The regulation of media forms has been driven by social anxieties regarding them. This is by no means a new phenomenon; anxieties relating to media content and form have existed since the birth of the cinema in the early twentieth century. The introduction of the television into the family home in the mid 1900’s meant that people became exposed to views which were not necessarily endorsed or shared by their household and traditions. This caused a somewhat moral panic, which still exists today.
As a result of this the Australian Classification Board exists to regulate the content we view. Check out its database for further reading. It classifies films and video games into the categories listed to the left. This restricts what can legally be sold to minors and what they can view in a public cinema. It governs the range of cinema which can be shown to children in a school setting. It also provides parents with guidelines on what is appropriate to share with their children (source).
The reasons behind the classification decisions of the board rest on legal documents such as:
- The Classification Act 1995;
- The National Classification Code;
- The Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012; and
- The Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005.
Elements taken into account include nudity, themes, violence, language, sexual references and drug use (source). In addition to these six elements, classification decisions are expected to adhere to principles such as the freedom of adults to view what they please, the right of children to protection from unsuitable material, the artistic or educational merit of the film and the class of people the work is aimed at (source).
The report uses the six aforementioned elements in reaching this decision. Despite no drug use or nudity, sexual references exist, although they are ‘justified by context’ (Australian Government Classification Review Board 2014), intended for humorous purposes and relatively discreet. The language and violence, although present in the film, were again deemed ‘mild’ (ibid, p.2) by the board. The themes present in the film include the death of a parent and family issues; the board again felt these were justified by context and ‘can be accommodated within the PG classification’ (ibid, p.2). Nevertheless the PG category was accompanied by the tagline “sexual references and crude humour” (ibid, p.4).
In some sense, the Australian Government is deciding what we see or hear via television media. This is done through the public restriction of media access. For example, one cannot view an MA classified film at a cinema unless they have proof of identification which shows they are aged fifteen years old or older. Similarly, an R rated film cannot be viewed at a cinema by someone younger than eighteen years old, nor can it be purchased in DVD or Blu-ray form over the counter without ID. In terms of public space, the government is a heavy regulator of cinematic content.
When it comes to home viewing, however, the government plays a lesser role. In the private space, the government leaves it up to individual households to determine what is appropriate to be shown in their homes and to regulate what their children watch.
There are pros and cons to both, however. In terms of the parental argument, what a child is allowed to view in private space can be tailored to their individual needs or capabilities. A parent can choose programs for their child to view which are aligned with their family, cultural and religious values. There is also something to be said for the intrusion of the government into this private space; beyond the mere classification of cinema, the enforcement of it in the private space could be beneficial. A family may be closed-minded and reluctant to let their children view content they deem to be undesirable, for example this case of Playschool showing a segment featuring a child with “two mums” . Although this goes against the traditional values of many families and religions, it is a contemporary social issue which children will be exposed to nonetheless. The counterargument is, of course, the privacy argument of families and their right to raise their children as they please.