ALRC releases classification review paper

Call for public comment on how the classification scheme should be changed to reflect technological change and media convergence

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is calling for public submissions to its review into the national classification scheme amid the classification and censorship system’s apparent inability to come to terms with rapid technological change.

The National Classification Scheme Review comes during a period of media convergence which has already prompted the Federal Government to call on the states’ attorneys-general to come to a decision on implementing an R18+ classification for video games by July.

The review was also foreshadowed by the Federal Government late last year when it called for a rethink on media classification following the appointment of a new deputy director of classification and senior classifier.

Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor also signalled the classification board would “undergo a period of renewal" in 2011.

The issues paper calls for public feedback on questions such as whether the technology or platform used to access content affect whether content should be classified, and what the primary objectives of a national classification scheme should be.

The paper also argues that the current classification system does have a number of strengths — such as being easily understood by the public, and the independence of the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board — but that weaknesses exist in its ability to cope with technological change.

These include the system’s ability to manage media convergence’s alteration of the practical implementation of classification principles; ambiguities in classifying media such as mobile phone games and apps; and inconsistent or ineffective compliance and enforcement.

According to the paper, technological developments have altered the media landscape and challenged many of the underlying assumptions of, and justifications for, content regulation.

“Against [a background of high broadband connectivity] regulators face an enormous amount of internet content, much of which is more mutable, housed outside Australia, and less amenable to border-based regulation than offline content,” the paper reads.

Further, new devices allowing for private viewing of media that once would have been available only in public stores or venues and which, in some instances, were now decreasing the need to protect others from unsolicited material, the paper argues.

“Conversely, in other situations it is harder to protect consumers—an individual‘s age, for example, is more difficult to authenticate online, undermining the effective implementation of age-based restrictions,” the paper reads.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

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