Censorship in Australia

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Censorship in Australia is called classification and material though technically being given an advisory rating can officially be Refused Classification which results in the material being banned. The system also has several levels of "restricted" categories, prohibiting sale, exhibition or use of some materials to those who are under a prescribed age. Censorship of video games and Internet sites hosted in Australia are considered to be the strictest in the western world.[1]

Australia is a commonwealth, and responsibility for censorship is divided between the states and the federal government. Under the Australian Constitution, the Federal Parliament has the power to make laws relating to communications and customs. Under the communications power the federal government can regulate the broadcast media (television and radio), online services (the internet), and under the customs power, the import/export of printed matter, audiovisual recordings and computer games. The production and sale of printed matter, audiovisual recordings and computer games solely within Australia lies with the states.[2]

To reduce duplication and ensure some national consistency, the states, territories and federal government have agreed to establish a co-operative national classification scheme. Under this scheme, the Australian Classification Board (a federal body) classifies works. Federal law enforces these classifications with respect to customs and online services. According to the broadcast services act 1992[3] the board is not responsible for classifying material on broadcast media; this is completed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Since the federal Parliament has no power to criminalise the domestic sale or exhibition of printed matter within the States or Territories of Australia, as part of the scheme, the States and Territories pass their own laws criminalising such sale and exhibition. Although they have delegated their censorship responsibility in general to the Commonwealth, they reserve the legal right in specific cases to either:

  • reclassify works,
  • prohibit works that the Classification Board has allowed, or
  • allow works that the Classification Board has prohibited.

Enforcement of classification laws is through an agreement between the Federal and the eight state and territory governments, so any enforcement requires action by the federal and state police in the arrest and prosecution of anybody violating these laws.

History[edit]

Not only was Lady Chatterley's Lover banned from importation into Australia in 1929, but a book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned in 1964. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published locally in 1965 to bypass the federal importation ban.[4] The fallout from this event eventually led to the easing of censorship of books in the country.[5]

The Australian Classification Board was formed in 1970. It is a federal body with the power to classify (and to refuse classification) all films (and, from 1994, video games). From 1994 to 2005 the ACB was overseen by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). In 2007, the OFLC was dissolved and the Attorney-General's Department became responsible for the ACB.[6] 1993 saw the introduction of the MA15+ rating to fill in the gap between the M rating and the R18+ rating due to complaints about films such as The Silence of the Lambs being too strong for the M rating (not recommended for younger audiences, though any age is still admitted) but not high enough in impact to be rated R18+ (no one under 18 years of age is admitted).

Current situation[edit]

As of 2015, censorship is largely the purview of the Classification Board, a statutory body which operates independently of the Federal Government.

Failure to obtain classification is an implicit ban (except for exempt films and games, and publications whose content is not sufficient to warrant restriction to adults) and the Classification Board occasionally refuses to give classification. All feature films, videos, computer games, and magazines that contain sexual content for commercial release are required to be submitted to this body, made up of "community representatives" appointed by the government for three- or four-year terms.

Some films (those made for educational or training purposes, for instance) are exempt from classification under certain conditions. Film festivals and institutions such as Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) must apply to the Classification Board to have the films on their proposed program made exempt from classification for the purpose of screening at a particular film festival or event. If the Classification Board believes an unclassified work, in their estimation would receive an X18+ classification if it were to be classified they will not grant an exemption for public screening as an X18+ cannot be exhibited. Film festivals may be required to age-restrict entrance to a festival or screening.

In addition to the Classification Board, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is also active in making recommendations and setting guidelines for media censorship. Confusion has recently[when?] arisen between the bodies over censorship of mobile content (see below).

The Classification Board is not responsible for classifying television shows. Television is regulated by the ACMA, and the content of free-to-air commercial television is industry-regulated under the Australian Commercial Television Code of Practice. However, the Classification Board does administer the classification of TV programmes for private sale (e.g. DVD and video), using the same rating classes and advisory graphics as for feature films.

Film and video game classifications[edit]

Unrestricted/Advisory[edit]

The classifications below are unrestricted and may require parental advisory — they do not impose any legal restrictions on access to or distribution of material.[7][8]

Australian OFLC E logo.pngExempt for classification.png

  • 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".

Australian OFLC G tag logo.svgOFLC General.svg

  • 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 does have the option of whether to provide consumer information or not. Consumer advice at G classification usually relates to impacts on very young children. The content is very mild in impact.
    • Violence must be "minimal, mild and incidental".
    • Frightening or Intense scenes should "not be disturbing to anyone of primary school age"
    • Themes must "have a low threat and be justified by context".
    • Sexual activity, nudity and drug use may only be "very discreetly implied" or "verbal referenced".
    • Coarse language should be very mild and infrequent, and be justified by context.
    • Crude Humor must be "very mild and infrequent".

PG classification tag from OFLC.svgOFLC PG.svg

  • 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.
    • Violence should be mild and infrequent, and should be presented in "a stylised or theatrical fashion, or in an historical context".
    • Themes should have a "mild sense of menace or threat" and be "discreet"
    • Frightening or Intense Scenes should be "mildly frightening" and have "low intensity"
    • Crude Humor should be "mild" or "low level"
    • Sex, nudity and drug use should be mild, infrequent, "discreetly implied" and "justified by context".
    • Coarse language should be mild and infrequent, and be justified by context.

Australian OFLC M logo.svgOFLC large M.svg

  • 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.
    • Moderate violence is permitted, and realistic violence with "low intensity" may be depicted if "justified by context".
    • Sexual violence must be very limited and justified by context.
    • Coarse Language may be used.
    • Sexual activity may be discreetly implied, if "justified by context".
    • Sexual references should "not be strong" and should be "brief"
    • Crude Humor can be frequent but it should be "moderate"
    • Themes should have a "moderate sense of menace or threat" and be "discreet".
    • Frightening or Intense Scenes should be "moderately frightening or intense" and "should not disturb an average teenager"
    • Drug use can be discreetly "depicted in context".
    • Breast and Buttocks exposition is allowed if infrequent, short. However it does not permit genitals. That goes to MA15+

Restricted[edit]

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.[7][8]

MA 15+ classification tag from OFLC.svgOFLC large MA15+.svg

  • Mature Accompanied (MA15+) – Contains material that is considered unsuitable for exhibition by persons under the age of 15. People under 15 may only legally purchase, rent, exhibit or view MA15+ rated content under the supervision or accompany of an adult guardian. A person may be asked to show proof of their age before hiring or purchasing an MA15+ film or computer game. This 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".
    • Coarse language may be used.
    • Nudity is permitted, but in a sexual context it should "not be exploitative".
    • Crude Humor is unrestricted in this category
    • 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" (use of the word "cunt" usually results in this rating).
    • Drug use may be depicted, but not in an "advocatory manner".
    • Themes The treatment of strong themes should be justified by context.

OFLC R 18 classification tag.svg OFLC large R18+.svg

  • Restricted (R18+) – 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 R18+ classified content. A person may be asked for proof of their age before purchasing, hiring or viewing an R18+ film or computer game at a retail store or cinema. Some material classified R18+ may also offensive to adults. The content is high in impact.
    • "Realistic and explicit" depictions of violence is permitted, though 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 they shouldn't 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".
    • Nudity in a sexual context should "not include obvious genital contact".
    • Coarse language is virtually unrestricted.

OFLC X 18 classification tag.svgOFLC large X18+.svg

  • Restricted (X18+) – Contains material that is pornographic in nature. People under 18 may not buy, rent, 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 X18+ 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 only legally available to purchase in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Importing X18+ material from these territories to any of the Australian states is legal (as the Australian Constitution forbids any restrictions on trade between the states and territories). The content is sexually explicit in impact, and the rating does not exist for video games.
    • This rating applies to films which "depict unsimulated sexual content only". Depictions of sexual violence, coercion and "sexually assaultive" language are "not allowed" in the category. Fetishes such as body piercing, 'golden showers', bondage, spanking or fisting are also "not permitted".

Other labels[edit]

  • RC (Refused Classification) – Contains material that is considered offensive to the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified. Classification is mandatory, and films that areRefused 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 (e.g. child pornography). The content is very high in impact.
    • Films and games that exceed the X18+ & R18+ ratings (respectively) are Refused Classification by the ACB. Content which may be Refused Classification include:
      • 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
        • OFLC RC.png
  • 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 should replace the CTC marking on all advertising material.
    • OFLC CTC icone.png

A film is Refused Classification if it contains material that offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified, meaning that it is banned. The distribution and exhibition of unclassified films is a criminal offence that carries a fine of up to A$290,000 and/or 10 years jail.[9]

Initially introduced solely for feature films and games, the icons shown above have been in use by Australian television networks since February 2006.

Other censorship areas[edit]

Subscription television[edit]

Subscription television is subject to the same classification regime as free television but is able to carry R18+ rated material, but must ensure that the material is restricted to access by those with appropriate disabling devices.[10]

In practice, R18+ material appears predominantly on the Adults Only cable channel but also at times on the foreign-language World Movies channel. X18+ pornography can be legally shown in the ACT.

Books[edit]

Usually only certain types of prohibited pornography, serious encouragement of crime, instructions on suicide and seditious literature are banned from publications in Australia.[11]

Although the Office of Film and Literature Classification Guidelines state that "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want", many books are apparently banned or given a restricted classification simply because they may offend certain segments of the population.[12] (see List of books banned in Australia.) Under particularly frequent attacks are books containing erotica, those concerning illegal drugs, and those discussing end-of-life issues (particularly those discussing or condoning assisted suicide). For example, in December 2006 the voluntary euthanasia book The Peaceful Pill Handbook was classified by the OFLC as X18+ and approved for publication. A month later, on appeal from the Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock and Right to Life NSW, the book's classification was reviewed by the Literature Classification Board and rated RC (refused classification).[13][14]

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.

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. If a publication does not fall into any of the categories below it is rated Refused Classification (Banned)

Video pornography[edit]

All the states actually go further than Commonwealth law requires and ban the sale of X18+ rated material,[15] though possessing it after ordering it from elsewhere is legal (except in parts of the Northern Territory). Therefore, all legal sale of X18+ rated material in Australia occurs by mail order from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.[citation needed] In practice, sex shops commonly carry extensive stocks of X-rated films regardless of the law.[16] However the police still can use the laws to raid premises, seize goods and perhaps prosecute, as happened in 2010 in St Marys, New South Wales.[17]

Restrictions on the "X18+" category of videos were tightened[18] in 2000 including the restrictions on portrayal of fetishes, and of actors who appear to be minors, including women with a small bra cup size, after failed attempts by the Howard government to ban the category entirely, and then replace it with a new "NVE" category which would have had similar restrictions.[citation needed]

The Internet[edit]

Australia's laws on Internet censorship are amongst the most restrictive in the western world. However, the restrictive nature of the laws has been combined with almost complete lack of interest in enforcement from the agencies responsible.[19]

Some of the interesting exceptions include an attempt by then NSW Police Minister Michael Costa to shut down Melbourne Indymedia, a case in 2001 involving the US Secret Service that was eventually pleaded out, and an attempt by the FBI using the Australian Federal Police to censor a Victorian they alleged was posting threats to the US.[citation needed]

A collection of both federal and state laws apply, but the most important is the federal legislation which came into effect on 1 January 2000.

If a complaint is issued about material on the Internet, the ACMA is empowered to examine the material under the guidelines for film and video. If it is found that a) the material would be classified R18+ or X18+, and the site does not have an adult verification system, or b) the material would be refused classification:

  • If the site is hosted in Australia, the ACMA is empowered to issue a "takedown notice" under which the material must be removed from the site.
  • If the site is hosted outside Australia, the site is added to a list of banned sites.

This list of banned sites is then added to filtering software, which must be offered to all consumers by Internet Service Providers and the Australian Government.

On 31 December 2007 the Telecommunications Minister of the newly elected Labor government, Stephen Conroy, announced that Australia would introduce mandatory internet filtering. Once more the reason given is that mandatory filtering is required to "provide greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites".[20]

As of November 2008, the plan includes two blacklists, one of which will filter illegal content according to internet content laws as well as other "unwanted" content, and the other will also filter content unsuitable for children. Internet users will be able to opt out of the secondary blacklist for children, but will not be able to opt out of the primary filter, sparking free speech concerns.[21] No statement has been made about what content will be considered "illegal", or what Stephen Conroy means by "unwanted".

Slated for blocking, should the "Clean Feed" Act be passed by Australia's Federal Parliament, is the website of Dr Philip Nitschke's banned book, The Peaceful Pill Handbook. The inclusion of Nitschke's euthanasia book's website came to light after the Government's list of would-be banned websites was leaked to wikileaks.org. The Peaceful Pill Handbook was listed on the leaked internet website blacklist, wedged in alphabetical order between the porn sites panty-ass.com and pickyourperversion.com.[22]

But as of 2015, no internet blacklist has been in force and maintained by the Australia Communications Media Authority, mostly due to the fact that the former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy quickly abandoned the proposed blacklist after heated controversy and debate, yet the Media Authority still has the power to do so, but chooses not to. Since the election of the Coalition government in 2013, there has been one act passed, that allows the blocking of websites that host pirated content,[23] if the content provider has told the Australian government about it and they've scrutinised the submission properly, then the website will be blocked under s.115a of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, it is worth noting, however, that no submissions or applications have been made since the act's passage.[24]

Music artwork[edit]

Another censored area in music is in the area of CD/record artwork and published lyrics, and some bands censor song titles and/or lyrics themselves to avoid legal trouble.

On April 2001, 207 copies of the album Avagoyamugs by the Tasmanian goregrind band Intense Hammer Rage were seized by the Australian Customs Service.[25]

All three band members were jointly charged with importing a prohibited import, selling a prohibited import, and advertising a prohibited import, while one band member was also charged with possessing child exploitation material.

The three were convicted on all charges in the Burnie Magistrates Court, with one member being fined $2500, and the other two being fined $1250 each. Avagoyamugs was classified "Exceeding Level 3" by ARIA and the seized CDs were forfeited and destroyed.[26]

Political speech[edit]

Australia lacks an explicitly protected form of freedom of speech. Some individuals possess limited forms of free speech, such as parliamentarians in session, university lecturers in a lecture, or people speaking in a designated domain for speeches. In the late 1990s the High Court of Australia found that there was an implied right of free speech only in relation to political or economic matters.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35]

In addition to explicit law, Australia has stringent defamation laws which effectively extend to cover the globe (see: Gutnick v Dow Jones).

As of 2006, parody and satire are now legally protected in Australia after the government introduced amendments to the country's copyright laws,[36] thus eliminating the possibility of censorship occurring in such a circumstance, as has previously taken place.[37]

Censorship of personal injury compensation[edit]

Lawyers in most Australian states are censored in respect of public statements they are allowed to publish concerning personal injury compensation law. Non-lawyers are also prohibited from publishing statements on the subject in some states. The laws are described as a ban on advertising of personal injury compensation but go much further.

The censorship must be self-administered, and breaches render a lawyer liable to prosecution, disbarment and, potentially, even jail. These laws coincided with the Insurance Crisis, the Ipp report and Civil Liability laws.

In New South Wales all lawyer public statements concerning personal injury compensation are prohibited.

Queensland[edit]

In Queensland television and radio advertising is banned and lawyer statements concerning personal injury compensation law must be censored so as to contain only:[38]

  • The lawyer's name, contact details and area of speciality (print and other "allowed publications" only);
  • The operation of the law of negligence and a person's rights under that law (lawyers' websites only);
  • The lawyer's terms of service (lawyers' websites only).

The Queensland censorship provisions were originally intended to ban distasteful advertisements by some personal injury law firms that promoted "cash for injuries". The Queensland Attorney-General stated in his Second Reading speech when introducing the legislation in 2002 as follows:

The bill also better regulates provocative advertising by lawyers in relation to personal injury services ... the sort of advertising currently broadcast on radio and television does not enhance clients' rights or portray the profession in a particularly positive light.

Section 4 (2) (f) of the Queensland Act refers to "regulating inappropriate advertising..."

However the Queensland government has since given the censorship provisions the strictest possible interpretation and threatened hundreds of lawyers with prosecution.

One of the many outcomes that impact on freedom of expression and free speech is that concerning lawyers' web sites. A lawyer must not even list "personal injury" even merely as a link on a webpage that has no relation to the prohibited subject matter.

In practice, lawyers are prohibited from listing even on their website homepage some of the areas of law they practise in. Photos, images, slogans are prohibited. All references to personal injury compensation law must be censored out of website staff profiles containing anything more than the person's name, contact details and area of expertise.

Some other subject matter that must be censored out of web sites and other publications includes: winning verdicts and settlements; mention of the law firms reputation, expertise and history; testimonials; case histories; the standard of service and many other things that would allow consumers to differentiate among competitors.

The Queensland censorship provisions have not yet been judicially interpreted. It is unknown whether the ultra-strict interpretation contended for by the Queensland government will be upheld by a court.

New South Wales[edit]

In New South Wales, all statements by lawyers concerning personal injury compensation including on websites are banned and strict penalties apply. One lawyer has already been professionally punished and fined $20,000 for making a website statement.

The New South Wales version of the censorship law which is stricter than that of Queensland was considered by the High Court of Australia in 2005.[39] The plaintiffs argued that the law was invalid because it infringed the implied constitutional freedom of political communication and secondly that it infringed Chapter III of the Constitution and the rule of law.

In a majority decision the court held that the New South Wales censorship law was valid. It did not accept that statements merely about personal injury compensation law were of a political nature. It implied however that any statements criticising the censorship itself and tort "reform" would be in the nature of political communication that was protected. The majority also ruled against the plaintiffs on the second argument (but the minority were strongly of the view) that the law unreasonably interfered with lawyers going about their constitutionally protected vocation.

On 20 June 2008, Justice Adams of the Supreme Court of NSW held that clause 34 of the Legal Profession Regulation 2005 which bans personal injury advertising in NSW by non-lawyers, was void because it was Ultra Vires the Legal Profession Act 2004. See: The Council of the Law Society of NSW v Australian Injury Helpline Ltd & Ors [2008] NSWSC 627.

Victoria[edit]

No censorship applies in Victoria.

Western Australia[edit]

The Western Australian censorship rules are similar to those in Queensland. However, television advertising is permitted by ACMA.

Consumer opposition[edit]

The Australian Lawyers Alliance opposes the censorship and believes that "content-rich statements" concerning the availability of all legal services are in the public interest [1].

Consumer groups (e.g. Tort Reform Institute, Insurance Reform) argue that any restriction on lawyer communication is adverse to the public interest. They argue that the public should be fully informed about their rights particularly under consumer protection laws that generate compensation payments, and that censorship that keeps the public under-informed cannot be justified. In their view, the protection of insurance company profits is not a sufficient "public purpose" to warrant the interference in personal freedoms by way of censorship. The ultimate aim of the government and insurers, according to such consumer groups, is to eliminate the expression "personal injury compensation" from the Australian vocabulary and to dissuade citizens from exercising compensation rights by making it "distasteful" to do so.

Exceptions to the censorship provision apply to:

  • Insurance companies, who are permitted to advertise that personal injury claims can be made directly with them; or
  • Statements concerning the defence of personal injury claims as opposed to the pursuit of those claims (except in New South Wales).

Controversies[edit]

Heated debates about classification occur on occasions. Since 1995, a total of five films and two books have been banned. In most cases films Refused Classification are still legal to possess (except in Western Australia and certain parts of the Northern Territory).

Video Games[edit]

Controversy in the early 1990s over games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat saw the introduction of a classification scheme for video games in 1994, with a modified system compared with Television and Film classification, with different icons involving the G8+ system.

In 2005 games became subject to the same classification ratings and restrictions as films, in response to confusion by parents.[40] As a part of this the G8+ rating was replaced with PG.[41]

Originally there was no R18+ rating for video games, meaning that any game that exceeded the MA15+ classification (i.e., suitable for adults, but not children) was automatically rated Refused Classification and banned, but on 22 July 2011, a meeting of attorneys-generals produced an in-principle agreement to introduce the R18+ classification for videogames, however, NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith abstained from the vote. The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, has said the federal government would over-ride NSW and implement the R18+ rating regardless of its decision.[42] Legislation introducing the rating was passed by the Senate in June 2012, with a start of 1 January 2013.[43]

The Grand Theft Auto series has caused controversy in Australia. In 2002, 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 the player 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+.[44]

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 has 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.[45] Rockstar later decided to rate the uncut version of the game which went on to receive a MA15+ and a patch was later released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 to uncensor the game.

In 2005, 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), while Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure was also banned for glorifying illegal graffiti tagging, and Reservoir Dogs was banned because the Australian government disliked the fact that the player was able to shoot the heads off of hostages during a bank heist. The highly violent and controversial Postal and its sequel, Postal², have also been banned in Australia for similar reasons.

On 4 July 2008, Fallout 3 was refused classification by the OFLC[46][47] due to the "realistic visual representations of drugs and their delivery method (bringing) the 'science-fiction' drugs in line with 'real-world' drugs."[48] A revised version of the game was resubmitted to the OFLC and reclassified as MA 15+ on 7 August 2008 after drug names were changed.[49] It was later clarrified 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+.

The lack of R18+ and X18+ ratings for games has been the subject of complaint in the gaming community, particularly on the basis that there is no reason why adults should not be able to see content in games that they would 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 has vetoed every attempt to induce one. Following his resignation after the 2010 South Australian elections there appears to be no likelihood of a future veto in the face of public opinion supporting the new classification.[50][51] In August 2008, Australian video game show Good Game announced that a meeting of the Attorneys-General in March of that year resulted in a decision that the Australian public would be consulted before a final decision on the status of a R18+ rating for video games would be made.[52]

On 15 September 2009, Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the OFLC[53][54] with the reason being "The game contains realistic, frenetic and unrelenting violence which is inflicted upon "the Infected" who are living humans infected with a rabies-like virus that causes them to act violently". The game was edited and released with an MA15+ classification two months later. This was due to the games creators and an online petition that began circulating shortly after the public became aware of the game being banned. In 2014, the game was re-released completely uncensored and rated R18+ due to the new classification system introduced the year before, the uncensored version also came onto Steam with a patch.

Around December 2009, the video game Alien vs Predator was refused classification due to graphic gore, with the developer refusing to modify the game.[55] However, the ban was later[when?] overturned by the Classification Review Board, with the Board giving it an MA15+ rating with the warning "strong science fiction violence".

On 11 August 2010, at a public forum Tony Abbott was asked a question about his views on the absence of an R18+ rating for video games and whether he has any policies relating to the subject. His reply was if the Coalition won the upcoming election he would be happy to examine the issue of an R18+ classification rating for video games. Although he admitted he did not know there had been a debate on the issue "If what happens with video games is not roughly analogous to what happens in other areas, that seems silly," he said. He added "Instinctively I'm with you, and it's something I'd be happy to look at, if we are in Government," finishing off with "If you think there is a problem, I would be happy to look at it."[56][57][58][59] However the Liberal/National coalition led by Abbott did not win government, the Australian Labor Party retaining power through a coalition with Green and Independent members.

South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson has blocked attempts to introduce a R18+ for video games in Australia. In a letter on the subject, Atkinson stated, "I don't support the introduction of an R18+ rating for electronic games, chiefly because it will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages."

He withdrew his support for a discussion paper released for public consultation on the subject of an "R18+" rating. Unanimity from Atkinson and his fellow state and federal Attorneys-General is required for the introduction of the rating (or a change to that requirement). Australia's rating system lacked a classification for games above MA15+ at the time. It therefore lacked not only an equivalent rating to the ESRB's AO (adults only) rating but also an equivalent to its Mature (17+) rating.

In 2010, a few days after the Australian federal election the South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson, who had been a stalwart opponent of the R18+ Classification for video games had resigned from the South Australian cabinet and instating a new attorney general, who was much more friendly to the idea of a R18+ classification for video games thereby paving the way for a decision by the Attorney General's meeting.

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.[60]

On 22 July 2011, at a meeting of State and Territories' Attorney-Generals, An agreement was reached by a vote of 7–0 with NSW abstaining from voting for the introduction of an R18+ classification.[61]

In 2012 in the wake of the Attorney General's decision, the Government of Australia agreed to introduce regulations for R18+ games by the 1st of January 2013, which it did.

In June 2013, Saints Row IV and State of Decay became the first video games to be refused classification since the introduction of an R18+ adults only rating, Saints Row IV for "interactive depictions of sexual violence" (one of the weapons in the game is an anal probe) and depicting illegal drugs as a power-up, and State of Decay for depicting drugs as a power-up.

Despite the introduction of a R18+ rating and the IARC guidelines on self-classification by consumers and developers, a record total of 220 games were banned in 4 months, due to the fact that there had been a backlog of unrated games and games release unrated onto differing platforms.[62] Other than that relatively few high profile games have been banned in Australia with the exception being Hotline Miami 2 for allegedly depicting a rape scene.

Books[edit]

In regard to books, controversy erupted in early 2007, when the Attorney General banned on appeal Dr Philip Nitschke's voluntary euthanasia guide book The Peaceful Pill Handbook. Published in the US, the book is now banned in Australia. Changes in 2001 to the Australian Customs Act means that it is also illegal to import the book into Australia.[63] The plans of the Australian government to block the book's website saw the euthanasia activist Nitschke embark on a national tour of "Hacking Masterclasses" aimed at teaching the book's readers how to circumvent the planned government internet filter.[64][65]

Enforcement of book bans is sometimes sporadic. In their book TiHKAL, Dr. Alexander and Ann Shulgin state that their earlier work PiHKAL, which was banned in Australia, was apparently standard issue among police and lawyers attending a court case in which Dr. Shulgin served as an expert witness for the defence.

Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in Australia between 1929 and 1965, and a book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published widely. The fallout from this event eventually led to the easing of censorship of books in the country, although the country still retains the Office of Film and Literature Classification. In early October 2009, Australia Post banned the sale of the book in their stores and outlets claiming that books of this nature don't fit in with the 'theme of their stores'. [citation needed]

The Melbourne bookstore Polyester Books, which stocks unusual books of many genres, has been raided by police on two occasions for violation of censorship laws. In addition, several adult book stores have been raided by more than 60 police in Sydney. Australian customs also actively seeks and seizes books imported by individuals.

Films and DVD Shows[edit]

In regard to films, a notable example is Pasolini's Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, which has twice been banned in Australia, and finally granted approval in April 2010. The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, asked the Classification Review Board to reassess the decision,[66] however, the review failed to find any fault in the classification, and the film was released in September 2010.

Starting in 2000 with the film Romance, a new crop of arthouse films that feature short scenes of actual sex have begun to attract closer scrutiny and in two controversial cases have been banned. The two banned films are:

  • Baise-moi, a French film about two prostitutes who take violent revenge after being raped.[67] In 2000, The film was classified as R-18+. 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. The Board announced that any person caught selling, distributing, exhibiting, possessing, owning or importing this film will be fined up to A$275,000 and/or even face up to 10 years imprisonment.[citation needed]
  • Ken Park, an American film about teenagers that features a scene of autoerotic asphyxiation, amongst other sexually explicit scenes.[68] The ban however is actually due to exploitative sexual depiction of minors, which is a criminal offence in Australia.[citation needed] In response to the ban, a protest screening was held which was shut down by the police.[69]

Baise-moi was originally given an R18+ classification by the OFLC,[70] however, this was overturned by the OFLC Classification Review Board some 6 months later after the Attorney General of the time, Daryl William, used his powers under Section 42(1)(a) of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.[71] to request a Review of the classification.

The banning of Ken Park has attracted considerable media attention and political protest. Prominent movie reviewer Margaret Pomeranz, former host of The Movie Show on SBS and later the 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".[72]

Tom Gleisner, host of The Panel (a prime-time comedy/panel discussion 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 his Attorney-General Bob Debus would discuss changing the laws with other state Attorneys-General at a then upcoming meeting.[73]

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 like the Violence Jack OVAs which were also released by Manga Entertainment Australia and Polygram Australia. Urotsukidoji was then censored to meet the OFLC's standards. The Australian version is the most censored in the western world, with many fans of anime importing 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.

In 1997, the former Attorney – General Phillip Ruddock had the OFLC review Manga Video Australia's, Ninja Scroll. It was originally released in 1994 in Australia by Manga Entertainment Ltd. Australia and had the MA15+ rating on the VHS originally, but this was overturned in 1997 when Phillip Ruddock had the anime reviewed and banned in Australia after an uncut screening of the movie on SBS. A few months later it was given the R18+ rating and was uncut, then edited and edited again, eventually using the BBFC cut of Ninja Scroll. This was overturned in 2003 when Madman Entertainment and Manga Entertainment Ltd. released the uncut version.

Violence Jack Volume 1 was banned outright, and Manga Australia and Polygram decided not to release Violence Jack in Australia.

The Internet and Pornography[edit]

In February 2006 Melbourne businessman Dean McVeigh attempted in court to shut down a website critical of him through a criminal contempt application, but was unsuccessful.[74]

Starting in January 2010, customs officials have been directed by Australian federal government censors to confiscate any porn depicting female ejaculation. Such content has been deemed to be "golden showers" (an act of urinating on one's partner). However Fiona Patten, leader of the Australian Sex Party has stated, "Female ejaculation has now been described in scientific literature as being as real as male ejaculation and women's ejaculate is as different from urine, as men's is."[75]

Reserve Bank Scandal[edit]

In July 2014, WikiLeaks released a secret censorship order prohibiting publication throughout Australia of information that "reveals, implies, suggests or alleges" corruption involving a number of past and present high-ranking Malaysian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese officials in relation to the Securency Scandal and the Reserve Bank of Australia.[76]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  68. ^ OFLC Classification Review Board news release re Ken Park's Refused Classification
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  70. ^ OFLC Classifies Baise-Moi R18+.
  71. ^ Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 42. The persons who may apply for review (1) Any of the following persons may apply to the Review Board for a review of a decision: (a) the Minister; (b) the applicant for classification of the publication, film or computer game concerned or the applicant for approval of the advertisement concerned; (c) the publisher of the film, publication or computer game concerned; (d) a person aggrieved by the decision Classification.
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External links[edit]