introduction. “More than 58,400 people responded to the call for submissions on the proposed new adult only category,” said Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor. “That’s an enormous response and I thank everyone who gave their views. Of those who responded, 98.4% voiced support for an R18+ computer game classification.”
THE AUSTRALIAN COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA AUTHORITY
The ACMA is a government body responsible for regulating broadcasting and online content in Australia. Its responsibilities include:
• promoting self-regulation and competition in the communications industry, while protecting consumers and other users
• fostering an environment in which electronic media respect community standards and respond to audience and user needs
• managing access to the radiofrequency spectrum
• representing Australia ‘s communications interests internationally.
The ACMA has developed codes of practice for television and radio in conjunction with the industry FreeTV Australia and Commercial Radio Australia. These codes govern the content of television and radio in Australia.
The ACMA also helps to regulate the ownership of commercial media organisations in Australia through a register of controlled media groups.
Under current media ownership laws in Australia:
• foreign investment in the Australia media is permitted but the mass media is considered a ‘sensitive sector’ and any foreign investment, regardless of its size must be approved by the Treasurer
THE ADVERTISING STANDARDS BOARD
The ASB oversees a national system of advertising self-regulation. The Advertising Standards Board is a free service to handle consumer complaints about advertising. According to the ASB website, these issues might include “the use of language, the discriminatory portrayal of people, concern for children, portrayals of violence, sex, sexuality and nudity, health and safety, and marketing of food and beverages to children.” The ASB has a number of codes which govern the content of advertisements. The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Practice aims to ensure that “advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and fair sense of responsibility to competitors.”
A list of complaints can be found at the ASB website. Each report includes a description of the advertisement, excerpts of complaints made by consumers, the advertiser’s response to the allegations and the ASB’s determination on the matter.