READY: Classification Review Set In Motion

After the relative disappointment of the SCAG meeting, the Minister of Home Affairs Brendan O' Connor was quick to salvage the situation by claiming that a revised set of guidelines would be created in order to best suit a changing media landscape. Today we received news that the Australian Law Reform Commission has been asked to conduct a review of classification in Australia, a move that could have an impact (positive or negative) on the possibililty of an R18+ rating for video games.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has been asked to conduct a review that extends beyond video games to all forms of media, in response to a rapidly evolving media landscape - and apparently it's all tied in to the introduction of the NBN, the details of which were released yesterday by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

“It has become increasingly clear that the system of classification in Australia needs to be modernised so it is able to accommodate developments in technology now and in the future,” claimed O'Connor.

“When the National Classification Scheme began, classifiable content and the way it was delivered to consumers was relatively static.

“Today, films can be watched in a cinema, on DVD, on TV or downloaded. Many video games include significant film segments to tell stories, and some films have interactive content. The National Broadband Network will increase this ready access to classifiable content.”

The review will be an extensive one, and essentially exists to help manage how classification evolves to accomodate new technology and media.

Which is good news, to an extent. The issue of classification, and the current flaws in the system, are clearly being taken very seriously indeed. But we have to take issue with the manner in which the Government seems to think it can somehow classify every piece of media that Australians will eventually have access to.

It's a difficult situation, and one that could potentially affect how we consume media. Classification as we know it is outdated and ill equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern media landscape, and a revamp is undoubtedly required.

“People, particularly parents, need a system of classification in Australia that allows them to make informed choices about what they wish to read, see and hear,” Mr O’Connor said.

“This important review will look not only at classification categories, but also at the whole classification system to ensure it continues to be effective in the 21st century.”

At this stage it's difficult to tell how this will affect the potential R18+ rating for video games. The ALRC are due to report back on December 9, 2011. To an extent the R18+ issue and the overhaul of the classification system are being treated as two seperate issues, but the two are undoubtedly intertwined. There is a possibility that the Attorneys-General will want to wait for this classification review before making any final decisions on an adult rating for video games. In short, that this review could end up delaying the process until 2012.

A spokesperson for Brendan O'Connor's office stated, however, that the two issues were "seperate". Apparently this review and the new proposed guidelines for video games have "nothing to do with each other."

Time will tell - hopefully there will be more movement after the next SCAG meeting in March.

In the meantime, the Classification website is currently inviting comments on the upcoming review until January 28. If you head here you can make your comments known with regards to any classification issues, including video games.


    Yep, you can bet with 100% certainly that they'll take this and any other opportunity to delay having to actually make the decision.

    *sigh* why must they delay it any further its been in the talks for ages now cant they just make a decision already.

    This is an interesting issue. As you say, the issue is that how can the Australian government think they can essentially classify every piece of media produced worldwide all on their lonesome? That's crazy. But more fundamentally, why is it the right of (any) government to decide who gets to say what is an isn't appropriate? I don't like it. Ratings are ok, but why is it a governmental prerogative?

      The industry should be regulating itself.

        I'm not entirely sure about this, Mark. The industry in Australia is slim compared to the US, where they managed to get their Entertainment Software Ratings Board off the ground. I don't think I could trust the small remaining parties in our country to get a coordinated effort running and gain public support for it.

        I wouldn't mind if the government put together a set of criteria, I think, but yeah. I just can't get past the idea that our government thinks it knows better and that the sensibilities of a few officials are more powerful than my own autonomy. They just shouldn't have that power at all, regardless of what their criteria is.

          Reason why the Federal Government got involved was they felt the video game industry failed at self regulation after Duke Nukem Forever shipped unrated with nudity

          thats when the shit hit the fan. Had that been rated or appropriately marked etc, it would be self regulated.

            Not sure where you got that impression. Australia has had federal control over media pretty much since federation. There's always been some kind of 'Chief Censor' or classifications board making decisions about what is and isn't appropriate for Australians to consume. The ratings system we use today is much more recent, for films, games DVDs etc, but there has historically been a guy deciding what is legal to bring into the country for a long long time. (On the assumption that Australia doesn't produce anything questionable itself...)

            Choc you must be from an alternate universe where Duke Nukem Forever actually shipped - with or without nudity!

        How about a system where the govt sets the guidelines, and the various publishers use that to self regulate the ratings? Best of both worlds?

        I'm not sure that is a good idea. The US has industry self regulation, and they've ended up with different classifications for television, film and video games.

        Furthermore, what do you do if you think the self regulation body is doing a bad job? While things are going slow here, we will most likely get the R18+ rating. If we don't, we can put pressure on or replace the politicians who are holding up the process.

        I don't think our system is perfect by any stretch, but I do think it beats the US self regulation system. Making it easier and cheaper for people to self-assess small projects would be a good start.

          They actually have fewer classification systems than we do. Our system is incredibly convoluted. We have:

          * Three different systems for television. Two for free to air (commercial, government) and one for pay-tv. Industries are self-regulating. TV shows sold on DVD are treated in a different manner still.
          * Two sets of rules for print: one for serial publications like magazines and one or other publications. These operate under a combination of government and industry self-regulation; the industry submits things it think might be Cat 1, Cat 2 or RC publications to the classification board and sells the rest without restriction.
          * One system for radio. Industry is self-regulating.
          * One system for other audio content. Industry is self-regulating.
          * One system for film. Government applied and enforced. Film distributors must pay to have their film classified before it may be screened.
          * The film system is also used as the basis (but sometimes applied differently) for classifying video games, internet content and tv shows that are sold on DVD, regardless of what rating they were given under the industry scheme.

          Give me the US system any day. It’s a damn sight easier to understand even before you get to the finer level of classification categories.

    Well... I feel conflicted.

    On one hand, I'm pleasantly surprised they've come out with this - I said before it would be a long process and we wouldn't see changes for many, many months, but I didn't expect to hear anything else before ~Feb. next year. So in that respect, I'm happy.

    However, I think they're going overboard with their delusions of classification and censorship - who exactly are they trying to appease or is it all self-serving? :/

    Classification IS censorship.

      Classification is only censorship when it combines classification with the 'RC' rules meaning it can't be brought into the country.

      You can classify a game or movie, saying that its very scary or it has 'obscene language' or sex or whatever, that doesn't mean you have to take it out of the hands of adults.

      Couldn't agree more.

      Adam Ruch is missing the point, by limiting access via the law you are 'censoring' it to a portion of the public (for being underage or what-have-you).

      You can agree with doing that or not (and that's not really the issue here) but at the end of the day, classification is just a sanitized way of saying censorship.

      Industry self-classification please, government fingers don't even need to be in this pie. We pay for state governments and their ridiculous indecision and their cowardly procrastination. We don't need state attorney generals at all, or state governments for that matter.

        The classification itself isn't censorship. Simply saying what is and isn't suitable for children isn't wrong. By then applying laws as to what can and can't be shown to minors, that's when classification turns into something else. I'm not sure if you could call that censorship yet, as that would imply you actually have a right to view the material that has been censored. As people under the age of 18 in Australia have very little rights, and are not yet seen as "Adults" in the eyes of the law you can't really claim it as censorship, mare that those under the age of 18 have less rights then those over 18.

        In fact the only thing about our current classification system that turns it into censorship is that fact that RC material cannot be sold (or owned depending on what state/law you read). If you were still allowed to sell material that was RC then there would be no restrictions on what can and can't be viewed, with the exception of material that is deemed illegal because of actual harm occurring (eg, Child Porn, Snuff), but that doesn't required censorship to make it illegal, the fact a crime has been committed in the production of it, and the continued exposure of the material further harms victims could be enough to make it illegal without even having to worry about any forms of censorship.

        You are being overly simplistic.

        Censorship is when things are not allowed to be acessed by Adults.

        Classification is letting Adults know what is in the material.

        And as Cameron said Minors don't have the same rights as Adults.

        RC is the only part which is censorship in any way. By being too simplistic you are not helping to make any progress. (even if the government moves at a slow-mo snails pace.)

          Yeah, I guess if you believe that children should have all the same rights as adults, then it is a kind of censorship. But very few societies, if any, actually believe that. Kids aren't allowed to do a whole lot of things based on their age, most notably, vote to change that law :P

          I personally don't think that classification is censorship until, as is said above, a category removes that media from the country entirely.

          If classification is censorship, Gibbo, then how would an industry-sponsored ratings panel be any different or better?

            You're all assuming I'm taking a side on whether adult content should be available to adults, I'm simply stating that classification is censorship - as miniluv said.

            @Cameron, I don't think we're on the same page here, I was arguing a meaning of a word, you're talking about rights of children vs adults. The point of my post was to illustrate how classification and censorship as *words* effectively mean the same thing depending on who you are. I honestly don't think children should be playing violent video games but to make them unavailable is the same philosophy as censorship.

            This material is harmful, so person X shouldn't be allowed to watch/see/read it, see what I mean?

            @Palstran, hey, I'm a simple man! Obviously there's a difference I'm not saying the act of censorship or classification are the same. "By being too simplistic you are not helping to make any progress." Oh please, don't try and act like I'm your enemy here. I honestly don't see how the debate of rights of adults vs children even applies here, what magical point in time make's anyone's opinion more or less valid, or them worth more and entitled to additional rights?

            @Adam Ruch, with you here, children are not the same as adults and are more impressionable, and we're clearly now getting to the point, but to sit around like ^up and say "It's different because its a different word" is just incorrect.

            Yes yes, I knew my little hypocritical stand would come back and bite me here. It's different because a government (in my opinion here, everyone is free to argue, that's the fun) shouldn't be telling the people what they can and cannot watch or read. If an industry wants to make itself respectable and a part of a society they have to conform to society's rules. If for example, the industry made a game about something totally inappropriate, the way society views that entire industry goes down the tubes and the public image is irreversibly damaged. An industry classification system operates with the protection of the industry in mind, it isn't swayed by moral panic unless said moral panic would effect the public image of the industry. This is more or less the way the ESRB operates in the USA as far as I know.

            Phew, sorry about how big that was, congrats if you got to the end.

              ugh, correction on the first line, adult content available to *children* not adults...

              Classification is not censorship. The two are often conflated, but they are distinct ideas. It is, however, very damned important not to mix the two up.

              Classification is intended to *inform*. It tells you what sorts of content you're going to be accessing, so you can decide if you want to see it or not - or if your children should see it.

              Censorship is intended to *enforce*. It is the government telling you what you can and can't view, and using legal tools to prevent you from seeing material it does not want you to see.

              It is the difference between buying a cd with a content advisory notice on it and not being allowed to import Lady Chatterly's Lover. It is the difference between a parent deciding that their child is mature enough to watch a particular movie rated for above their age, and an adult receiving a criminal record for watching a video that contains nothing more than a legal sexual act between two consenting adults.

              The US's ESRB is a classification system: it tells you what is in the content. What we have in Australia, howerver, is a classification system that pulls double duty as a censorship system. It's a hybrid scheme. The G, PG, M15+ ratings are classification categories because they do not impose legally enforceable restrictions. The MA15+, R18+ and RC ratings are censorship categories, because they impose legal limitations on what can be consumed by whom.

              So, again classification=/=censorship. Know the difference.

                "What we have in Australia, howerver, is a classification system that pulls double duty as a censorship system. It’s a hybrid scheme. The G, PG, M15+ ratings are classification categories because they do not impose legally enforceable restrictions."

                Excellently put, the convolution of your explanation here illustrates what I was trying to point out.

                Whether you want industry regulation or just fair government regulation, Bookbuster here has pointed out the crux of the argument. Classification operates as a guidance system separate from the law, as in, unenforceable.

                Censorship, the mean word, is effectively making a crime out of accessing material, something we do not do in Australia, even for RC material as I understand it, at least for personal use.

                If the government wish to classify content, they should do so, fairly, devoid of ridiculous notions of protecting the public. This content is horrible and bad, it is rated *whatever* watch at your peril, or this is full of teddy bears and clouds, you're safe from being offended.

                Otherwise, leave it to industry and let them take the flak for getting it wrong, it's just plainly not your place to be telling us what to do.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't...
    Through a concerted and united campaign we finally get people to acknowledge the classification system is broken and out of date, suddenly everyone notices the emperor has no clothes and is trying to cut off his royal jewels.
    I really hope bringing all this to the attention of Australia's beaurocracy doesn't backfire with stricter censorship, a real possibility in this enviornment of political parenting.

      Well put, I was thinking the exact same thing.

    The average age of gamers will be 87 by the time this thing goes through.

    Guys its good this is a full blown censorship review.

    If movies and books and music starts to get dicked around with the Federal Government will feel a force never seen before from the Australian Public. They care about this.

    Think about the mining advertisements for the mining tax, and one hundred fold it. The movie industry will go ballistic.

      I've already started to see M and PG stickers on Music CDs which struck me as odd quite frankly


    i think its better to get it over and done with now before getting to the next 1 or 2 SCAG meetings and then decide to make a review for the system. We could still get the R18+ rating at the SCAG meeting it just that they are reviewing the whole system.

    damm another year>=(, atleast these are starting to move forward instead of being at a stand still.

    The issue of the R rating for games aside, this review is a Good Thing. Granted, the consequences of a review could end up being a Bad Thing, but then it won't just be gamers complaining about it.

    Would be nice if we ended up with Xbox Live Indie Games out of all this... It's currently not available in Oz due to the fact the games aren't classified... :(

    You know, throughout the R18+ debate, which undoubtedly sparked the review, the ACL often trotted out the "flood of violent games" argument, without once asking where the games would come from.

    An adult rating for games would bring us in line with the rest of the world, whose combined systems have made games of a certain type unprofitable. Minimal nudity, no genitals, etc etc.

    Only Japan has games with sexual content, and due to the unpopularity in the west and the cost of translation, there's no reason for them to export them.

    So are these games supposed to be waiting under a rock somewhere waiting for Australia to let down it's guard or something?

      haha, nah buddy, be afraid. We'll tell you about all the big bad scary stuff and then protect you from it. Like Lisa Simpson they're selling tiger repellent rocks.

    In line with the NBN?

    First thing I thought of was the proposed Internet Filter that Conroy continues to push.

      Yup, that was the first thing my eyes spotted and pretty much the first thing that went through my head. Actually the exact phrase was "Oh fuck, they're going to try to rate the internet aren't they?"

      I have a depressing feeling that our rational and sensible concerns have been kidnapped and are going to be exploited in an obviously impossible task

      Soon as I saw NBN I thought:

      F***, guess the filters back on the table then.

    The only reason this was agreed to by the GGs, is because the 2 idiots that opposed the R18 rating are arguing to make the MA15+ rating stricter so R18 material doesn't slip in. Not some fantastic reform for gamers.

    So we get less than a year of an R18+ rating, then the world ends? That's no fun.

    I think that while this is a good idea, that this will backfire and give us far stricter censorship than we had before
    Just can't shake the feeling

    This is just a delaying tactic. I suspect the ACL myself since they wanted a complete review done in any case, and they support the Internet filter. However it extremely unlikely that the filter will ever now be implemented (not in its current state at least), and while a complete review of the classification of all types of media has its pros (and cons) there is no reason that the R18+ rating system for games cant be introduced in the interim. I don't see why we should have to wait another 12 months for something we should have had 12 bloody years ago...
    We can still make our views known to the ACB at before Jan 28, so there is still hope...

    The terms of reference so far is problematic in a few areas. Primarily, it does not recognise that the needs of the community must be balanced against the needs of the individual. To do otherwise risks that content that is lawful but unpopular may be repressed simply because it is unpopular.

    Oh. Wait.

    I suggest you all hop on to the review site and let them know about that particular problem with the ToR. While you're there, draw attention to any others you spy.

    Some things I've said are that they need to provide an examination of the ways adults use media to provide balance to the current focus the ToR has on children. They also need to assess the laws and Agreement for fairness as well as effectiveness. I've also taken issue with way they've conflated censorship with classification in the review and added, further to that, that the review needs to examine, as a priority, if we need a censorship system or a government-run classification system in the first place.

      I don't think the rating system is perfect, and I agree that the entire classification system could do with a review. When you are talking about 'Terms of Reference' I assume you are referring to the 'National Classification Code'? In particular parts a and b:
      1. Classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following
      (a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
      (b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;

      Personally I don't understand how the implementation of (a) affects (b) *if* there is a system through which 'minors can be protected'. The current system of course is the 'classification decisions for films, computer games and certain publications' which are decided by the ACB. Since the classification for film is identical to that for computer games (with the exception that computer games can't receive a rating higher than MA15+), and that nobody is seriously complaining that classifications for film need *immediate fixing* then the obvious conclusion is to remove the exemption preventing games from receiving an R18+ classification.
      Although I think that the classification system as a whole could do with a review - that is a separate (and more complex) issue to classifying computer games as MA15+ or R18+. It is unfortunate that classification and censorship have become entangled and can lead to 'unpopular topics being censored, but that whole issue would (or should) be addressed during the overall review of the system - it certainly shouldn't be dragged into the current debate because it is not directly related and because we will be so bogged down in 'reviews' and other red tape that nothing will end up being achieved. The last point (if Australia needs a censorship system or a government-run classification system) is again, not part of the current debate and would also be addressed in the overall review (although anyone who thinks a system of censorship would have positive effects should go and have their head examined. Not only is it unconstitutional, it would not work and would create even more problems).
      My point is that while I do think the classification system may benefit from a review, it is a totally separate issue from the current one of implementing an R18+ classification (or to be more precise - removing the exception that prevents computer games from receiving an R18+ classification) and the two topics should be kept separate. Anyone who claims that the two topics are so intertwined that a decision on an R18+ classification can't currently be made is just supporting the original delaying tactic. They most likely have their own agenda *cough* ACL *cough* and should be treated with caution or ignored altogether...

        You're right that the R18+ issue as we deal with it now and the Classification Review are two separate but related issues. The former is being handled through SCAG, and looks only at changing the games rating system. The latter is a wholesale, fundamental review of our entire classification and censorship systems, *including* if SCAG itself is an effective framework for managing and implementing classification.

        When I use 'Terms of Reference' I'm actually referring to the draft ToR of the *review* itself ($file/Proposed+Terms+of+Reference+-+ALRC+Broad+Review.pdf). These dictate how the review will be conducted, and what it will look at, so it's important that they cover all of the bases. It's important that we tell them what they're missing, and what needs to be covered in the review. And, to my mind, this review can not serve its purpose unless it considered individual needs alongside the needs of the greater community. It can't, either, if it doesn't consider adult needs along side children, or constantly conflates censorship with classification. The current TOR fails in those three areas (and probably more), and we need to get it changed.

    Well this is just passing the buck, the Attorney generals will say they want to wait for the federal level to conduct this review and make out that their hands are tied while the federal level will always preach that this is a state issue that can only be passed with all the AGs of every state. They ran out of preachy reasons to delay, now they are just going to hold it up for years with fake promises of it being reviewed on some grand level. The internet and games are tied in a way but do not prevent the other from new reform, one is a public medium to see information, the other is a product you buy and take home.
    And oh great, Atkinson is at long last not able to block it so lets throw the idea into the hands of who....Conroy!! Say it isn't so. Oh well, Ebay and steam it is, I've had enough of the crap and have played my last cut to make it kid friendly game.

    On the one hand, this is good news. On the other, it's ridiculous that it's going to take more than another year for some sort of resolution. We need this to be fixed now, not in another 12 months!

    Yet another example as to why the system just doesn't work. Epic fail.

      If enough people make their view known to the ACB before Jan 28th (ie: that Australians want & need the R18+ implemented *NOW* rather than later), then it is possible the issue will be resolved at the next SCAG meeting in March.
      On the other hand, if everyone just sits around doing nothing, then we will more than likely have to wait much longer than 12 months (by then the government will have found yet more excuses to avoid having to actually do anything).
      Instead of being sidetracked by the separate issue of censorship we need to 'strike while the iron is still hot' so to speak - not lapse into apathy...

        It's not about being sidetracked. It's about realising that both issues are important and both require action on a tight timeline. More to the point, it's realising that if we don't take action on *both* issues, we'll lose one or both to the likes of the ACL who *will* work, hard, against reform in both areas.

        In truth, we would be far better served by root-and-branch classification and censorship reform than the mere introduction of an R18+ rating. Comments on the ToR close in January, making it fairly urgent. But that doesn't mean that we can't keep up pressure on SCAG for interim video game censorship reform.

          I totally agree that both issues are important and I definitely think that the issue of censorship along with reviewing the entire classification system is the more important one (given the chance that it might be handled poorly). On the other hand I don't see this as being so 'time critical' as pushing through the R18+ classification. The structure of the current classification scheme *will* have an effect on any proposed changes that arise from the review in 12 months - which is why I believe it is most important for the R18+ classification to go ahead 'before' the overall classification review.
          As you pointed out, the ACL (along with other groups) are tirelessly lobbying the government for change directed towards their own interests. All the more reason (in my opinion) to try and persuade the AG's to 'make good' on the implementation of an R18+ schedule *now* rather than hoping it will happen later.
          Quite a lot can change politically in 12 months, and the issues discussed here may not seem to be so important then. I still think 'we should strike while the iron is hot', otherwise the current chance of any positive changes being made, in overall classification and censorship, may be lost for who knows how long...
          I think we are both in agreement that action needs to be taken, I just think that we need to act now, in addition to supporting positive changes down the track. The ACL sure as hell isn't waiting so neither should we...

            Oh - For some reason I didn't see your earlier post regarding the Tos. It was awaiting moderation perhaps? At any rate I'll definitely look into it in case there is some fundamental piece of information I have either overlooked or haven't considered - thanks...

              Sorry - I meant the ToR (not Tos...). Its late and I'm getting tired...

    I know this is of topic, but if classification is such a huge issue for video games why are there 'unrated' movies freely available to anyone who has the money to buy them..... isn't that defeating the point of having a rating system in the first place??? and as another point, with new technology the new menu systems and mini games available on numerous movies (dvd and Bluray) are becoming more interactive, so there is going to be confusion in the future between the difference of say an interactive game and a movie making all of the classification system a moot point anyway, it needs to be done and done properly now. To make things run smoother impose laws if you have to someone found selling for instance games to under 15's will go on a three strike system, once a warning with small fine, twice - a substantial fine, three times lose the privilege to sell games and related items.... just a thought and then it will not only fall on the parents to enforce it but the retailers as well

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