The Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) review into Australia's classification system has proposed that only games likely to be rated MA15+ or above should be officially classified by government.
The review, commissioned late last year by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, aims to reform Australia's classification laws in light of recent technological changes, media convergence, and the global distribution platforms of media content. As part of this review, the ALRC released an Issues Paper in May this year, providing an overview of the current classification system and inviting the public and industry groups to respond to its strengths and weaknesses and outline what should change.
Following public response to the paper, the ALRC has now drawn up an official discussion paper--released today--which puts forward 43 proposals for reform to Australia's current classification scheme.
When it comes to video games, the ALRC proposes that only titles "produced on a commercial basis and likely to be MA15+ or higher" should be referred to the Classification Board for classification. This is because "these are the games that parents and guardians arguably most need to be warned about--the games with strong or high levels of violence, coarse language, and other content".
According to the ALRC, the classification of games likely to be rated G, PG, or M, should become voluntary.
"The classification of most other media content--for example, books, magazines, websites, music, and computer games now likely to be G, PG, and M--should become or remain voluntary. However, the ALRC proposes that industry bodies should develop codes of practice that encourage the voluntary classification of some of this other content, such as lower-level computer games, using the categories, criteria, and markings of the National Classification Scheme."
The ALRC says that content providers (that is, publishers) may choose to classify lower-level games voluntarily using authorised industry classifiers. According to the body, the rationale for this proposal stems from the high cost of classifying and regulating content, as well as the number of games released each year.
"There are arguably too many games developed and released each year, and developed by too diverse a range of persons, to formally classify before they are sold or distributed in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of small games, often played online or on mobile devices and developed by small developers or individuals, are now available for sale."
This new system, argues the ALRC, will allow for an industry classification that reduces costs of regulatory burdens, considered particularly important for independent developers and publishers of niche products.
The discussion paper also points to the R18+ debate as an example of why the current system that calls for the unanimous agreement among the Commonwealth, states, and territories before any changes to the National Classification Scheme can be made is a "poorly designed" and "time consuming" process.
"The ALRC has heard loud and clear that the current system is broken and no longer fits with how people are consuming media content," ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher said in a press statement. "It is poorly equipped to deal with the challenges of media convergence, and the case for reform is strong. The ALRC is proposing reform that can be phased in to allow time for industry and the community to adapt to the new scheme. Responses to the paper will help inform the development of final recommendations for reform."
The Commonwealth has also responded positively to the proposed reforms.
"The government is committed to modernising Australia's classification system to address the challenges created by rapidly changing media technology," Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, said in a joint press statement today.
"The ALRC last reviewed classification standards 20 years ago. Australians need to be confident that our classification system will help them make informed choices about what they choose to read, see, hear, and play. This is especially important for parents who rely on the National Classification Scheme to make sensible choices for their children."
The ALRC invites both individuals and organisations to read the discussion paper and make their submissions to the ALRC before November 18, 2011.
The discussion paper is available on the ALRC website.
The final ALRC report into Australia's classification scheme is due early next year. The Federal Government says it will consider the ALRC's recommendations once it receives the final report.