The Australian government has modified film classification laws as follows:
The following new exceptions have been added to the Instrument to cover modifications that consist of:
colour grading, visual effects or audio level changes;
omitting footage or audio.
These types of modified films do not have to be submitted for classification and take the same classification and consumer advice as the original classified film, provided that the modification is not likely to cause the modified film to be given
a different classification to the original film.
If a film's title is changed or a film is modified by adding footage or audio, the film will need to be submitted for classification.
Australian classification laws are in the process of being overhauled, an overhaul which may see their powers increased. But few people know exactly what is currently banned in Australia.
Discussion of what might or might not be excluded by an internet filter hits a road block when it comes to Refused Classification or RC - a term that is at best vague. We are told that the promised filter will be set to catch RC
content. However, few people (including some of the legislators) actually know what RC means.
Refused Classification is also the basis for the term illegal pornography , a description now appearing on Australian airport landing cards. All travellers must declare potentially-RC items when arriving in Australia. However,
because neither the Classification Board nor Customs publish their guidelines, no-one knows what might be potentially-RC - until they are told that they have broken the rules. The penalties for breaching these invisible regulations include
fines, deportation and imprisonment.
The Classification Board briefs Customs on their Guidelines and periodically gives scaled-down presentations to adult publishers in order to clarify the broad, grey, contradictory area that the Code defines. But other than that, no-one knows
what they are in detail... until they get caught flouting them.
One adult publisher has sought to document the official Guidelines, based on briefings by the Board and noting over time the reasons given for submitted content being Refused Classification. According to a former Classification Board member,
this document accurately reflects the official but unpublished Guidelines.
According to the document, material including any of the following is refused classification:
No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed in the category. It does not allow sexually assaultive language. Nor does it allow consensual depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that
activity for the enjoyment of viewers.
Fetishes such as body piercing [and tattooing], application of substances such as candle wax, golden showers , bondage, spanking or fisting are not permitted. As the category is restricted to activity between consenting adults, it does
not permit any depictions of non-adult persons, including those aged 16 or 17, nor of adult persons who look like they are under 18 years.
Violence: rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment. This includes actual violence (shooting, punching, pushing, throwing a person, etc), implied violence (gunshot sound effect, news article, mugshots), aftermath of violence
(person with injury, dead body), threat of violence ( I'll kill you ), and violent behavior (woman holding gun while engaged in sex with man). Note down ANY and ALL violence, even if it looks contrived or unrealistic (plastic swords,
etc). Depictions of dead people are also not permitted.
The implied violence comment is so strict that it renders virtually all crossover drama/porn films (those that ape cop shows, fantasy films and drama, but with added full sex scenes).
Adult videos have for instance been Refused Classification for showing a gun on a table or for showing a headline in a newspaper describing a murder. One video was refused classification because it was about people looking for a friend that
had been kidnapped - even though the kidnapping was never shown. Another was rated RC because a character simply had a black eye. Another was rejected because of a scene showing a doctor putting on a pair of rubber gloves.
Sexual Violence: Spanking, choking, pinching, stepping on the face, hair pulling (either as a violent act or consensual fetish act), rough or man handling, face slapping, and general rough play are all prohibited;
General rough play is a description that could be attributed to virtually every film that features sex. Only one spank (as in a slap on the bum) is allowed at any one time. And that can't be very hard. All BDSM is banned.
Sexually assaultive language - a tone of voice or language that is demeaning and disparaging. Eg. Calling someone a whore or slut, or telling them to do something demeaning in a disparaging way. This does not include dirty talk .
Golden Showers: Urinating on one self or another person is objectionable. Female ejaculation or squirting is considered to be golden showers. The latter is controversial with medical discussion suggesting female ejaculation is a
minority but normal sexual response.
The Australian censor has 4 options for dealing with magazines
Unrestricted although some may not be suitable for those less than 15
Category 1 Restricted – softcore for over 18's
Category 2 Restricted – hardcore for over 18's
Banned (Refused Classification RC)
It is an offence under Australian classification laws to sell an unclassified magazine that should have been submitted for classification. This applies to both locally published and imported magazines. If a magazine has been classified in a
modified form, then it must be sold with those modifications such as black dots, pages removed etc.
Retailers should note that they are liable for breaches of these legal requirements and penalties of up $15,000 per magazine can apply, depending upon the offence.
Category 1 Restricted:
In QLD, it is illegal to sell Category 1 Restricted magazines and in prescribed Aboriginal areas of the NT.
In all other States and Territories, Category 1 Restricted magazines:
are legally restricted and can only be sold to people 18 years and over, andcan only be displayed for sale in general outlets (eg a newsagency, convenience store or service station) if they are in sealed wrapping. In SA, VIC, NT and WA the
wrapping must be opaque.
In WA, a retailer needs to be registered with the WA Censorship Office before they can sell Category 1 Restricted magazines.
Category 2 Restricted
In QLD, it is illegal to sell Category 2 Restricted magazines and in prescribed Aboriginal areas of the NT.
In ACT, NSW, NT, SA and Victoria, Category 2 Restricted magazines can only be displayed for sale or sold in a restricted publications area, for example an adult shop.
In Tasmania and WA, Category 2 Restricted magazines can be sold in premises that are not restricted publications areas, provided certain conditions are met. In WA, a retailer needs to be registered with the WA Censorship Office before they can
sell Category 2 Restricted magazines.
Category 2 Restricted magazines are legally restricted and can only be sold to people 18 years and over.
Classification of the arts is about finding the balance between censor and sensibility
The arts fulfil a significant role in society: to amuse, move, shock, provoke, reflect, interpret, explain, inform, expose, comment, judge, critique and represent the world we inhabit.
Broadly speaking, they are by nature a vehicle for agitation, pushing boundaries, questioning conventions and raising controversial issues. They can also be inspiring, uplifting and simply beautiful.
Some may view my new position, as director of the Classification Board, as one that opposes the arts. Applying relevant legislation and guidelines, the board decides which classifications to give films, computer games and certain publications.
Yet our classification system allows for artistic freedom and that is why I continue to consider myself an advocate for the arts. It is not the role of the board to prevent the arts and entertainment from exploring the spectrum of human
behaviour and experience.
In fact, the board does not censor material at all: it must be classified in the form in which it has been submitted. Applying relevant legislation and guidelines, the board simply decides the classifications to give films, computer games and
certain publications. It does not edit material or recommend modifications to publishers or filmmakers.
Very few products are refused classification these days. Of 6097 commercial classification decisions made in the 2006-07 financial year, only 59 items were refused classification.
Australia's classification scheme is based on the principle that adults should be free to choose what they read, hear and see with some limited exceptions, such as child pornography, gratuitous or exploitative depictions of sexual violence,
cruelty or real violence and detailed instructions in matters of crime or violence.
Classification today is complicated by the wide variation in individual sensibilities in our tolerant society. It is further complicated by technological globalisation and that standards vary so significantly across international borders. The
rapid and easy exchange of information presents a challenge for government regulation.
Standards can also change quickly in response to global events. Restrictions on new kinds of material continue to follow on from events such as the September 11 and Bali terrorist attacks. In the past six days, amendments to the Classification
Act regarding terrorist material have been passed by federal parliament: if a film, publication or computer game advocates a terrorist act, it must be refused classification.
There are also significant provisions that protect the arts in these cases. Material is not to be refused classification if it "depicts or describes a terrorist act, but the depiction or description could reasonably be
considered to be done merely as part of public discussion or debate or as entertainment or satire".
The nature of censorship is evolutionary. The interesting challenge for the Government in formulating classification policy and legislation and the board in determining classifications is to reflect community sensibilities, which are many and
varied, and in a state of flux. Individuals' sensibilities can differ, even conflict, which makes it difficult to determine what standards are broadly representative.
For instance, do you ban material because the majority considers it offensive, even if there is a significant minority that feels differently? Do you act in response to an articulate and vocal minority that may find certain material offensive
even though it can choose not to access it? The meeting point must allow individuals to exercise choice, yet reflect community standards.
In 1931, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (the body responsible for rating films in the US), included in its code for industry: "Scenes of passion should not be introduced when not essential to the
plot. In general, passion should be so treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element." Only 76 years later, scenes of passion -- and then some -- are routinely and abundantly seen on our screens.
The same organisation, now known as the Motion Picture Association of America, recently announced that smoking is to be considered in the rating of films in the US. Films containing pervasive smoking or glamourised depictions of it may attract
higher ratings. Who would have imagined such a stark reversal of attitudes? It is interesting to note that smoking is still a legal activity, just as was passion in 1931. The widespread debate prompted by the MPAA's new policy shows how much
censorship matters and the spectrum of views it elicits.
In Australia, the commonwealth has played a role in the censorship of material for most of the past century. Under Customs legislation, before the film era, the scheme dealt with imported books: publications could be seized for being
blasphemous, indecent or obscene. Restrictions on film provided for censors to examine applications for registration of imported films, which was refused if a film was blasphemous, indecent or obscene; likely to be injurious to morality, or to
encourage or incite crime; likely to be offensive to the people of any friendly nation; depicted any matter the exhibition of which was undesirable in the public interest.
Once imported, the circumstances in which the material could be sold, exhibited or hired were determined by separate state and territory legislation. The states were expected to make sure unregistered films were not exhibited
but were not able to independently classify registered films.
Throughout the century, censorship continued to be a complex affair conducted under disparate regulations with limited uniformity. At one point, the chief censor noted that a film classification decision involved the administration of up to 13
pieces of legislation in various jurisdictions.
Eventually, recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission led to the introduction of legislation in 1995 that established the fully co-operative National Classification Scheme.
As a result of censorship reforms since the 1970s, community standards are an important component of the classification scheme and guidelines are revised from time to time with extensive community input.
Today, the focus of classification is on films, computer games and certain publications. The board does not usually classify live theatre unless it contains video or film elements: the Spanish production XXX, by La Fura Dels
Baus, which toured Australia in 2004, included film footage of such a graphic and sexual nature the board classified it R18+.
But censorship of the performing arts, which traditionally came under state obscenity laws, has almost entirely disappeared.
Hair, the controversial rock musical that opened at the Metro Theatre in Sydney's Kings Cross on June 4, 1969, is considered a turning point. It challenged many of the established social norms of the era, with its nudity, bad language, drugs
and depictions of "free love". The chief secretary of NSW, Eric Willis, had the final say over whether Sydney audiences would see the nude scene. His reported view was that the nudity was completely unnecessary but that its brevity
made its inclusion harmless. Hair had extraordinary reviews and was an enormous success.
In the visual arts, the question of obscenity (whether a work offends contemporary community standards) has been a question for the courts.
The last blasphemy prosecution in an Australian jurisdiction was initiated by George Pell, then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, against Andres Serrano's photomontage Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine.
It failed in the Victorian Supreme Court, apparently defeated by uncertainty surrounding the Victorian blasphemy law and a view that the work was unlikely to cause public unrest. (We don't have laws that cover bad taste.) As it happened, the
work was physically attacked in two incidents during the exhibition's opening weekend and the director of the National Gallery of Victoria closed the show to protect the gallery and its staff.
Only last month, two controversial entries in the Blake Prize for Religious Art in Sydney showed the Virgin Mary dressed in a burka and a portrait of Jesus Christ that morphed into an image of Osama bin Laden. Although some thought the
portrayals offensive, no action was taken. Indeed, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth suggested that we "limit the language of outrage to things that are really outrageous".
Australia is arguably an open and broad-minded place, and this is reflected in a scheme that focuses on classification rather than censorship. The nature of the classification scheme and the principles it embodies recognise the importance of
artistic and creative expression and the legitimate interests of the artists: the act provides for artistic merit to be taken into account. And it enables potentially controversial, high impact but artistically valuable material that may not
otherwise be seen in Australia to be shown under the Film Festivals Exemption scheme.
The small percentage of the board's decisions that attract controversy shows it may be getting the balance between sense and censorbility right.