Chapter 4 - Regulation of the electronic and print media
Term of reference (c) requires the committee to:
...examine strategies to prevent and/or reduce the sexualisation
of children in the media and the effectiveness of different approaches in ameliorating
its effects, including the role of school-based sexuality and reproductive
health education and change in media and advertising regulation such as the
Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and the Commercial Radio Codes
Potential changes to media regulation
Term of reference (c), to examine potential changes to systems of media
and advertising regulation in Australia, is the heart of the committee's
inquiry, which fundamentally concerns the effectiveness of advertising and media
content regulation in striking a balance between:
- facilitating commercial interests and freedom of individual choice and
- protecting children from exploitation while allowing parents to make and
effect choices about their children's wellbeing and sexual development; and
- maintaining systems of media and advertising regulation that are
accessible, predictable and fair, and which deliver outcomes that reflect
prevailing community standards.
The committee's consideration of the issue of sexualisation of children
in the media has therefore involved an assessment of how effectively
advertising and media standards are regulated, and of the complaints mechanisms
that exist for complainants to seek to have possibly sexualising material reviewed
and, more broadly, to influence conceptions of what are prevailing community
Accordingly, in this and the following chapter the committee has sought
to make recommendations that focus on the design and operation of the systems,
codes and regulations that govern media content standards. As previously stated,
at paragraph 1.27, the committee has not sought to make substantive judgements
about the character and/or quality of individual advertisements, programs and
other media content.
This approach recognises that there is an inherent tension in regulatory
systems that seek to give effect to the principle that 'adults should be able
to read, hear and see what they want', on the one hand, and that children
'should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them' on the
Overview of regulatory systems
Australia has developed slightly different systems of industry
regulation for different aspects of advertising and media content. In every
case, these systems utilise codes developed by the relevant media or service
industry—such as television, radio, print and advertising—on which complaints
systems are based. Codes seek to reflect and protect prevailing community
standards by empowering a broadly representative board to make determinations
Regulation of broadcasting
The broadcast media—radio and television (including subscription
services)—are subject to a system of co-regulation involving broadcasters and
the government regulator. Broadcasters are required to develop codes of
practice. These codes are registered with the Australian Communications and
Media Authority (ACMA) and are reviewed on a regular basis. The National
Classification Code (see below) establishes general principles for the
classification of films shown on television, and industry codes are required to
align with the film classification system.
Complaints concerning breaches of codes are initially handled by the
broadcaster but complainants may appeal to ACMA if dissatisfied by the
broadcaster's response. ACMA also has the responsibility to carry out research
into community standards with regard to content and may initiate inquiries into
specific issues relating to content.
Children's television content is regulated by the broadcasters in the
first instance and ACMA. Note that television considered suitable for children
has two aspects: television produced specifically for children that carries the
ACMA rating P (Preschool Children's) or C (Children's), and television
broadcast prior to 8.30 pm that carries a G or PG classification. Programs in
the latter category are not necessarily made for children; the classification
merely indicates that the content does not contain elements that would require
more restrictive classification.
Commercial radio broadcasting does not produce any programming aimed
specifically at children, thus there is no classification analogous to
television's G, PG and M ratings. However, as a general practice radio content that
is considered unsuitable for minors, particularly because of coarse language or
explicit sexual references, is restricted to post-9.00 pm time zones.
ACMA is also responsible for the control of internet content. The
committee acknowledges that this is an area where effective regulation is
extremely difficult. Some control of content may be exercised by parents or guardians
through supervision and through the use of software that blocks access to
certain sites or types of content; but this is a rapidly developing medium, one
of whose great strengths is its flexibility and independence from particular
legal jurisdictions. Thus it is inherently difficult to regulate.
Regulation of children's television content in Australia
The committee's investigation of this issue was essentially limited to
free-to-air television and to the classification codes covering material
intended to be viewed by children either alone or with parental guidance. The
committee considered the high level of parental choice and control over both pay
television services and children's exposure or access to adult viewing time
zones as placing those areas outside the practical limits of the inquiry's
terms of reference; this view was supported by the fact that few submitters
addressed these particular areas.
How children's television content
The body that regulates television broadcasters in Australia is ACMA.
ACMA's role, powers, functions and policy objectives are defined in the Broadcasting
Services Act 1992 (the BSA). A number of the objects of the BSA are
specifically relevant to the issues of community standards, complaints systems
and the welfare of children. These are:
- to encourage providers of broadcasting services to respect
community standards in the provision of program material;
- to encourage the provision of means for addressing complaints
about broadcasting services; and
- to ensure that providers of broadcasting services place a high
priority on the protection of children from exposure to program material which
may be harmful to them.
ACMA oversees the broadcasting codes of practice and standards that
govern television content. The submission from Free TV Australia, the
free-to-air commercial television industry body, explains:
Content of...programs on commercial free to air television is
regulated by the Commercial Television Code of Practice...and in the case of
programs for children, the Children’s Television Standard...
The Free TV Australia submission states that 'compliance with the Commercial
Code of Practice and the...[Children's Television Standard] is a condition of
licence for the [broadcasting] networks.
In addition, ACMA has available to it:
...a wide range of enforcement powers which act as a significant
deterrent against...[Commercial Television Code of Practice and Children's
Television Standard] breaches.
Commercial Television Code of
The development of the Commercial Television Code of Practice (the Commercial
Code) is mandated by section 123 of the BSA, which requires broadcasters to:
...develop, in consultation with...[ACMA]...and taking account of any
relevant research conducted by the ACMA, codes of practice that are to be
applicable to the broadcasting operations of each...[section] of the industry.
The Commercial Code 'is designed to ensure that programming on
television is in line with community standards'.
It is a requirement of the BSA that the regulator must only
register the [Commercial] Code if it is confident it reflects community
standards and there has been sufficient public consultation.
Secondly, the Commercial Code, as required by the BSA, is periodically
reviewed to ensure that it is in accordance with prevailing community
Children's Television Standard
Programming specifically made for children is governed by the Children's
(C) and Preschool Children's (P) classifications. These standards are not
governed by the Commercial Code but by ACMA through the CTS. The ACMA website
Any applicant seeking a C or P classification for a drama or
non-drama program must apply to ACMA. Decisions about the classification of
programs as C or P programs are made by ACMA, an ACMA Member, or a delegated
senior officer of ACMA.
The CTS sets out the required standards for children's programming with
the objective of ensuring that 'children have access to a variety of quality
television programs made especially for them'.
The criteria for a C or P classification require that a given program:
- is made specifically for children or groups of children;
- is entertaining;
- is well produced using sufficient resources to ensure a high
standard of script, cast, direction, editing, shooting, sound and other
- enhances a child’s understanding and experience; and
- is appropriate for Australian children.
As noted above, compliance with the CTS is a licence condition for all
commercial television broadcasters. Licensees must broadcast annually a
combined total of 390 hours of programs classified as C and P (see paragraph 4.19)
and broadcast in children's time zones (see paragraph 4.39). Compliance with
the CTS is monitored by ACMA.
Ms Jenny Buckland, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Children's Television
Foundation (ACTF), while praising the CTS annual requirements for screening of
P and C programs, was critical of the actual timing of such programming:
...[children's content] is scheduled on television at four o’clock in the afternoon, sandwiched between Judge Judy and Antique
Roadshow and it is very hard to access for today’s child who is not
watching television at four o’clock in the afternoon.
The ACTF felt that under current arrangements full value was not being
extracted from the content being developed for children under the CTS, as it
might be broadcast only once or twice by a commercial broadcaster and therefore
be seen by a small number of children. Accordingly, the ACTF suggested that the
current CTS requirement for commercial broadcasters to screen half an hour of
children's television a day resulted in much of that programming being missed
Ms Buckland suggested that more children tended to watch such
programming when it was aired in larger blocks of time—such as on weekend
mornings—and suggested that the half hour a day requirement be removed to allow
broadcasters to schedule children's programs in larger blocks across a given
With regard to content and standards, Ms Buckland advised the committee
that advertising restrictions also operated in relation to children's content:
...we would note that the other aspect of the children’s
television standards is that there is no advertising at all during P programs.
There is restricted advertising during the C programs in terms of the number of
advertisements and the kinds of advertisements that are appropriate.
Although the CTS does not have a specific prohibition on sexualisation,
the ACTF felt that the operation of the CTS within the present system had
prevented any issues concerning sexualisation of children arising:
The codes and the regulation that apply to advertising during
those C-program times would preclude inappropriate advertising to children...We
are not aware of any inappropriate advertising, from a sexual point of view or
a sexualisation of children point of view, in children’s programs.
It can be concluded that, as regards program content and
advertising during P and C programming, sexualisation of children is not an
The ACMA annual report for 2006-07 states:
ACMA is currently reviewing the CTS and on 26 June 2007 called for public submissions in response to an issues paper for the review. The review
and gazettal of the new CTS are expected to be completed in 2008.
The committee also notes that the advent of digital television will
provide increased opportunities for broadcasters to develop and air content
produced specifically for children.
The committee recommends that, as part of its review of the Children's
Television Standard (CTS), the Australian Communications and Media Authority
consider revising the requirement that CTS content be broadcast for at least
half an hour per day to enable broadcasters to schedule it in extended blocks
at times which are more likely to attract children to watch it.
Programming outside the CTS is subject to classification according to
the code of practice of each broadcaster. The system of classification is
intended to manage 'the impact of programming on viewers of all ages'.
Thus it should provide a guide to parents and other adults when managing
children's television viewing. The Free TV Australia submission states:
The television classification system is comprehensive and
detailed to ensure it covers the whole range of television content (which
includes drama, documentary, sport, news and current affairs, light
entertainment and variety).
The classification system is based on the Office of Film and Literature Classification
guidelines for its general categories—G, PG, M and MA15+ et cetera—with some
differences to accommodate classification of a wider range of content and the
use of time zones (see paragraph 4.39).
The particular classifications relevant to standards of children's
television are described in Appendix 4 of the commercial code. These are the
General (G) and Parental Guidance Recommended (PG) classifications. As noted
above, G and PG categories do not guarantee that programming so classified was
made for children, only that the content does not include matter unsuitable for
Appendix 4 of the Commercial Code describes the G classification in the
Material classified G is not necessarily intended for children
but it must be very mild in impact and must not contain any matter likely to be
unsuitable for children to watch without supervision.
Under the G classification, 'sex and nudity'—as the class of material
presumably covering material capable of sexualising children—must be treated as
Visual depiction of, and verbal references to, sexual behaviour
must be brief, infrequent, contain little or no detail and be strictly limited
to the story line or program context. Restrained, brief and infrequent visual
depiction of nudity only when absolutely necessary to the story line or program
The PG classification:
...may contain careful presentations of adult themes or concepts
but must be mild in impact and remain suitable for children to watch with
Under the PG classification, 'sex and nudity' must be treated as
Visual depiction of and verbal reference to sexual behaviour
must be restrained, mild in impact and justified by the story line or program
context. Restrained visual depiction of nudity is permitted, but only where
justified by the story line or program context.
A given program's classification and time zone is determined according
to its 'impact' with reference to key elements such as sexual behaviour and
nudity. 'Impact' is judged by the 'frequency' and 'intensity' with which such
elements appear in given content.
Other factors considered are:
- the merit of the production;
- the purpose of a sequence;
- the camera work;
- the relevance of the material; and
- the treatment.
The Commercial Code provides the following explanation of how these
factors interact with the determination of given content's 'impact':
...[the above] factors must be all taken into account and
carefully weighed. This means that some actions, depictions, themes, subject matter,
treatments or language may meet current community standards of acceptability in
one program, but in another program may require a higher classification, or be
unsuitable for television. Contextual factors do not permit the inclusion of
material which exceeds a program’s classification...
Free-to-air television content standards are also regulated by the use
of time zones. The Free TV Australia submission provides the following
description of the rationale and operation of time zones:
The time zone system is designed to ensure that only material
appropriate to the available audience is shown in particular time zones.
Programs classified G (general) can be broadcast at any time of the viewing
day. Programs with a classification greater than G are restricted from
broadcast during certain time zones. Material which has appeal to an adult
audience but which is clearly not appropriate for children is broadcast later
in the evening.
With particular reference to children, Free TV Australia submitted that
...provide an important level of protection for the child
audience. They are designed to ensure that material broadcast at times of the
viewing day when children are likely to be watching is appropriate for them.
Ms Buckland, from the ACTF, echoed a common criticism made to this
committee in its recent inquiry into broadcasting regulation:
Most five- to 12-year-olds are watching television between the
hours of six and 8.30 at night. It is very hard for children and their parents
to even know that [CTS] content exists.
Mr Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board, advised the
committee that the classification scheme is complemented by a system of
A key element of classification information is consumer advice,
which the board formulates when making classification decisions. Consumer
advice, which is published along with the product, provides consumers with
greater clarity in terms of the content that can be expected. Consumer advice
generally lists the principal elements which have contributed to the
classification of a film and indicates their intensity and/or frequency. It can
also be used to alert consumers to serious or potentially distressing content.
Free TV Australia provided the following information on the use of
...consumer advice [is broadcast] for all M and MA15+ programs and
for PG programs broadcast between 7pm and 8.30pm on weekdays or between 10am
and 8:30pm on weekends if the program contains material of a strength or intensity
which the parents or guardians of young children may not expect. Examples of
consumer advice are: some coarse language, mild violence, sexual references, a
sex scene, and adult themes.
Consumer awareness and promotion of
the classification system
Reviews conducted by ACMA, cited in the Free TV Australia submission,
have found high levels of awareness of the system of regulation of television
standards generally in Australia:
In both 2003 and 2007, the Australian viewing public
overwhelmingly indicated awareness of classification symbols, consumer
information shown before programs, warnings about story content before an item
in news/current affairs program, and restrictions on the times when different
types of programs may be shown.
Complaints about sexualisation of children
A viewer who is concerned that children are being exposed to prematurely
sexualising material because program content is (a) wrongly classified (b)
being played in an unsuitable time zone for its classification or (c) otherwise
in conflict with prevailing community standards must first take their complaint
to the broadcaster. If not satisfied with the response or processes of the
broadcaster, the complainant may then take the complaint to ACMA.
Free TV Australia submission states that there is 'no level of viewer
concern expressed in relation to the contribution of free-to-air television to
the sexualisation of children'.
Concerning specific complaints about sexualisation of children to broadcasters:
Complaints to broadcasters about the sexualisation of children
are non-existent...in...program content and there is no evidence of significant
community concern around the sexualisation of children on commercial free to
Free TV Australia further advised that ACMA is presently undertaking a
review of the CTS. Research undertaken for the purposes of the review, as well
as submissions received as part of a process of public consultation, have
established neither a 'correlation between television programming...[and] the
sexualisation of children' nor any 'level of community concern around the
The ACMA annual report for 2006-07 provides tables showing that over
that period it upheld one complaint relating to a PG classification on the
grounds of sex and nudity, and dismissed 14 relating to either G and PG
classifications or 'contemporary standards of decency' on the same ground.
Video music clips
Video music clips were the one area of programming often mentioned in
submissions as being a source of inappropriately sexualising material. There
were two aspects to this: (a) music video clips broadcast in children's viewing
time zones, and thus produced for and directed to children and (b) music video
clips broadcast in adult viewing times proximate to children's viewing times,
and thus easily or likely to be seen by children.
Many felt that television programming is tending to blur distinctions
between appropriate content for adults and children respectively. For example,
shows such as Rage, a late night music video program for mature viewers,
precede the 6am start of children's weekend morning programming; other music
video shows often continue throughout weekend mornings, when children are
likely to be at the television:
[Rage] runs all night for the older teenage brigade, but
we also all know that most young children are up and about at 6am...Mum and Dad
sleep in and think [their] little one is watching the Wiggles, when in fact
he/she may be being exposed to sexually explicit lyrics, swearing and sexual
The issue of young children viewing material in adult time
zones is primarily one for parents and guardians to deal with.
Where video clips are approved for showing during G rated time zones,
the coarse language is 'bleeped' or edited out but dance and clothing styles
may be little changed. The standard letter submission prepared by Kids Free 2B
Kids (KF2BK) recommended that 'Sexualised Music Video clips...only be shown
outside children’s viewing hours'.
Free TV Australia advised the committee that all music video clips are
subject to classification, and subsequently treated in the following way:
If the material is determined to be unsuitable for the relevant
time zone (usually G or PG), then the video is edited before broadcast or else
is it not included in the respective program. For G classified programs
networks take extra steps to ensure the videos are very mild in impact and safe
for children to watch without adult supervision as required under the Code. For
a PG show, the networks apply the Code at the lower end of the PG
classification requirements as they are mindful that younger viewers could be
watching these programs.
In response to the claims made to the inquiry that music video clips are
contributing to the sexualisation of children, the Free TV Australia submission
contends that 'network complaint figures do not support this view'. This
assertion is based on the very low number of complaints received about music
video clips over the past five years: just 32, representing 0.8 per cent of the
total of all complaints about television content over that period.
The committee acknowledges the small number of complaints received with
regard to music video clips but equally notes the high level of concern
expressed in submissions and correspondence received by the committee. As noted
above, the G classification requires, in part, that:
Visual depiction of...sexual behaviour must be brief, infrequent,
contain little or no detail and be strictly limited to the story line or
The committee acknowledges that there can be some debate as to whether
certain styles of dancing can be classed as 'visual depiction of sexual
behaviour'; however, it does accept that some music video clips contain
sexually suggestive material which may be inappropriate for children.
The committee recommends that broadcasters review their classification of
music videos specifically with regard to sexualising imagery.
Complaints about the premature sexualisation of children either through television
advertising or program content aimed specifically at children are not
significant in number. The main area of concern is with children's exposure to
more 'adult' material shown in the PG and M time zones. Here complaints do not
refer specifically to sexualisation of children in younger age groups but range
over the issues of coarse language, violence, sexual themes, nudity and 'adult'
Taken together, classification, time zones and consumer advice are
designed to enable those having care of children to manage their television
viewing to minimize their exposure to inappropriate material. It appears from
the evidence received by this committee that the system is working effectively.
However there is some scope for further refinement.
In its recent report on broadcasting regulation this committee has
commented at some length on the effectiveness of the system and has made a
series of recommendations aimed at improving the operation of classifications,
time zones and consumer advice. A number of those recommendations are relevant
to the issue of sexualisation of children, particularly in that they would
provide better guidance to television content.
In that report the committee recommended that ACMA:
- examine whether the G and PG classifications should be extended
by including age-specific sub-divisions into those categories—for example, G+8
- examine the extent to which the current evening time zones in
fact reflect children's television viewing habits; and
- review the classification codes to ensure that graphic and
disturbing imagery and excerpts from M and higher classification material is
not included in news and current affairs programming in early evening time
The committee also recommended that industry codes of practice, as far
as is practical, clarify the meaning of terms used in consumer advice—such as
'frequent', 'impact' and 'some'—and that classification information be
displayed for longer periods of time.
Digital free-to-air television also offers some potential benefits in
managing children's television viewing. Parental lock-out systems, already
available on subscription services, should be made an industry standard for
digital televisions in Australia. Datacasting should also be used to provide
more detailed program information about content and to explain the reasons for
a program's classification.
A children's television channel?
In addition to changing the programming requirements for the CTS, the
ACTF recommended the establishment of a children's television channel on the ABC
digital network. Ms Buckland described the features and benefits of a dedicated
channel for children as envisaged by the ACTF:
...what we need in this country is an Australian children’s
channel,’ a digital channel of the ABC, a commercial-free channel which is
screening up until at least nine o’clock at night and providing access to all
of those programs that are being produced and which could also provide new
programs. It could provide news and current affairs; it could work in with the
education sector during the day; it could look at the sorts of
messages—education, information—that we want to convey to children, be it about
sexuality or be it other issues that are important. It could do all of those
things and, in the evening, it could entertain them with terrific Australian
drama where they are going to see positive images of children and families
Similarly, Dr Sally Cockburn and Ms Amelia Edwards, who appeared before
the committee in a private capacity, called for a 'government funded free-to-air
24-hour commercial-free television...station...dedicated to children's under-16
programming'. This was proposed as a creative initiative 'to reduce the harmful
impact of premature sexualisation of children...in the contemporary media and
within the greater social context'.
The committee recommends that broadcasters consider establishing
dedicated children's television channels.
The committee understands that this proposal is under active
consideration by the ABC and would encourage other television broadcasters to
examine the practicalities of providing children's TV channels.
Publications, films and computer games
Regulation of the print media, principally certain classes of magazine, is
the responsibility of the Classification Board, which is also responsible for
film, DVD and electronic games content. The Classification Board administers
the criteria set out in the Classification (Publications, Films &
Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and published
guidelines. It is of particular relevance to this inquiry to note that the Classification
Board plays a limited role with regard to publications.
The function of the Classification Board is:
...to assist consumers, particularly parents and guardians, to
make informed choices about entertainment material for themselves and those in
their care. It remains the responsibility of parents and guardians to make
decisions about entertainment appropriate for their children and to provide
adequate supervision. The scheme also operates to protect people, particularly
children, from material which may be offensive or inappropriate for their age,
by limiting access to material or by banning it entirely.
The committee received very little evidence to suggest that film and DVDs
are considered to be sources of inappropriate sexualisation of children. This
can be viewed as a tribute to the work of the Classification Board. It might
also reflect, as is the case with subscription television, the high degree of
parental choice involved in the purchase of a DVD or a decision to go to a film,
which allows parents to control access to these media.
Regulation of children's magazine content in Australia
The committee's consideration of magazine content was confined to
children's publications. This is because, apart from issues around the
placement of adult magazines and 'submittable publications',
the committee received little evidence on adult magazine content as a direct or
notable source of sexualisation of children.
In addition, unlike free-to-air commercial television, for example, exposure of
children to magazine content involves a purchasing decision over which parents
are assumed to have considerable control if they so wish.
The majority of evidence presented to the committee on this issue
concerned publications directed to female children, and particularly the
magazines titled Girlfriend and Total Girl, which it was claimed
are aimed at the female teenage (12-16) and child markets respectively. Despite
this, the committee's consideration of the issues raised applies equally to
publications produced for male children, as it does more generally to the
production of media content specifically for child consumers or the so-called 'tween'
How children's magazine content is regulated
The Classification Board
The Classification Board is responsible for the classification of, inter
alia, 'certain publications' according to criteria defined in the Classification
(Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act)
and the National Classification Code (NCC).
Section 5 of the Classification Act defines 'publication' to mean 'any written
or pictorial matter', excluding film, computer games or advertisements for a
publication, film or computer game.
Mr Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board, advised the
committee that the Classification Act criteria are informed by additional
processes and concepts:
Classification tools applied by the boards in making
classification decisions are agreed by Commonwealth, state and territory
censorship ministers under the cooperative arrangements of the National
Classification Scheme. Various mechanisms are also used to ensure board members
remain abreast of community standards, including consumer feedback on
decisions, community research and community consultation.
The classification scheme
The classification scheme employs three classifications in relation to
publications: Refused Classification (RC), Category 2 restricted and Category 1
restricted. RC publications are not able to be sold or disseminated, Category 2
restricted publications can be sold only in 'restricted premises', and Category
1 restricted publications can be sold in regular retail outlets but must be
sold in 'sealed packs'.
Neither category 1 nor category 2 publications are suitable for sale to minors—persons
under the age of 18.
Apart from the three classifications outlined, all other publications
are regarded as unrestricted publications and are thus able to be sold without
Mr McDonald noted that the RC (Refused Classification) classification
had particular references and applications to the portrayal of children in
particular sexual contexts:
...material...[is] refused classification...if it describes or
depicts, in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a
person who is or appears to be a child under 18, whether they are engaged in
sexual activity or not...
The guidelines for the classification of publications also note
that sexualised depictions and descriptions of nudity involving
minors...generally warrant ‘refused classification’ as they '... deal with matters
of sex ... in such a way as to offend against the standards of morality, decency
and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults ...'
Depictions of exploitative child nudity and sexual activity involving a
child, sexual abuse or other exploitative or offensive depictions involving
children are routinely refused classification.
The board may require each edition of any 'submittable publication' (see
paragraph 4.86) to be submitted or may grant a serial classification for a
period of 12 or 24 months, which requires the publication to conform to certain
guidelines. Complaints against magazines subject to serial classification may
result in the cancellation of that classification and a requirement that every future
edition of the publication be submitted. Other publications may be brought to
the board's attention by members of the public and may, depending on content,
become subject to classification.
Principles underlying the
The committee heard that the design of the classification system seeks
to promote the principles of (a) informed choice for adults and (b) protection
from harmful or disturbing material for children, to which the NCC requires
classification decisions to give effect. Mr McDonald explained that the
...is primarily designed to assist consumers, particularly parents
and guardians, to make informed choices about entertainment material for themselves
and those in their care. It remains the responsibility of parents and guardians
to make decisions about entertainment appropriate for their children and to
provide adequate supervision. The scheme also operates to protect people,
particularly children, from material which may be offensive or inappropriate
for their age, by limiting access to material or by banning it entirely.
These principles are embodied in the NCC, which states that
classification decisions are, as far as possible, to give effect to the
- adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
- minors should be protected from material likely to harm or
There was considerable discussion in submissions and at the committee's
hearings of the content of magazines marketed specifically to teenage and
younger children. Submissions were critical of a number of aspects of these
- content which presented girls purely in terms of their sexual
attractiveness and relationships with boys;
- content which dealt with the lives of celebrities, presenting
them as desirable role models;
- advice columns which dealt with explicitly sexual issues; and
- advertising which relied on 'adult' images of girls to promote
products, particularly clothes and cosmetics.
The question of advertising is dealt with in the next chapter. However, due
to the Classification Board's role in the classification of publications, the
committee sought the board's view with regard to some of the content of these
Classification of content in
Magazines marketed to children in the younger age groups—early teens and
younger—are not generally subject to regulation and come under the scrutiny of
the Classification Board only as a result of complaints from the public. The board
has reviewed the content of magazines aimed at teenage girls but did not find
it to be in breach of the code.
The committee's consideration of children's magazine content centred
exclusively on the magazines Girlfriend and Total Girl. Selected
material from these magazines was provided by KF2BK in submissions as well as handouts
provided at the Melbourne hearing; and the publisher of these titles, Pacific
Magazines, provided issues of both magazines at the Sydney hearing. These
materials formed the basis for consideration of appropriate standards and the
potential for premature sexualisation of children by these magazines and
The committee considered parts of the material contained in Girlfriend
magazine to be sexually explicit. A number of examples of such material were
drawn from a regular sealed-section advice column, which included advice on
'oral sex' and 'anal sex' in answer to such questions as 'Can I perform oral
sex if I have braces?'.
Despite the inclusion of such material, the committee heard that
children's magazines are not submitted to or otherwise routinely classified by
the Classification Board, because they are not 'submittable publications'. Mr McDonald
explained that submittable publications are those which contain:
...depictions or descriptions of sexual matters, drugs, nudity or
violence that are likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult to the extent
that the publication should not be sold as an unrestricted publication or is
unsuitable for a minor to see or read.
The material described at paragraph 4.85 was not considered as coming
under the definition of a submittable publication, because:
[The classification Act]...speaks about causing offence...[That]
information is not necessarily, of its nature, offensive.
Using the example of nudity, Mr McDonald explained that the context and
purpose for which material is presented are important considerations in
determining whether or not material is regarded as offensive and is thus submittable
for the purposes of the Classification Act:
[Nudity]...is of itself not necessarily offensive...It is the way
in which nudity is treated in publications that the guidelines to the act, in
particular, require us to take account of. The way in which information is
presented will be very important to the way that the judgement is made about
the material. If it is not presented in a way that is gratuitously offensive,
then it is simply information.
The importance of context and purpose thus means that the classification
scheme does not prevent the 'exploration' of 'strong themes' or 'controversial
views' on issues such as 'child sexual abuse' or 'children's sexuality'.
Complaints about content in
The committee was advised that the Classification Board will examine an
unrestricted publication's content against the classification scheme in cases
where a formal complaint is received.
The Classification Board advised that it had in fact previously determined a
complaint concerning a sealed section in Dolly magazine, similar in
content to that mentioned above.
In answer to a question on notice, the Classification Board advised that
despite the content contained in the sealed section the magazine was found not
to be a submittable publication. It found:
With specific reference to the ‘sealed section’ of the
magazine...it contained references to sexual matters which are not detailed and
are justified by context. This section includes information about safe sexual
practices, advice on medical matters that teenagers may feel embarrassed to
consult their parents or other adults about, and encourages readers to seek
help by contacting counselling/information services if they believe they have a
problem with drugs...[None] of the content in this section appears gratuitous or
unsuitable for minors (although it is noted that some children and parents may
be embarrassed by the frankness of the information presented).
It is ultimately the responsibility of parents or guardians to
make decisions about appropriate reading material for their children and to
provide adequate supervision.
It is important to note in this and in other contexts that parental
discomfort or embarrassment is not an indicator of itself that material is
The act speaks about causing offence. The information is not
necessarily, of its nature, offensive. Some parents might not want their
children to have certain information, but that does not necessarily of itself
make it offensive...
Effectiveness of regulation of children's magazine content
Complaints about sexualisation
Pacific Magazines and ACP advised the committee that in general they
'receive a negligible number of complaints in relation to content in their
Specifically in relation to the sexualisation of children the companies
...the Australian Press Council has never received a complaint in
relation to the sexualisation of children in any magazine published by ACP
Magazines or Pacific Magazines.
As noted above, the Classification Board has been asked to
consider a complaint against Dolly magazine.
The committee notes that submissions it received were mainly concerned
about the explicitly sexual content of advice columns in some of these
magazines. However, in terms of more general sexualising imagery it is obvious
that the focus of the advertising and the content is on a very limited range of
subjects—clothes, cosmetics, celebrities—and the range of female images
presented is limited to the slender and glamorous. While there are valuable
articles on real issues of concern to young people, they occupy a small
proportion of the pages.
Lack of age
classifications/application of classification scheme
A recurring theme throughout this report has been that informed and
assisted parental choice is the best way to reconcile the principles of freedom
of choice on the part of adults and the need to protect children from
inappropriate or offensive material. The chief concern raised with the
committee was whether the current classification scheme, under which children's
magazines are classed as unrestricted publications, is sufficient to enable
parents to make informed choices about what type or amount of sexual content
their children are exposed to.
A particular concern of the committee was the apparently broad spectrum
of readership ages of magazines such as Girlfriend. Information supplied
by Pacific Magazines in answer to a question taken on notice indicates that,
although the average reader age is close to 16, around 20 per cent of Girlfriend's
readership is between 11 and 12 years of age.
Accordingly, the committee considered the possibility of requiring
magazines to display front-cover age classifications, such as 'Suitable for
children aged 12 to 16', or, alternatively, the classifications used for television,
film and computer games: G, PG, M et cetera.
In a response provided to a question on notice, Pacific Magazines and ACP,
the publishers of Dolly, suggested that:
[In general the]...limited number of complaints [received]
indicates that the vast majority of consumers have no concerns around their
current ability to choose age-appropriate publications.
In addition, the publishers expressed a number of doubts and concerns
about the effectiveness of age classifications. Primarily, age classifications
were thought to be of limited value in assisting parents to choose appropriate
publications for their children because of the significant 'variance in the
developmental levels of people in their early teenage years'.
At the Sydney hearing, Mrs Nicole Sheffield, Publisher, Pacific
...I can sit in front of one 12-year-old and she will feel like a
21-year-old—she got her period when she was nine, and she has a totally
different family situation—and I can meet another 12-year-old who is completely
different. Their bodies and their minds are going through a totally different
developmental cycle...I think putting a specific age on Girlfriend is
challenging, because everyone’s development is different. I really believe
that, with Girlfriend...a lot of it is dependent on a girl’s developmental
cycle. To answer your question, there are some 12-year-olds who outgrew Total
Girl at 10 or 11; they were over slumber parties et cetera. They were
interested in the latest things, and their music tastes were different.
Other concerns raised were that age classifications did not inform as to
the nature of content, could act to encourage consumption by younger age groups
and, without broader application to publications such as books and newspapers,
would effectively discriminate against magazine publishers.
Mrs Sheffield considered that the alternative of applying the existing
classification scheme codes to magazines was the more effective and preferable
I think if you say PG, parental guidance, then the parent is the
one to decide and I am more than comfortable with that...I totally feel
comfortable with giving parents the right to know and to understand.
The committee, having reviewed the comments received about the content
of magazines aimed specifically at girls—from concerned parents, from
specialists in the field of child development, from the regulator and from the
industry—acknowledges that there are some sound arguments for assisting parents
by bringing these publications within the classification system.
The committee does not support more rigorous control of the content of
these magazines, particularly the sealed sections and advice columns. It is
important to recognise that young people in their early to mid-teens are
developing their identities including their sexual identities and need access
to reliable advice and information:
Many young people access existing media in ways that may assist
the formation of healthy sexual identities, including seeking factual
information on sex and relationships from sex advisers and problem pages in
An alternative view, which reflected opinions expressed in many
submissions is that magazines targeted at girls:
...feature sexually promiscuous stories
awaking young girl’s sexuality before they are mentally able to be responsible
for their actions or have a morally formed conscience only to be deeply hurt
leading to an increase in teenage pregnancy, sexual diseases and mental
To assist parents who share these concerns, the committee does believe
that it would assist them in making decisions about the material their children
have access to if some indicator of the probable content of magazines were
available. With regard to age-specific classification of magazines, the
committee notes the argument that age is an unreliable indicator of a child's
stage of development.
The committee does not believe that the Classification Board should be
given the responsibility for classifying girls' magazines. This would represent
a significant extension of its duties from its current and clearly limited
role. The logic of classifying girls' magazines could equally be applied to
other types of publication—for example, frank discussions of sexual matters in Cleo
or Cosmopolitan could be said to warrant an M15+ rating—which would
represent a significant and unwarranted extension of government regulation.
The committee recommends that publishers consider providing reader
advice, based on the Office of Film and Literature Classification systems of
classifications and consumer advice, on magazine covers indicating the presence
of material that may be inappropriate for children.
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