Commercial networks would be able to broadcast sex, nudity and swearing from 7.30pm under new guidelines that have been proposed by Australia’s free-to-air television industry body. They would also be able to air TV ads for alcohol from 7.30pm. Under the existing code of practice, such material – classified M or MA – cannot be aired before 8.30pm (for M) and 9pm (for MA). The proposed set of new commercial television guidelines would allow the broadcast of M-rated material after 7.30pm and MA-rated material after 8.30pm. The new code still needs to be approved by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
M-rated programming includes “appropriate” coarse language, simulated or restrained depictions of sex and nudity and non-high-impact violence. MA-rated programming can include very coarse language, so long as it is story-appropriate, and nudity so long as it is “relevant to the storyline or program context”. The proposed new code also absorbs the existing AV “adult violence” classification – that is, program content that depicts violence in “some detail”, though neither prolonged nor unduly “bloody or horrific” – into the MA classification.
Free-to-air television industry body Free TV says “The proposed changes reflect the new media landscape. Content is now available via multiple platforms, including pay TV and the internet, out of “time zone” context and mostly without restrictions in place. “There are now a range of options for managing viewing, including dedicated children’s channels, parental locks and information in electronic program guides,” the proposal says. In many cases, restrictions contained in the commercial television industry code apply only to Australia’s three commercial broadcasters. Broadcasters such as Foxtel and commercial radio, are not covered by similar guidelines.
Some content delivery platforms, such as iTunes, Apple TV and services such as Netflix and Stan, have no restrictions on content. Other proposed changes include further restrictions on gambling advertising during live sport to include banning gambling ads from any program aired in the morning or between 4pm and 7pm, which is classified G or lower. The proposal would also change how audience complaints are handled, requiring complainants to have viewed the broadcast on television in order to make a formal complaint. The code would also require that complaints about privacy and vilification can only be made by those directly affected.
In 2013-14, commercial free-to-air broadcasters received 2142 complaints under the code, the “vast majority” resolved satisfactorily. During the same period, the industry watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, made four breach findings under the code against commercial free-to-air television broadcasters. Free TV’s chairman Harold Mitchell said the proposed code provided “comprehensive community safeguards for viewers”. “It has been simplified and is much more user friendly,” he said. “We are confident that the proposed code catches up with the range of ways people now access content.”
Mitchell said the new code would bring commercial TV into line with its key competitors, including pay TV and streaming services. “The landscape of the media is changing dramatically; we’re quite rightly and appropriately regulated, but this is bringing the code into the modern world,” he said. “We will be consulting widely, as you would expect, but if you look at the media landscape and what people can do, they can access anything, at any time, from anywhere.” According to Free TV, about 13.6 million Australians watch commercial free-to-air television every day and the average Australian consumes more than three hours of TV content every day.
The code was last reviewed in 2009 and came into effect on January 1, 2010. The revised code takes into consideration “practical experience … community attitudes, standards and expectations about content regulation, and how consumers interact with various media,” Free TV’s statement said. Free TV is now engaging in a six-week public consultation process after which the code must be submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for registration. A copy of the proposed code and the review documents are available from www.freetoair.com.au/media/Code_of_Practice
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has urged the Australian Communications and Media Authority to reject the proposed changes. ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said, “Free TV Australia seems to have a disregard for children and the wishes of parents who think there is too much sex and violence on free to air television. Relaxing the rules will only allow more of this type of content at a time where there is widespread concern about the impacts on children of violence and early sexualisation,” Mr Shelton said. “It would be great if self-regulation of television classification worked but the industry keeps on pushing for weaker standards.”
Free TV has stated it’s up to parents to manage viewing, however many parents struggle to uphold family viewing rules. One study found that 90% of parents made rules to limit television use, but only 54% were able to uphold the rules over time. “Relaxing standards on these timeslots would bring potentially harmful content to the screens of our children that will be harder for parents to control.” Mr Shelton said. The proposed changes that will also allow alcohol advertising to be brought forward from 8.30pm to 7.30pm during highest rating shows like The Block and Masterchef, both of which have a high child and adolescent audience.”
“Many parents will be outraged by the push by Free TV Australia to water down broadcasting standards,” FamilyVoice Australia research officer Ros Phillips said. Under the proposal “G-rated time zones would be abolished; MA15+ programs – such as the bondage-promotion in Fifty Shades of Grey – could begin at8.30 pm. “The changes would require any complaints to be in writing by snail mail or an online form. No phone or faxed complaints would be allowed” Ros Phillips said. FamilyVoice Australia is encouraging parents to contact their local federal MPs and Free TV Australia with their concerns.
VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT SETS TIME FRAME ON ADOPTION EQUALITY
Same-sex adoption is one step closer to becoming a reality in Victoria, with Minister for Equality Martin Foley announcing a timeframe for adoption equality. Minister Foley revealed the terms of reference and the timeframe for a review of the laws to establish what changes are needed in Victoria to grant adoption equality for same-sex attracted and gender diverse families. “The Andrews Labor Government is committed to adoption equality. It’s time our laws got out of the 1950s and caught up with the reality of modern Australia,” said Minister Foley in St Kilda’s Botanical Gardens.
“Many same-sex couples and their families find themselves unrecognised under the law, leaving parents and children facing long-term insecurity about their future with the people they love,” Minister Foley said. The review of the current laws will be conducted by Eamonn Moran QC, a barrister and former Chief Parliamentary Council. Minister Foley said Mr Moran has “particular expertise in ensuring that legislation is well crafted and targeted.” “The review is not whether adoption equality will happen, it is about the best way to make adoption equality a reality for the thousands of Victorian families and children who live in a grey legal haze.”
Minister Foley said this review is the ‘unfinished business’ of the report in 2007 that led to the changes that were made to allow same-sex couples to have access to assistive reproductive technology. The review must take into account the Victorian Law Reform Commission Final Report on Assisted Reproductive Technology and Adoption from 2007 conducted by the former Brumby Government, laws permitting adoption by same-sex couples in Western Australia, the ACT, NSW and Tasmania, and other relevant Commonwealth or State legislation.
“The Andrews Labor Government will remove that uncertainty and put the best interests of the children at the heart of what it should be. It’s about recognising that it’s love that defines a family, not discriminatory laws.” The review must be delivered to the Minister by 8 May 2015. The Government will then act “as soon as possible” to introduce changes to the Parliament. Considering the Labor Government does not have the majority in the Upper House, it will then depend on getting numbers with the crossbench or the Opposition.
“If members of parliament take the interests of children to heart, they should consider the impact of what this law would do for thousands of Victorian children. I would like to think that all members of parliament would put aside partisan politics and put the interests of children first” Andrews said. The Victorian Liberal Opposition has not yet made a clear stance on adoption equality, however the former Liberal Leader Dennis Napthine said he was “not philosophically opposed to it”. The Rainbow Families Council applauded the Andrews government for honouring its election commitment to remove discrimination in Victorian Adoption law.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE ADVOCATES PLAN PUSH IN FEDERAL ELECTORATES IN 2015
Same sex marriage advocates are planning a 2015 blitz on western Sydney as part of a push across 50 key federal electorates for the enactment of marriage equality legislation before the next election. Marriage equality advocates say the issue has the ability to turn votes at the election and the major parties ignore it at their peril. Rodney Croome, the national director of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality said “If the Coalition is to win back the middle ground at the election, it must make an appeal to those who strongly support same-sex marriage.”
The major obstacle to successful same sex marriage legislation is the absence of a free Coalition vote on the issue. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said before the last election that the issue of a free vote would be a “matter for the post-election party room” but it has not yet been dealt with, despite Mr Abbott committing in December to allow Liberals a free vote on the conscience issue of euthanasia. South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, a same-sex marriage supporter, said the issue was not a vote-winner for the Coalition but believes it could become a distraction for the government if not tackled this parliamentary year.
Coalition MPs on both sides of the debate privately acknowledge the free vote issue will have to be addressed by the party room in 2015. But even if Coalition MPs were allowed a free vote, same-sex marriage legislation is by no means assured to pass either House, hence the push for seat-by-seat lobbying. Australian Marriage Equality will blitz the western Sydney electorates of Lindsay (held by Liberal MP Fiona Scott) and the Labor seats of McMahon, Chifley and Parramatta. In Victoria, they will target Liberal-held Corangamite and Casey, and Labor-held Wills, and Gippsland held by the Nationals.