We often complain about the decisions that The Classification Board makes, but what would happen if some of that power was given to the industry itself? Would a self-regulating industry, or one that co-regulates with The Classification Board, work? This was one of the questions raised at yesterday’s GAME conference at Macquarie University.
At last night’s Politics Of Play panel, university professors and Classification Board members debated the politics surrounding video games, with much of the discussion centering on whether or not the games industry should be allowed to classify most games, leaving contentious material to The Classification Board.
The commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Professor Terry Flew, said that the commission has put forward a proposal that, if successful, will see The Classification Board only classifying games that are likely to be rated MA15+ or higher.
"Games that come in below that level, and this is open to further discussion, under the proposals could be classified by the industry itself or may not be classified at all," Professor Flew said.
"We think the industry would have an interest in classifying below MA15+ because the informational role of classification, particularly for parents, remains an important one. "
Flew drew comparisons to the television industry, which requires The Classification Board to only classify a TV series on first release. Beyond that, television networks classify the programs.
With regards to online content, Flew said that services like Apple's iTunes was a good example of a kind of classification being conducted by a body that isn't The Classification Board.
"Before accessing content on Apple's store, that content has been classified,” he said.
“Parents can set their child’s iPhone or iPad settings to mirror those of the Australia Classification Guidelines; we’re looking at those mechanisms and seeing how we can incorporate that into legislation and recognise good corporate citizenship around these issues.”
Flew said that by devolving activity from The Classification Board, the proposals could reduce The Board's games classification workload by 80 per cent.
But not everyone is convinced. Dr. Peter Chen from Sydney University's Department of Government and International Relations argued that while the idea of self-regulation may work in theory, it may not work in practice.
“At the end of the day if you're going to regulate things you need tight points to regulate them from and this is where I flag some dangers with just accepting holus-bolus the new intermediaries as regulators,” Dr. Chen said.
“The classic example is the Apple App store — they have been subject to considerable criticism for the way they classify their content online and they make their classification decisions based on a strange mixture of corporate randomness, the rather socially conservative morals of the United States that we don't share in Australia, and the business acumen of Steve Jobs.”
“They've censored content that has been political in nature, they've censored political cartoons, they've treated homosexual and heterosexual material of a similar type differently. They've censored homosexual material, and they are not transparent or open with their actions in the way that The Classification Board and the OFLC are, and so in a sense the adoption of this whole 'We'll just devolve it to the Apple or Google corporation who god knows has our best interests at heart, I think is a load of horse."
Dr. Chen said that we need to be very careful with regards to who is given the power to classify content and all possibilities should be considered before jumping straight into industry self-regulation.
What are your views on classification? Should it remain in the hands of The Classification Board? Should the industry self-regulate? Would co-regulation work? Let us know what you think!