The review of Australia's classification guidelines has formally begun and today's your last day to get involved.
The Classification Board last year made a public point of noting that a review was in the works, through public statements following the ban of DayZ and more directly when the board's director, Margaret Anderson, appeared on a PAX Australia panel.
PAX Australia was filled with so many great panels, but there was one panel we recommended above all others. Games and Moral Panic: Why Are We Here Again? was a panel that strove to answer questions many of us had about the Australian games industry, and why classification is such an important and enduring issue.
The review is an opportunity to modernise the classification guidelines, which is effectively the fine print that determines what games fall under what ratings and, more importantly, which games are Refused Classification.
Some of those fine-print guidelines include the long-standing rule on drugs as an incentive in video games which has caused issues for Katana Zero, DayZ, Fallout 4 and many others. The guidelines were put in place when the R18+ rating was officially introduced, and the formal review is an opportunity to bring the classification of video games more into line with current community expectations.
But the review isn't just about video games. The terms of reference will cover external classification tools, like what Netflix currently uses to have content rated in Australia, what content should be classified, and how to imrpove consistency across classification categories.
The review's main aims are:
- How best to harmonise the regulatory framework for classification across broadcast content, online content and physical product such as DVDs and boxed games.
- Whether the criteria for classifying films and computer games are still appropriate and useful and continue to reflect community standards and concerns.
- The type of content that should be required to be classified.
- Who should be responsible for classifying content and what level of government oversight is appropriate.
The terms of reference note that "regulation of sexually explicit content online" won't be covered in the review, nor will any "broader content regulation issues" outlined in the ACCC's recent inquiry into online platforms.
Here's the exact terms of reference:
The review will cover:
1. Opportunities to harmonise the classification of, or restriction of access to, content across different delivery platforms including broadcasting services (commercial free to air, national broadcasting and subscription television), online stores and services, cinema releases, and physical product (e.g. boxed video games and DVDs).
2. The design of a contemporary Australian classification framework, including:
a. What content requires classification
b. Consistency of classification categories, standards and access restrictions across media formats
c. Classification decision-making processes, including mechanisms for review, and
d. Governance arrangements, including the suitability of the current cooperative scheme.
3. Opportunities to update classification decision-making standards, including a comprehensive review to update the National Classification Code, the Films Guidelines, and the Games Guidelines.
The department has also published a discussion paper that "all computer games made available in Australia continue to be classified apart from exempt ones, using the same categories as for film," but not including the X18+ pornographic exemption in the ACT.
The paper suggests creating a separate body to review classification decisions from the current Review Board (which operates separately to the Classification Board), or moving the current body into the Classification Board itself. There's also recommendations on how the public can have their say, with all submissions to be made via a form on the Classification Board's website.
Public consultation for the review will close by 5:00pm AEDT on Wednesday, 19 February 2020, with the review to be completed and submitted to the Communications Minister in April.