The Classification Review: The ACL And Elizabeth Handsley State Their Case

The Classification Review is now underway, with the first committee hearing taking place last Friday. Said hearing didn't discuss the R18+ issue directly, as a result of the upcoming SCAG meeting in July, but plenty of anti-R18+ campaigners, including Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby, were in attendance and commented directly on broader issues of classification.

Lyle Shelton, who represented the Australian Christian Lobby at the hearing, was typically aggressive in his approach - his statements peppered with the language we've come to expect from the ACL.

"At present the contemporary media environment is toxic for children; as the PM notes, especially for girls," claimed Shelton. "This is because our classification system is a failure. Like big tobacco before it, commercial vested interests will beg to differ with family groups, child advocates and the academic research which shows their products are harmful to children. How many more government inquiries will there be before action is taken?"

This was similar to Lyle Shelton's previous arguments with regards to the R18+ rating, claiming that "commercial interests" were being prioritised over the needs of children. Again, Lyle Shelton did not refer to any research specifically, preferring to speak in broader, emotive terms.

Later he addressed the concept of self regulation in Classification, with regards to advertising. Brendan O'Connor previously stated that some kind of self regulation may be advisable when it came to video games, but Shelton and the ACL staunchly disagreed with the concept, calling it a "'Dracula in charge of the blood bank' approach".

Incredibly, he also openly questioned the ability of parents to regulate the media usage of their own children.

"Parents, however, do not distinguish between the complex rules governing media content, whether it is film, literature, television, mobile phones, the internet, computer games or outdoor advertising, he claimed. "Parents just see the relentless mainstreaming of violence and sex pushed by vested commercial interests thumbing their noses at the standards of civil society."

Elizabeth Handsley has previously spoken out against the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games. She agreed with the ACL that self-regulation could be problematic, but whereas Lyle Shelton clearly believed the current classification scheme was a "failure", Handsley disagreed.

"Contrary to statements that have recently been made by various players in this debate," she stated, "we do not believe that the classification system is ‘broken’ Our National Classification Scheme can hold its head high in having an almost uniform set of classification categories that are easy for people to come to grips with and having many checks and balances and overall consistencies, unlike America with its different categories for different media and its self-regulatory non-enforceable system."

Handsley's main issue was with regards to the subjective nature of the guidelines themselves, a subjectivity which has allowed gratuitous material to pass as MA15+ when, in her opinion, it should have been rated higher.

"The guidelines," she claimed, "have been too subjective, lacking the more specific criteria that were in use until 2002 to 2003. In our view this has resulted in more violence at lower levels of classification, easily accessible to children and in the current community there are concerns about the very violent games now in the MA15+ category for games."

Handsley's colleague from the Australian Council on Children and the Media, Barbara Biggins, who wrote an opinion piece on R18+ earlier this week, took issue with the way media was sold and distributed in the country.

"When you are looking at the legally classified categories of MA15+ and R18+," she said, "there is certainly very good evidence that it is almost impossible to enforce the age restrictions on portable items such as DVDs and computer games. It is almost impossible to protect children despite what the law says because once those portable items are out of the retail outlet then there are very few controls."

At first glance the members of the committee appeared skewed towards the conservative side, populated with almost every outspoken opponent of R18+ we could name, but speaking to Ron Curry earlier this afternoon, he confirmed that he had, in fact, provided his own submission to those undertaking the Classification Review, and he hoped to be invited to speak to the committee at a later date.

During this specific hearing, however, Dr Sarah Ailwood, Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra, provided a strong dissenting voice.

"I just wanted to emphasise," she began, "that I was making my submission as someone who is actually experienced at playing games. I think quite a few of the people who have contributed to this debate are not necessarily aware of the nature of games and the way they are playing online, the way that massively multi-player online games work, and the way that different console systems work. I just wanted to emphasise that my submission is made from a position of experience and understanding of those things."

She also spoke extensively on the difficulties involved in classifying online content.

"The idea that content is delivered through designated specific streams, I think those days are over," claimed Ailwood. "It is being delivered on various different kinds of devices, through portable devices, through internet to computers, it is being delivered to gaming consoles, it is being delivered direct to television, and a forward looking regime really needs to take into account that convergence."

Despite the fact that this committee had explicit instructions to avoid discussing the possibility of an R18+ rating for video games, Dr Ailwood could not avoid addressing the proverbial elephant in the room.

"There is one key area in which the Australian regime radically departs from international regimes," she began, "and that is in the existence of an R18+ classification for video games. In that respect, we are quite different from most other western liberal jurisdictions.

"There are arguments that there are detrimental effects because we do not have an R18+ classification for video games," she continued. "Games here are regularly classified MA15+ when they are classified R18+ in other jurisdictions. The fact that we only have an M15+ classification, which basically requires that any game that is not suitable for minors is refused classification, sends a signal that every game that is available in Australia is suitable for minors, and anyone who is playing Grand Theft Auto would disagree with that. The fact that we do not have an R18+ classification is misleading, and that is one argument. Obviously there are various other arguments you could make about civil liberties and freedom of expression and the ability of adult gamers to be able to play games that they choose and games that are available elsewhere."

At this point, her colleague Bruce Arnold chimed in: "Why we are quarantining a particular cultural form; why are we quarantining content on the basis of its delivery?"

Why indeed.


Comments

    God just drop this already we will never get a R18+ system..... And if we do get one it will be half assed where games like mortal kombat will still get banned.

    How many bloody years have we been wanting a R+ system and it never came i doubt things will change.

    sigh...

      God just drop this already Tunisia will never be rid of it's government...

      God just drop this already Egypt will never be rid of it's goverment...

      God just drop this already we will never get a R18+ system...

      We will when we have public that will fight for it - we don't need violence to get this to happen we need less apathy.

      I'm part of the problem anything other then my opinion on the internet is too much effort for me but at least I am honest enough to admit it.

        - Cymelion the indignant, 2011

      I agree Andrew. Its just getting ridiculous now

    Dr Sarah Ailwood

    You are my hero.

      My hero too. Ailwood for PM!

    Still can't understand why fundamentalist nuts jobs like the ACL are getting a voice?

      Because fundamentalists complain the loudest, and more people have conservative/fundamentalist religious views and sympathies than most people are willing to recognize. This country isn't as progressive as some people might think.

      Folks like the ACL love the idea they are morally superior to the rest of us and it should be their decision alone to decide what we view, hear, say and feel.

        To clarify: the ACL have a right to voice their concerns or views, I'm not suggesting they don't, but when it is so obvious their concerns are more about dictating classification than "saving the children" that is when we can call bullshit and point out their real agenda.

    Sorry Mark, but which particular review is this from? The ALRC's broad classification review? The Senate committee? The convergence review?

      The Australian Law Review Commission's Classification Review.

        Oh geeze. Well, this isn't getting off to a good start then, is it? Excuse me while I go and lower my expectations...

          No it's from the Committee Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme

    "there is certainly very good evidence that it is almost impossible to enforce the age restrictions on portable items such as DVDs and computer games. It is almost impossible to protect children despite what the law says because once those portable items are out of the retail outlet then there are very few controls.”

    Nonsense. Where is this evidence she speaks of?

    Parental locks are routine in console systems and even DVD players. As far as I'm aware, they've been in Nintendo hand-held consoles and will feature in the NGP.

    To suggest that firstly, parents would buy their children R18+ software and allow them to play it with little more than a cursory glance, and secondly, not take advantage of parental control software, is ridiculous.

    Then Lyle Shelton suggests parents are too dumb to distinguish between classification systems. For a member of the Australian Christian Lobby he has a surprising lack of faith in parents.

    I'd find it amusing, if it wasn't so absurd and serious.

      I'm also curious about this. If it's impossible to enforce these things then surely kids are able to waltz in and buy grog and smokes as well then.

      If it's impossible to enforce these things.

      and you know what, if we can only enforce these things in places that sell cigarettes and booze. Sell them there then. They are adult content putting them in locations that only adults can make legitimate purchases will send warning bells when your kid says hey mum can we go to the bottle-O i need GTA 5.

      Hell sell them in sex shops. Same thing applies does it not. If the issue is that in a conventional store they are hard to enforce. Sell them somewhere that is enforceable.

        i have to say that they are right I am 16 now and I have been playing call of duty since I was around 9 or 10 I watched robo cop when I was 10 and my parents knew about almost all of this they are right that we cant control it but they are right to try and a R18 rating is one way to try seeing as how the current system is not working at all

    As I've stated elsewhere, I would like to take the opportunity to remind our elected officials that they represent all Australians, and not the rabid minority.

    Here is a really good video explaining this that was made in 2008

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSQ2cpkCXss

    Yes 2000 and f***ing 8 this has been going on foreverrrrr and i doubt it will change now....

      and last time I checked voted for the people by the people still meant something, guess whose not getting the votes from the voting majority next election time!

    So what voice do the proR18+ players have in all this? Where are our guys to counter all these biased, unevidenced claims?

      Hopefully in the next committee meeting.

        Will you be there Mark? Or Seamus?

        I think its pretty unfair that a proven minority - thats a lobby group - gets to sidle into these meetings without any sort of opposition....

    The ACL having a say in this debate, is like the Westboro Baptist Church to be trusted on having non-biased input on the legalization of gay marrage.

    "At this point, her colleague Bruce Arnold chimed in: “Why we are quarantining a particular cultural form; why are we quarantining content on the basis of its delivery?”

    Why indeed."

    It's good to see that some sensible questions are being asked in what is quickly becoming a sea polluted with misinformation by groups like the Australian Christian League and the Australian Council on Children and the Media.

    ACL staunchly disagreed with the concept, calling it a “‘Dracula in charge of the blood bank’ approach”.

    Woah Woah Woah there.

    First you tell me jesus is real and now Dracula is too. Come on man your gonna scare the bejesus out of these Kids

    Mark, I don't know how you can do this. Everytime I see idiots spouting the same old misinformed crap, my brain punches me for reading it.

    "Parents can't decide" Mmmm thank you Christain lobby, whats that? You'd like 10% of my pay and me to come along every Sunday to be told how to live my life.
    Religon = control, hopefully saner heads prevail and we get the rating system that the rest of the western world already uses.

    Parents don't have the ability to know whether a game is suitable now?

    Bullshit, my mum was extremely strict, I was never bought a MA15+ game by her, and if a game involved killing humans, I'd not be able to play it, hell, even now she sees me playing COD and says that it's too violent!

    It's only the airbrained parents who just want their kids to shut up who get them the games, but I'm sure even those parents would be scared away by the black diamond!

    “At present the contemporary media environment is toxic for children; as the PM notes, especially for girls”

    oh! protect the chilluns. If anything, no 18+ rating is harming kids more then protecting them. An R-rating screams to parents "not suitable for children" I mean, I had to provide ID when I was buying True Blood (which is and R-rated dvd)

    We have an R-rating for everything else so, why not Video Games? oh right, because all games are for children...

      I'm confused as to how videogames are especially harmful to girls. How so?

    On the topic of classification, who is the new NSW AG and what is his stance on this issue?

    Barbara Biggins clearly has issues with the way retailers sell games to minors but that is something gameshops can do by selling games that should be 18 to 15 year olds. Do these people not realise that they are proven their arguments wrong themselves? If a gme is rated 18, I am sure games stores will only sell to Adults and Parents who are above the said age limit. By not having an 18 rating like the rest of the western world, all we are doing is denying our citizens because of some washed out ideal that the retailers can't be trusted. Just as most people will buy Mortal Kombat over seas, most likely above 18 year olds as they need a credit card, the whole protectionism thing is been taken from the parents and the Christian Lobby or these opposing religious nuts are trying to dictate what Australia is. Surely there is no place for these relgious ideals in our society. I for one want an 18 rating for games I should be able to buy but I also wouldn't like those games to be played by a younder group either. I think I am big and bold enough to know what a minor should and can play. GTA, MK, AvsP, atc. is not those games. But they are for me, I want to be able to entertain myself with something designed with the older person in mind. God help these people when the real religious nuts start taking things into their own hands... America has seen this recently, grow up for the sake of us all!

    Hey Lyle Shelton.
    If i can prove Christianity is harmful to children, will you please leave things that have nothing to do with your religion/organization alone to the adults...

    I don't know what the ACL are talking about!! The Bible is one of the most violent fictional books I have ever read!! It should be R18+

      Now that's a plan

      I say if we don't get our R rating by 2013 we all move to get the bible rated R and therefore illegal to expose it to children!!!

    The ACL comments aren't surprising. The ACL's ideal world is one where the church defines all aspects of public life and no one can so much as fart without getting their permission and ensuring to do it in the way they proscribe. I don't understand why they have so much political clout when they are really a fringe group even in Christian circles.

    Barbara Biggins is a bit the same. "Classification is not enforced adequately", if true, is still not an argument for not having a proper, modern classification system. It's an argument for improving awareness of the ratings and enforcing penalties on retailers who fail with their legal responsibilities.

    Handsley's second lot of comments toward the end of this article completely spin me out. She really said that? Quoted the entire crux of the Pro-18+ argument? I thought she was opposed...

    All I can say is 'Its about time someone who actually knows what the hell they are talking about!" Bless you Dr Sarah Ailwood you are a beacon of hope in the storm of garbage that has been thrown around for what seems like forever, we finally have have hope people!

    It's good to see that some people are finally beginning to understand that covering your ears and shutting your eyes is not going to stop the world from moving on. ACB... we do not live back in 0BC.

    The rapid development of online delivery systems and the worldwide availability of software tends to make the classification system irrelevent. Its only chance of retaining some form of regulation is reform and the introduction of an R18+ rating, because at the moment, 15+ seems fine, at a glance, to be "fine for the children".

    “Our National Classification Scheme can hold its head high in having an almost uniform set of classification categories that are easy for people to come to grips with and having many checks and balances and overall consistencies, unlike America with its different categories for different media and its self-regulatory non-enforceable system.”

    Oh wait, you're serious. Let me laugh even harder.

    The ACL calling the video game industry a Dracula is easily the most hilarious thing I've ever read on this site.

    "Hello, my name is Twilight and I am a Dracula" anybody?

    Next they'll start making "Hitler as the PM of Israel" comparisons. This is a political threat we should take seriously?

    They're making a lot of noise, sure, but like any constant noise you tend to tune it out after a little while.

    Someone hand me a tissue, I'm crying for the poor little corrupted children.

    This debate became a joke a long time ago. This isn' about the children anymore. This is about Fundamentalist conservatives trying to exert their control over Australians because it gives them that...."Funny feeling".

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