The Australian Classification Board (ACB or CB) is an Australian Government statutory body responsible for the classification and censorship of films, video games and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in Australia. The ACB was established in 1970 and was once part of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which was dissolved in 2006. The Attorney-General's Department now provides administrative support to the ACB and decisions made by the ACB may be reviewed by the Australian Classification Review Board, also part of the Attorney-General's Department. The ACB now operates under the Commonwealth Classification Act 1995,
The ACB does not directly censor material by ordering cuts or changes. However, it is able to effectively censor media by refusing classification and making the media illegal for hire, exhibition and importation to Australia.
The classification system has several levels of "restricted" categories, prohibiting sale, exhibition or use of some materials to those who are under a prescribed age. In 2005, video and computer games became subject to the same classification ratings and restrictions as films (with the exception of the R18+ and X18+ ratings), in response to confusion by parents. Despite a line in the National Classification Code stating that "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want", the adult R18+ classification did not exist for video games in Australia before 1 January 2013.
The Australian Classification Board was created in 1970 to classify or rate all films (and later in 1994, video games) that came into Australia. In the early years of the system, beginning in November 1971, there were four ratings:
- G for General Exhibition, carried over from the previous ratings system
- NRC Not Recommended for Children (previously X, A or Not Suitable for Children. This later became PG for Parental Guidance)
- M for Mature Audiences (Previously SOA or Suitable Only for Adults. This later became M 15+ from the late 1980s until 2005)
- R for Restricted Exhibition (later became R 18+ in the late 1980s)
The MA 15+ rating was introduced in 1993, to flag content that was too strong for the M classification, but not so much so that the content should be restricted only to persons over the age of 18.
The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) was formed in 1994, and oversaw the Classification Board. In 2005 the OFLC was dissolved and supervision of the Classification Board transferred to the Attorney-General's Department.
The current coloured classification markings for films and computer games were introduced in May 2005.
In August 2014, the Australian Classification Board introduced amendments to allow for the automated classification process employed by the International Age Rating Coalition. This new process reduces the costs of video game developers as they seek to obtain ratings for their products that are distributed digitally online.
The Board operates on a procedure that primarily involves decision-making. The members must communicate their views clearly and appreciate the views of others. Board members would be exposed to a wide range of material, including content that is confronting and offensive. Every film and computer game has to be classified before it can be legally made available to the public.Some publications also need to be classified. Failure to give classification (especially for unclassified material that is likely to be classified RC) is an implicit ban (except for exempt films, games, and publications). It is an offence "to display, demonstrate, sell, hire, publicly exhibit or advertise a film or computer game" without having it classified. Some films and documentaries (such as current affairs and those created for business, scientific and education purposes) are exempt from classification unless, if classified, they would be M or above.
There are legal age restrictions for the ratings of MA 15+ and R 18+. X 18+ is a special restriction rating for adult content. The other classification categories (G, PG and M) are merely recommendations and they are not submitted to legal age restrictions. RC (banned) material cannot be sold, hired or distributed to any persons. A film or video game's context is crucial in determining whether a classifiable element is justified by the story-line or themes.
The Classification Board decides what consumer advice accompanies each classification. They indicate the elements in films and computer games which caused the classification and help consumers make choices about what they read, view or play. There are six classifiable elements for films: themes (rape, suicide, racism, etc.), violence (the level of violence and how threatening it is in its context), sex (intercourse and references to sex), language (the level of coarse language), drug use (the use of, and references to, drugs) and nudity (the explicitness of nudity). Consumer advice appears with the classification symbol on products, packaging and in advertisements. Consumer advice is not given if the element in question would be acceptable at a lower classification.
The Classification Board also classifies material submitted from the police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The Board does not classify live performances, audio CDs and television shows. Television is regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Film and video game classifications
The classifications below are unrestricted and may require parental advisory but do not impose any legal restrictions on access to or distribution of material.
- Exempt (E) – Only very specific types of material (including educational material and artistic performances) can be exempt from classification, and the material cannot contain anything that exceeds the constraints of the PG classification. The assessment of exemption may be made by the distributor or exhibitor (self-assessed) without needing to submit the product for certification by the Classification Board. Self-assessed exempt films cannot use the official marking although it is advised that films and computer games that are self-assessed as exempt display, "This film/computer game is exempt from classification".
- General (G) – Contains material available for general viewing. This category does not necessarily designate a children's film or game. Although not mandatory at this category, the Board may provide consumer information. Consumer advice at G classification usually relates to impacts on very young children. The content is very mild in impact.
- Themes should have a very low sense of threat or menace, and be justified by context.
- Violence should have only a low sense of threat or menace, and be justified by context.
- Sexual activity should be very mild and very discreetly implied, and be justified by context.
- Coarse language should be very mild and infrequent and justified by context.
- Drug use should be implied only very discreetly, and be justified by context.
- Nudity should be justified by context.
- Parental Guidance (PG) – Not recommended for viewing or playing by people under 15 without guidance from parents or guardians. Contains material that young viewers may find confusing or upsetting. The content is mild in impact.
- Themes should have a very low sense of threat or menace, and be justified by context.
- Violence should be mild and infrequent, and be justified by context. Sexual violence is not permitted.
- Sexual activity should be mild and discreetly implied, and be justified by context.
- Coarse language should be mild and infrequent, and be justified by context.
- Sex, nudity and drug use should be mild, infrequent, "discreetly implied" and "justified by context".
- Drug use and nudity should be justified by context.
- Mature (M) – Recommended for people aged 15 years and over. People under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category. This category contains material that may require a mature perspective but is not deemed too strong for younger viewers. The content is moderate in impact.
- Themes may have a moderate sense of threat or menace, if justified by context.
- Moderate violence is permitted, if "justified by context". Sexual violence should be very limited and justified by context.
- Sexual activity should be discreetly implied, if "justified by context".
- Coarse Language may be used. Aggressive or strong coarse language should be infrequent and justified by context.
- Drug use and nudity should be justified by context.
By contrast, the classifications below are legally restricted: it is illegal to sell or exhibit material so classified to anyone younger than the mentioned minimum age.
- Mature Accompanied (MA 15+) – Contains material that is considered unsuitable for exhibition by persons under the age of 15. People under 15 may legally purchase, rent, exhibit or view such content only under the supervision or accompany of an adult guardian. A person may be asked to show proof of age before hiring or purchasing an MA 15+ film or computer game. The content is strong in impact.
- Realistic violence of medium intensity is permitted. Violent depictions with a "high degree or realism" is accepted only if "justified by context". Stylised violence, however, can be "more detailed".
- Strong Violence is permitted, although if it is bloody and strong it should be "infrequent" or "justified by context".
- Sexual violence is permitted only if it is "not frequent, gratuitous or exploitative".
- Sexual activity may be "discreetly implied" or "simulated".
- Nudity is permitted, but in a sexual context it should "not be exploitative".
- Frightening or Intense Scenes should "not disturb a reasonable adult".
- Aggressive and very strong coarse language may be used but it should "not be exploitative".
- Drug use may be depicted, but not in an "advocatory manner".
- Themes, if strong, should be justified by context.
- Restricted (R 18+) – Contains material that is considered unsuitable for exhibition by persons under the age of 18. People under 18 may not legally buy, rent, exhibit or view R 18+ classified content. A person may be asked for proof of their age before purchasing, hiring or viewing an R 18+ film or computer game at a retail store or cinema. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to sections of the adult community. The content is high in impact.
- "Realistic and explicit" depictions of violence is permitted, but violence that is "frequently gratuitous, cruel, exploitative and offensive to a reasonable adult" will not be permitted.
- Themes can have a "very high degree of intensity" but should not be "exploitative".
- Sexual violence is permitted only to the extent that they are "necessary to the narrative" and "not exploitative" or "not shown in detail".
- Sexual activity can be "realistically simulated", but depiction of "actual sexual activity is not permitted".
- Drug use can be shown but "not gratuitously detailed" and should also "not be promoted or encouraged". For computer games, drug use related to "incentives and rewards" is not permitted.
- Nudity in a sexual context should "not include obvious genital contact".
- Coarse language is virtually unrestricted.
- Restricted (X 18+) – Contains material that is pornographic in nature. People under 18 may not legally buy, rent, possess, exhibit or view these films. The exhibition or sale of these films to people under the age of 18 years is a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of $5,500. Films classified as X 18+ are banned (via state government legislation) from being sold or rented in all Australian states (but are legal to possess except in certain parts of the Northern Territory) and are legally available to purchase only in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Importing X 18+ material from these territories to any other state is legal (as the Australian Constitution forbids any restrictions on trade between the states and territories). The content is sexually explicit, and the rating does not exist for video games.
- RC (Refused Classification) – Contains material that, while being, in most cases, legal to possess, is considered offensive to the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by a 'reasonable adult' to the extent that it should not be classified. Classification is mandatory, and films that are Refused Classification by the ACB are legally banned for sale, hire or public exhibition, carrying a maximum fine of $275,000 and/or 10 years' jail if an individual/organisation is found to be in breach of this. It is, however, legal to possess RC films and games for people over 18 (except in Western Australia and certain parts of the Northern Territory) unless they contain illegal content (such as child pornography).
- Films and games that exceed the X 18+ & R 18+ ratings (respectively) are Refused Classification by the ACB. Content that may be Refused Classification includes, but is not limited to:
- Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
- The promotion or provision of instruction in paedophile activity.
- Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
- (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have an extremely high impact;
- (iii) sexual violence.
- Depictions of practices such as bestiality, necrophilia or other practices that are revolting or abhorrent.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices that are offensive or abhorrent;
- (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies that are offensive or abhorrent.
- Check the Classification (CTC) – The content has been assessed and approved for advertising unclassified films and computer games. "This film has advertising approval. Check the classification closer to the released date" is usually written on the marking.
- Any advertising of unclassified films and games must display the CTC message on posters, trailers, on the internet, and any other types of advertising.
- Once the content is classified, the classification marking replaces the CTC marking on all advertising material.
Publications such as books and magazines (though they would also include other printed media such as calendars, cards and catalogues, among other things) are required to be classified if they contain depictions and/or descriptions of sexuality, drugs, nudity or violence that are unsuitable for a minor or even an adult who would take offence if sold as an unrestricted publication.
Publication classifications are most commonly applied to magazines with visual depictions of nudity or sexual activity, such as many men's magazines. It is uncommon for these ratings to appear on books, even those dealing with adult themes, except in the most controversial cases.
- Unrestricted – These publications are unrestricted, although they may not be recommended for readers under 15 years.
- Category 1 restricted – These publications are not available to persons under 18 years. These may contain images of sexualised nudity. They must be distributed in a sealed wrapper. Their covers must be suitable for public display.
- Category 2 restricted – Just like Category 1 restricted publications, they are not available to persons under 18 years. However, they contain explicit images of actual sexual activity which are not permissible under Category 1, and it may only be displayed in sites that are restricted to adults. Therefore, no publications that are likely to be classified Category 2 restricted may be displayed in public registered events.
- RC – RC publications are banned and cannot be sold or displayed anywhere in Australia.
The Restricted publications are for adults and they are not to be sold to people under 18 (and in Queensland under state law). They have content, such as nudity or explicit sexual content, that could offend some sections of the adult community. The Restricted categories are subject to various restrictions in different states; for example, one or both categories may only be sold in adults-only premises in certain states. For this reason, some adult magazines are published in two editions in Australia, or just one edited edition which can be sold anywhere with a warning, as Unrestricted Mature.
- Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom has twice been banned in Australia. The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, asked the Classification Review Board to reassess the decision; however, the review failed to find any fault in the classification. The film was banned in 1997, and was released after two failed attempts in September 2010, when the ACB classified an uncut version of Salò R18+, mainly due to extra material providing greater context.
- In 1992, Island World Communications Ltd and Manga Entertainment Australia Ltd had Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend submitted to the OFLC. It was the first animated feature to be banned in Australia and the feature was banned outright, similar to Violence Jack. Urotsukidoji was then censored to meet the OFLC's standards. The Australian version is the most censored in the western world. Many fans of anime imported uncensored versions of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend from the UK. The rest of the Urotsukidoji series was censored in Australia, with many still importing or downloading the American versions.
- Ninja Scroll was originally released in 1994 in Australia by Manga Entertainment Ltd. It originally had the MA15+ rating on the VHS originally, but this was overturned in 1997 when Phillip Ruddock had the anime reviewed after an uncut screening of the movie on SBS. A few months later it was given the R18+ rating and was uncut, then edited again, eventually using the BBFC cut of it. This was overturned in 2003 when Madman Entertainment and Manga Entertainment Ltd. released the uncut version.
- Romance, a new crop within the arthouse genre, which features short scenes of actual sex began to attract closer scrutiny. The film was initially refused classification in Australia, before it was awarded an R18+ on appeal. It single-handedly paved the way for actual sex to be accommodated in the R18+ classification in Australia.
- Baise-moi, a French film about two prostitutes who take violent revenge after being raped. In 2000, the film was classified as R18+. On 25 April 2002, The film was subsequently banned and pulled from cinemas and still remains prohibited in Australia due to exploitative and offensive depictions of sexual violence, extreme violence and depictions of behavior and fetishes that are considered offensive/abhorrent.
- Ken Park, an American film about teenagers that features a scene of autoerotic asphyxiation, amongst other sexually explicit scenes. The ban, however, is actually due to exploitative sexual depiction of minors, which is a criminal offence in Australia. In response to the ban, a protest screening was held which was shut down by the police.
- Prominent movie reviewer Margaret Pomeranz, former host of The Movie Show on SBS and now host of At the Movies on ABC, was arrested (and later cautioned and released) along with several others after attempting to screen at a hall what she described as "a wonderful film". Tom Gleisner, host of The Panel (a prime-time comedy show), openly stated on the show that he had downloaded and watched the film.
- Former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr stated that he thought the banning of Ken Park and other films is inappropriate, and that his Attorney-General Bob Debus would discuss changing the laws with other state Attorneys-General at a then upcoming meeting.
Video gaming censorship in Australia is considered to be one of the strictest in the western world.
- Grand Theft Auto III was withdrawn from sale for allowing players to have sexual intercourse with virtual prostitutes; the game was later reinstated when this action was removed. Specifically, the player could solicit intercourse from a virtual prostitute, and then kill her. The ability to solicit sex from prostitutes in the game was the action that was removed, but in-game characters and pedestrians could still violently murder them. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was also pre-censored for the same reasons. Though, in 2010 Vice City was classified uncut again receiving a MA15+.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was withdrawn from sale in July 2005 following the revelation that interactive sex scenes were included in the content files on the game's disc; one could not ordinarily access these scenes, but a third party modification, known as the Hot Coffee mod, allowed the player to access these scenes within the game itself, and the inclusion of the scenes on the game disc took the game outside the MA15+ category. The MA15+ rating was re-instated after a modified version was released worldwide by Rockstar Games, removing the content files for the sex scenes.
- Grand Theft Auto IV also prompted editing in the Australian (PAL) version, as Rockstar was worried it might get a RC rating. In the American release, sexual encounters with prostitutes occur inside the player's vehicle and the player has the ability to rotate the camera for a clearer view of what transpires. In the censored Australian version, the camera is fixed behind the vehicle, which rocks from side to side with accompanying audio effects. It is impossible for the player to view the inside of the car. Rockstar later decided to rate the uncut version of the game, which went on to receive a MA15+ rating, and a patch was later released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 to uncensor the game.
- 50 Cent: Bulletproof was banned for encouraging gang violence. A version removing the game's Arcade Mode, cutting down on gore, and with an automatic Game Over for killing innocents was given an MA15+ rating.
- Fallout 3 was refused classification by the OFLC due to the "realistic visual representations of drugs and their delivery method (bringing) the 'science-fiction' drugs in line with 'real-world' drugs." A revised version of the game was resubmitted to the OFLC and reclassified as MA15+ on 7 August 2008 after drug names were changed. It was later clarified that the only change done to the final version of the game was the name Morphine changed to Med-x. This change was done to all versions worldwide; thus, Australia got the same version of the game as other countries uncut with a MA15+.
Adult ratings for video games
Many games were banned before 2011 on the basis that the R18+ rating for games did not exist at the time. This was the subject of complaint in the gaming community, who argued that there is no reason why adults should be prevented from seeing content in games that they could see in a film. One of the main opponents to the introduction of a R18+ rating for video games was the former South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson who vetoed every attempt to induce one.
On 11 August 2010, at a public forum, then opposition leader Tony Abbott was asked a question about his views on the absence of an R18+ rating for video games and whether he had any policies relating to the subject, saying, "if what happens with video games is not roughly analogous to what happens in other areas, that seems silly...Instinctively I'm with you, and it's something I'd be happy to look at, if we are in Government." In December 2010, Attorney General Robert McClelland appeared to be moving on this issue following the release of telephone poll results conducted by the Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor, showing roughly 80% in support of a R18+ classification.
On 22 July 2011, at a meeting of State and Territories' Attorneys General, an agreement was reached for the introduction of an R18+ classification. It was planned to introduce the rating towards the end of 2011. On 22 July 2011, a meeting of Attorneys-General produced an in-principle agreement to introduce the R18+ classification for video games; however, NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith abstained from the vote. The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, said the federal government would over-ride NSW and implement the R18+ rating regardless of its decision and would be officially available before the end of 2011. On 10 August the NSW Attorney General agreed on the R18+; thus, the rating would be accepted and available to all states before the end of 2011.
As of 1 January 2013, the R18+ rating has been officially implemented for video games although it is apparently not being used to full effect as many games are still being refused classification. Michael Atkinson, who was the South Australian Attorney-General until 2010, was a continuous opponent against the introduction of the R18+ classification, and actively blocked the release of a discussion paper until just before his retirement from cabinet that canvassed the opinion of the Australian public on whether or not an R18+ classification should be introduced.
The first game to be released with an R18+ rating was Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus. The game Saints Row IV became the first game to be refused classification under the new standard on 25 June 2013. State of Decay became the second game to be refused classification less than 24 hours after the first (Saints Row IV) was banned.
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- ^ 25 June 2013: ‘Saints Row IV’ first computer game Refused Classification. Australian Classification Board, 25 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- ^ 26 June 2013: "Second video game – State of Decay – banned in Australia". News.com.au, 26 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013.