The ACMA

Television

TV content regulation

The ACMA registers new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice

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The Australian Communications and Media Authority has agreed to register a new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, submitted by Free TV, the industry group representing commercial free-to-air broadcasters.

‘The code now reflects the contemporary media environment, is expressed in a user-friendly and simpler form and, importantly, contains a package of community safeguards appropriate in this new environment,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.

‘Since the previous code was registered in late 2009, there have been tremendous shifts in the media landscape. Many of the provisions in the earlier code had been around for twenty years or so—from an analogue era where viewers could only source content from three commercial free-to-air channels and two national broadcasting channels.

‘The new code reflects the reality that television is operating in a new, digital era in which content can be viewed from a wide variety of sources and on a wide variety of platforms. The digital era has brought many challenges for broadcasters, and there were aspects of the previous code which made it difficult for them to respond and innovate. The digital era has also brought challenges for viewers, and the new code is designed to assist them to better manage their own viewing in an environment in which responsibility will be increasingly shared between government, industry and, importantly, viewers (citizens). We have worked with Free TV to ensure the code was well adapted for this new environment while retaining core viewer safeguards,’ Mr Chapman said.

A key difference in the new code is a move to less restrictive time zones, with the changes permitting PG programming all day and earlier M (mature) and MA15+ (mature audience) time zones. This is consistent with changes to the media environment, the outcomes of the ACMA’s Contemporary community safeguards inquiry (the CCSi) and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Classification Review, all of which indicate that time zone restrictions on free-to-air television are becoming less relevant. These changes will permit greater programming flexibility by broadcasters, and are accompanied by a range of targeted ‘special care’ protections and tools to enable viewers (particularly parents) to manage their own and their children’s viewing experience. These protections include:

  • No alcohol advertisements in the evening before 8.30 pm (unless as an accompaniment to a sports program on a weekend or public holiday)
  •  A ban on gambling advertisements in any program classified G, C or P between 6.00 am and 8.30 am and between 4.00 pm and 7.00 pm (as well as during any program broadcast between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm which is principally directed to children)

  • Prominent and legible consumer advice at the start of all films classified PG or above, all programs classified M which commence between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm and any program classified MA15+

  • Clear display of classification symbols at the start of and after breaks in programs, as well as in program promotions

  • A requirement that all advertising and program promotions broadcast between 7.30 and 8.30 pm during a sports program or programs classified G or PG be classified no higher than PG 

  • A ban between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm on the promotion of a program classified M or MA15+ during any G classified program, which is principally directed to children (except for ‘up next’ pointers to the following program).

The new code continues to include important obligations upon commercial television broadcasters in areas such as news and current affairs, advertising, privacy and complaints-handling.

Free TV will be conducting a 12-month education campaign to inform viewers of changes to the code and methods of managing viewing by them and their children (accompanied by information on the Free TV website). Viewers will also be able to take advantage of the wide availability of the now-familiar parental lock facility on the overwhelming majority of digital televisions and set-top devices.

The code’s development has been significantly informed by the ACMA’s Contemporary community safeguards inquiry undertaken in 2013. The CCSi was purposely established to explore those matters that should be addressed in contemporary broadcasting codes of practice. The code reflects and is consistent with the CCSi’s findings, which were focused on identifying the minimum level of regulatory prescription needed to address community safeguards. The ACMA also carefully reviewed and considered the many submissions made to Free TV during its consultation process and submissions made directly to the ACMA.

‘This code is the product of a robust engagement between the ACMA, the commercial television sector and its audiences, manifest in submissions made by individual viewers and advocacy groups,’ Mr Chapman said. ‘The ACMA is precluded by law from registering a code which does not contain appropriate community safeguards. The ACMA is satisfied that the process of engagement with Free TV and the wider community has resulted in a new code which, taken as a whole, meets this requirement.

‘The ACMA welcomes and acknowledges the constructive response of Free TV that has resulted in a substantive and appropriate set of changes to those safeguards, including many that differ from Free TV’s initial consultation draft. Those changes responded to community concerns and the ACMA’s own input.’

The new code was developed by Free TV Australia. It replaces the previous Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, and comes into operation on 1 December 2015.

The new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 is available on the Free TV website.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719, 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.

Media release 56/2015 - 10 November

Backgrounder

Implementation of the new code

The new code takes effect on 1 December 2015.

The co-regulatory framework, code review and development process

A key policy intent of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA) is that broadcasting sectors are regulated in a manner that enables public interest considerations to be addressed in a way that does not impose unnecessary financial and administrative burdens on broadcasters. The broadcasting sector is essentially governed by a co-regulatory model whereby a sector of the industry develops a code of practice to be registered by the ACMA. The BSA requires the code of practice to be developed and reviewed in consultation with the ACMA and after taking account of any relevant research conducted by the ACMA.

At the conclusion of the review process, the ACMA must include a code in its Register of Codes of Practice if it is satisfied that:

  • the code provides appropriate community safeguards for the matters it covers
  • the code is endorsed by a majority of the providers of broadcasting services in the relevant industry sector
  • there has been adequate public consultation on the code.

Relevant research and publications

Research and publications relevant to this code review include the CCSi and related research. The CCSi Consolidated report is available here.

More detailed information about the CCSi is available at the end of this release.

As part of the evidence base to inform the CCSi, the ACMA commissioned and conducted community research exploring the contemporary broadcasting experiences and expectations of citizens (viewers), as well as economic research about the market for content in Australia and the identified costs incurred by industry members of relevant code requirements. The relevant research reports are available here.

Public consultation

Public consultation on a draft code must take place to allow community concerns to be identified and evaluated.

Free TV Australia undertook public consultation on a draft code between 20 February and 3 April 2015 and accepted late submissions until 20 April 2015. Public comment was sought through:

  • Press advertisements in all states and territories
  • Explanatory Materials and draft code published on the Free TV website
  • A Free TV media release, which achieved media attention across television, radio online and print
  • Free TV’s social media channels.

On 20 February 2015, the ACMA published a statement on its website encouraging members of the public to comment on the draft code.

Free TV received 2,874 submissions, copies of which were provided to the ACMA.

Education campaign

Free TV members will undertake an education campaign to support the commencement of the new code. The education campaign will include updates and amendments to code-related information on the Free TV website, including links to the new code, the complaints form and a series of relevant facts sheets. These materials are not intended to be time limited and will be kept on the Free TV website on an ongoing basis and updated as necessary.

For a three-month period following the commencement of the new code, each licensee will air 40 Community Service Announcements per month across all services and classification zones.

For a 12-month period following commencement of the new code, Community Service Announcements will indicate what changes have been made and direct viewers to the Free TV website for further information and a copy of the code.

Key community safeguards provided in the code

Key community safeguards reflected in the new code include the following:

  • All broadcast material (except news, current affairs and sports programs) must be classified and broadcast in accordance with time zones.
  • Broadcasters must exercise care in selecting news, current affairs and sports programs (which do not require classification) for broadcast having regard to the likely audience and any identifiable public interest reason for presenting the program.
  • The classification of a particular program must be displayed at the start of the program and after each program break.
  • Prominent and legible consumer advice (that is, information about the key elements that contributed to the classification of particular content), is required at the start of programs classified M which commence between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm and any program classified MA15+. 
  • A ban on the broadcast of material which is likely to provoke intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or group of persons because of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or sexual preference.
  • Rules about the broadcast of material which may distress viewers in news and current affairs (for example, reports on suicide and images of seriously wounded or dead bodies).
  • Requirements, in news and current affairs, to present factual material accurately, to not misrepresent viewpoints and to correct significant errors of fact.
  • Requirements for fair and impartial news programs which clearly distinguish the reporting of factual material from commentary or analysis.
  • Privacy requirements, including that material relating to a person’s personal or private affairs or which invades a person’s privacy, must not be broadcast unless there is a public interest reason for the material to be broadcast or the person has provided consent for the material to be broadcast. Special care must be exercised in relation to children.
  • Advertising restrictions for certain products and services, including alcohol, gambling, R18+ films and games, contraceptives and sex services.
  • If factual programs endorse or feature third party products in accordance with a commercial arrangement, this must be disclosed to viewers. Further, in programs principally directed to children, this disclosure must occur in a discrete segment with sponsorship clearly disclosed.
  • Clear code complaint procedures.

In addition to the above, there is a range of targeted safeguards arising specifically as a result of the changes to time zones (see the table below).

Summary of the time zones and targeted safeguards in the new code:

 

Change: G & PG broadcast content permitted any time every day

(previously G programs were permitted all day, but PG programs were not permitted in dedicated G zones on primary channels (which were 6.00–8.30 am and 4.00–7.00 pm Monday–Friday and 6.00–10.00 am on weekends))

Targeted safeguards:

  • Children watching G programs which are principally directed to them between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm will not see program promotions for M or MA15+ programs, except that an ‘up next’ pointer for the program immediately following may be broadcast.

Children watching programs principally directed to them between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm will not see gambling advertising.

Change: M broadcast content permitted every day 7.30 pm to 6.00 am and Noon–3.00pm on school days

(previously 8.30 pm to 5.00 am every day and Noon–3.00 pm on school days)

Targeted safeguards:

To address the bringing forward of the M zone in the evening:

  • Families watching sports programs, G programs and PG programs between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm will not see M classified program promotions or advertisements.
  • Families watching sports programs, and children’s films that begin before 8.30 pm and continue after 8.30 pm, will not see M classified program promotions or advertisements until after 9.30 pm.
  • Viewers will be alerted to M programs broadcast between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm by the presence of consumer advice for all M programs broadcast at this time.
  • Viewers will not see alcohol advertising between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm (unless the program is a sports program on a weekend or public holiday).
  • Viewers will not see advertising for R18+ films/games until after 8.30 pm.

To address the extension of the M zone in the early morning:

  • Viewers watching sports programs, G programs and PG programs between 5.00 am and 6.00 am will not see M classified program promotions or advertisements.
  • Viewers will not see alcohol advertising 5.00 am and 6.00 am (unless the program is a sports program on a weekend or public holiday).

Viewers will not see advertising for R18+ films/games after 5.00 am.

Change: MA15+ broadcast content permitted 8.30 pm to 5.00 am every day, with no AV classification or zone

(previously MA15+ zone was between 9.00 pm and 5.00 am every day and AV zone was between 9.30 pm and 5.00 am every day)

Targeted safeguards:

Families watching sports programs, and children’s films that begin before 8.30 pm and continue after 8.30 pm, will not see MA15+ classified program promotions or advertisements until after 9.30 pm.

Contemporary Community Safeguards inquiry

The ACMA established the CCSi to explore the matters that should be addressed in a contemporary broadcasting code of practice. The inquiry’s aim was to ensure that codes of practice are fit for purpose in a converging media environment. The inquiry engaged and consulted with industry and citizens about which matters needed to be addressed by broadcasters in their codes in order to provide appropriate community safeguards. It also sought to establish which current protections may no longer be required.

The evidence gathered in the inquiry suggested that there was scope and support for rationalisation, simplification and adaptation to media markets and practices. The concept of ‘shared responsibility’ emerged as particularly pertinent. This is because in a contemporary environment, the reality is that national governments, industry regulators and industry-specific bodies can no longer do everything. As a consequence, responsibility for media and communications will need to be increasingly shared between government, regulators, multilateral institutions, suppliers and, importantly, viewers (citizens).

It was noted that the challenges of meeting community expectations in this environment were considered in detail by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (the ALRC’s) National Classification Scheme Review Classification – Content Regulation and Convergent Media (the Classification Review, 2012). The ALRC’s final report recommended that, rather than prescribe precise time zone restrictions as the BSA does, any proposed new legislation should provide that time zone restrictions be set out in industry codes. The ALRC was of the view that ‘this provides a level of flexibility and will enable the restrictions to be adapted, or gradually phased out, in response to a changing media environment’.

The CCSi’s final report acknowledged that some of the tools and mechanisms currently provided by television broadcasters (like time zones) are under strain but parents and carers still use time zones as one of a suite of methods to manage children’s viewing. This suggested that any contemplated reduction of time zones might best be staged taking into account children’s viewing habits, the availability and acceptance of other viewing management tools and the provision of educational programs for parents and carers.

The contemporary media environment and issues affecting existing regulatory requirements were teased out in both an Issues paper and the Final report. Expanding on that process for the purposes of this code review, the following is to be noted:

  • There have been considerable technological shifts within the broadcasting sector and media environment more generally over the two decades since broadcasting codes were first introduced. Television viewing has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years in terms of hours of television viewed but there have been ongoing changes in viewing patterns by different age groups, with internet-delivered content, the use of tablets and the multi-screen viewing environment becoming an increasingly prominent features of Australians’ viewing habits. 
  • In addition to these technological developments, Australians also have increasing access to different ways to control how and when they consume ‘television’ content outside traditional broadcast ‘zones’. The majority of Australians now have access to additional free-to-air multi-channels, including dedicated blocks of children’s programming on ABC2 and ABC3. This rapidly transforming environment throws up both opportunities and challenges for consumers, industry and government.
  • Free-to-air commercial television licensees are facing increasing financial and technological pressures as they compete for viewer share within an environment featuring a very material increase in new content providers. These licensees need a greater level of programming flexibility if they are to remain sustainable and therefore remain available free to the general public.

The CCSi consolidated report is available here

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719, 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au

Last updated: 10 November 2015

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