Government tinkers with classification scheme

The government today introduced legislation to reform the National Classification Scheme, primarily to make it faster and more cost effective to classify content for mobile platforms and online games.

Films that are released in 2D and 3D versions won’t have to be classified twice, a sensible measure for which the industry had long lobbied.

Independent distributors had complained about the costs of having small films classified versus the B.O. returns, and  the hefty tab for launching an appeal – $10,000 or more – but their push for cheaper fees fell on deaf ears.

However festivals and cultural organisations such as Australian Centre of the Moving Image and events like Tropfest will no longer have to submit cumbersome applications to the Classification Board for a formal exemption before they screen material, providing they satisfy criteria in the Classification Act.

The legislation will remove the need for reclassification when minor changes are made to computer games such as software updates or bug fixes, or when a new song is added to a karaoke game.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will be given the power to decide which complaints it should look into. The ACMA now intends to  draw up guidelines to decide when it is “desirable” to do so, in line with other statutory bodies with similar powers.

The reforms are the government’s first response to proposals by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of the National Classification Scheme. The ALRC delivered its report to Parliament in March 2012.  Among its most far-reaching recommendations:

-Abolish the legally binding age restriction on MA15+ rating so it becomes an advisory guidance.

– Apply uniform classification categories to content aired across all platforms, including online and mobile.

– Rename the RC (refused classification) category as Prohibited and scrap the MAV15+ and AV tags used by some broadcasters.

– Retain the Classification Board for films and computer games but create a single agency to regulate the classification of media content, handle complaints and educate the public about the scheme.

– Empower the Classification Board to review appeals, replacing the independent Classification Review Board.

But the prospects for widespread changes were ruled out by the state and federal Attorneys-General, who indicated last year that they would merely consider “areas for short-term reforms.”

“The Coalition Government is committed to providing consumers and industry with a modernised National Classification System that is better equipped to manage content in a rapidly changing, global and convergent media environment,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said today.

 “These reforms are the first step in the process of ensuring our classification system continues to be effective and relevant in the 21st century. We need to improve the effectiveness of this scheme, enhance compliance with state and territory classification laws and provide more classification information, specifically to parents and young people.

“Ultimately we aim to deliver benefits to industry by reducing administrative red tape and the regulatory burden, whilst continuing to provide consumers with important classification information.”

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