Classification & the time-shifting audience | ACMA

Classification & the time-shifting audience

Citizen conversations series opening address

Thursday 6 June 2013

Speech by Chris Chapman
Chairman and Chief Executive

Well, good morning everyone ... and indeed to all our Australian ‘listeners’ or ‘viewers’ across the ACMA live webcast of this important initiative.

I think it’s irrefutable that TV and radio are still very important to virtually all Australians, even against the backdrop reality of today’s converged media landscape. Whether it’s for entertainment, information, news, or current affairs or sport, we are tuned in.

What you may not know however is that there are formal broadcasting codes that effectively set the boundaries for what can be seen and heard. For about 20 years, regular reviews of the broadcasting codes have resulted in incremental changes and some modest improvements to individual codes. And given that there are now nine broadcasting codes (and that excludes the two codes of practice developed by the ABC and SBS—and notified to us), there have been, and are, significant differences between, and arguably, considerable anomalies in, those 11 codes. In any event, no comprehensive review of the principles underpinning these various codes has been undertaken … so ‘It’s time!’

In a nutshell, our challenge is to ensure that the codes keep up with the rapid changes in technology, social trends and demography, and community values and expectations.

And we have established the Contemporary community safeguards inquiry to inform us in the task we’ve set ourselves.

Alternatively expressed, a key function of the inquiry is to seek a range of views to help us examine the core principles that should guide the content of broadcasting codes of practice. 

I therefore welcome you to the first in this particular Citizen conversation series, the Classification and time-shifting audience forum, and offer our genuine thanks for participating in this conversation.

I hope that some of you may have had an opportunity to look at the Contemporary community safeguards inquiry issues paper, which the ACMA released on Monday. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to do so.

The issues paper has a chapter which looks at community values and the role of classification. It establishes the regulatory framework, noting that under the Broadcasting Services Act, codes may relate to:

  • preventing the broadcasting of programs that, in accordance with community standards, are unsuitable to be broadcast
  • methods of classifying material in accordance with community standards.

For me personally, it’s become increasingly palpable over recent years, the anxiety over, and public discourse about, community values and community standards. What happened to them, many are asking? Who’s responsible for fostering them and maintaining them?

Is generational change, demographic and cultural change, technological immersion and content access so pervasive and paradigm-busting that such values and standards are outmoded concepts?

I reflect on this because on Anzac Day this year, I was particularly moved by the address of Dr Brendan Nelson in his role as Director of the Australian War Memorial. He reflected on the more than 102,000 men and women whose names are inscribed on the Roll of Honour and almost all who lie in distant lands.

He went on to say:

To young Australians in search of belonging, meaning, purpose and values for the world you want rather than the one you think you’re going to get, your journey leads here. Look to those values enshrined in the fifteen stained-glass windows in the Hall of Memory overlooking the Tomb of the Unknown Australian soldier:

Resource, Candour, Devotion, Curiosity, Independence, Comradeship, Ancestry, Patriotism, Chivalry, Loyalty, Coolness, Control, Endurance, Audacity, Decision.

He offered this injunction:

Let us recommit ourselves to an Australia that enshrines principle above position, and values, before value. Our Australia, like theirs and especially that of the magnificent generation of the Second World War now leaving us, should be one in which our responsibilities to one another, our nation and its future, transcend and define our rights.

So, these notions of ‘values’ and ‘standards’ are coming up a lot. In the issues paper, we pose a number of questions relating to these, and other, concepts. These questions include:

  • Is classification of material a useful and relevant intervention?
  • Should broadcast content be classified even if the content is not classified on other platforms?
  • Should there be consistency across the various codes of practice?
  • Are there any community concerns about the prospect of harmonising classification categories and criteria across media?
  • What material, if any, should be exempt from classification?

It’s really encouraging, in this Citizen conversation series, that we have representatives from each of the commercial television networks, regional broadcasters, national broadcasters, subscription television, community broadcasting, peak groups, lobby groups, content producers and, importantly, citizens (viewers and listeners—broadcast content consumers).

The ACMA recognises that there are many voices that need to be heard. This forum represents an opportunity for you to have your say and to ask the tough questions. We are also very lucky to have such experienced and knowledgeable speakers today and so I thank them for their time, interest and, what, no doubt, will be strong ‘facilitative’ contributions. The speakers represent key areas of interest including industry, classification, research and advocacy groups.

Clearly, there is a lot to talk about and we will not be able to explore all the issues today. Don’t forget that this is not your only chance to contribute to this inquiry.

Importantly, the several fora will be accessible via the ACMA website with the invitation for online comment and interaction, providing further real-time opportunity for broader citizen engagement. A post proceedings report will be written up and distributed to participants and posted online. From there, the conversation needs to continue.

I will take this opportunity to remind you of the other forums being held as part of the inquiry to elicit contemporary views on long-cherished values and standards. The themes for the other public forums are decency, accuracy, fairness, advertising and privacy. There is also a workshop for broadcasters on the handling of complaints under the codes of practice.

Again, thank you for joining us today. I hope the conversation is interesting and informative. 

Last updated: 25 January 2017