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By Kaufman, Tina | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

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Kaufman, Tina, Metro Magazine


COMBINED GUIDELINES FINALLY RELEASED FOR FILMS AND COMPUTER GAMES

Over a year after the State and Territory Censorship Ministers agreed to combine the review of the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, the Federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, has announced that from 30 March this year the Office of Film and Literature Classification will be classifying films and computer games using new combined guidelines. As he said at the launch last month:

These new guidelines are the first in the world to meet the challenge of classifying converging media, such as computer games with film components and DVDs with game components. They are easier for the OFLC's Classification Board to use and simpler and clearer for the Australian community to understand. But there has been no change to classification standards. This reflects the results of community consultations, which show there has been no significant change in community standards.

The language of the new guidelines is certainly simpler, but it also appears that they could produce more liberal interpretations, giving classifiers more leeway to make less conservative rulings on specific films and computer games; although this depends very much on the appointments to, and the make-up of, the Classification and Review Boards. However, for a while in this drawn out process the end result looked as if it would be quite different. After calling for and receiving over three hundred submissions from individuals, media industry organizations, government agencies, community organizations, religious organizations, consumers of adult video content and computer game players, the OFLC released its first draft of the guidelines, outlining a number of areas that were under consideration for substantial change, including further restrictions on the use of nudity, violence and drugs. A new clause even argued that the 'inappropriate use of substances that might damage health or are legally restricted to adults must not be promoted or encouraged' (surely an issue for public health authorities rather than classification). The draft guidelines also allowed the classification board to consider the likelihood of certain actions or events within a film being imitated inappropriately, especially by young children, in real life, such as the detailed portrayal of criminal or violent techniques, or actions which may promote illegal or dangerous behaviour. The degree of interactivity could also be used to assess the impact of a film or game, and therefore its classification. Many of these changes came from what was a seemingly sensible suggestion--the adoption of a single set of classification standards that would cover films, videos, DVDs, computer games, Internet content and CD-ROM films, and could lead to the possibility of an R rating for computer games.

Co-director of the Centre for New Media Research at Bond University, Dr Jeff Brand, analysed the draft guidelines and the further submissions that were received. He made a number of suggestions regarding specific areas, but decided that overall the submissions showed no real change in community standards. His strongest and most important recommendation was that there was a need to make the guidelines simpler, clearer and easier to use. The founding Director of the Centre for Plain Legal Language, Professor Peter Butt, then examined the redrafted guidelines to confirm that the reformatting had not changed the standards of each classification category and that they were easier to understand.

Under the cooperative national classifications scheme, the new combined guidelines were then approved by all State and Territory Ministers, but Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers declined to introduce an R18+ rating for computer games. (It is understood that only one state minister was against this recommendation, but, needing a unanimous vote, the new classification could not be introduced. …

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