The ACMA has registered a new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in a bid to adapt to the changing media landscape. 

It has been submitted by Free TV, the industry group representing commercial free-to-air broadcasters.

A key difference in the new code is a move to less restrictive time zones, with the changes permitting PG programming all day and earlier M (mature) and MA15+ (mature audience) time zones.

The new code is the result of ACMA’s Contemporary Community Safeguards inquiry (the CCSi) and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Classification Review, which indicated that time zone restrictions on free-to-air television are becoming less relevant. 

The changes aim to permit greater programming flexibility by broadcasters, and are accompanied by a range of targeted ‘special care’ protections and tools to enable viewers (particularly parents) to manage their own and their children’s viewing experience. 

These protections include no alcohol advertisements in the evening before 8.30 pm (unless as an accompaniment to a sports program on a weekend or public holiday).

There is a ban on gambling advertisements in any program classified G, C or P between 6.00 am and 8.30 am and between 4.00 pm and 7.00 pm (as well as during any program broadcast between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm which is principally directed to children).

Broadcasters are required to screen prominent and legible consumer advice at the start of all films classified PG or above, all programs classified M which commence between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm and any program classified MA15+.

There also needs to be a clear display of classification symbols at the start of and after breaks in programs, as well as in program promotions.

The code includes a requirement that all advertising and program promotions broadcast between 7.30 and 8.30 pm during a sports program or programs classified G or PG be classified no higher than PG.

There is a ban between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm on the promotion of a program classified M or MA15+ during any G classified program, which is principally directed to children (except for ‘up next’ pointers to the following program).

The new code continues to include important obligations upon commercial television broadcasters in areas such as news and current affairs, advertising, privacy and complaints-handling.

Free TV will be conducting a 12-month education campaign to inform viewers of changes to the code and methods of managing viewing by them and their children (accompanied by information on the Free TV website). 

Viewers will also be able to take advantage of the wide availability of the parental lock facility on the overwhelming majority of digital televisions and set-top devices.

The code’s development has been informed by the ACMA’s Contemporary community safeguards inquiry undertaken in 2013. 

The CCSi was established to explore those matters that should be addressed in contemporary broadcasting codes of practice.

It replaces the previous Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, and comes into operation on 1 December 2015. 

ACMA chairman, Chris Chapman said the code reflected the contemporary media environment, "is expressed in a user-friendly and simpler form and, importantly, contains a package of community safeguards appropriate in this new environment," he said.

"Since the previous code was registered in late 2009, there have been tremendous shifts in the media landscape. 

"Many of the provisions in the earlier code had been around for twenty years or so—from an analogue era where viewers could only source content from three commercial free-to-air channels and two national broadcasting channels.

Chapman said the new code reflected the reality that television was operating in a new, digital era in which content could be viewed from a wide variety of sources and on a wide variety of platforms. 

"The digital era has brought many challenges for broadcasters, and there were aspects of the previous code which made it difficult for them to respond and innovate," he said. 

"The digital era has also brought challenges for viewers, and the new code is designed to assist them to better manage their own viewing in an environment in which responsibility will be increasingly shared between government, industry and, importantly, viewers (citizens). 

"We have worked with Free TV to ensure the code was well adapted for this new environment while retaining core viewer safeguards,’ Mr Chapman said.

The code is the product of a engagement between the ACMA, the commercial television sector and its audiences, manifest in submissions made by individual viewers and advocacy groups.

The new code was developed by Free TV Australia. 

The new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 is available on the Free TV website.

Free TV chairman, Harold Mitchell, said the code was a real win for viewers. 

"It will mean a greater variety of programming, while preserving key community safeguards,” he said.

“A number of changes were made to the proposed code between consultation and registration.

“It has resulted in a code which reflects commercial television’s place in Australia’s modern, diversified media economy, where viewers can access content at any time on any number of devices and platforms.” 

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