In Australia, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act) regulates film classification and the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) administers the Act. Before public release or even advertising, all movies (including imported films) must be classified.

The Classification Board makes determinations about how it will classify films as well as the advice attaching to each classification (including details about the level of violence, sex, language, drugs or nudity). Once classified, the Board must issue the applicant with a “classification certificate”. The intention behind this system is to help consumers make an informed choice about what they watch.

Below, we explain how film ratings work and what steps are needed if you are planning on releasing a movie.

What Criteria Must the Classification Board Follow?

The Classification Board assesses the content of a film to see where it fits within the established categories (i.e. G, PG, M and so on). It assesses the content in line with the provisions set out in the Act, the National Classification Code (the Code) and Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012 (the Guidelines).

Classification Act

Section 11 of the Act specifies what matters the Classification Board will consider, including:

  1. Standards of morality and decency that are acceptable by the reasonable adult; and
  2. Literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the film; and
  3. The general character of the film (for example whether it has a medical, legal or scientific character); and
  4. The class of persons that are published or likely to be published.

The Code

Under the Code, when the Classification Board is making determinations of film classification, they are to remember the following: 

  1. Adults can watch what they want;
  2. Minors should be guarded against films that are likely to harm or disturb them;
  3. Everyone should be shielded from unwelcome films or films that might be offensive
  4. There is a need to contemplate community concerns about certain depictions that might condone or incite violence (particularly sexual violence) or portray people in a demeaning manner.

The Guidelines

Three critical principles inform the Classification Board’s decisions: 

  1. The importance of the context;
  2. The assessed impact (each classification has its “impact test”); and
  3. The six classifiable elements (drug use, language, nudity, themes, sex and violence).

Difficulties in Applying the Above to Classifications

Although the guidelines spell out the tests for each classification, applying the principles of classifications can be tricky in practice. For example, the Classification Board grapples with what society considers acceptable – society’s standards are continuously changing, and Australia has a diverse culture.

Films that incite so much offence that it is against the standards of morality, decency and propriety that reasonable adults accept will not be classified and labelled “RC” (refused classification). Films classified as “RC” cannot be made available in Australia and the Classification Board does not make this decision lightly.

Films Exempt from Classification

Under Section 6B of the Act, certain films are exempt from classification such as those relating to business, current affairs, education (where the primary purpose is for training or instruction) and musical presentation. 

Film Classification Application Steps

There are numerous legal hurdles a filmmaker should understand before publishing or distributing their film. If an applicant wishes for their film to be classified, they can follow these two steps:

  1. Apply to the Classification Board through its online portal known as the “classification portal” and then contact the office to book a screening date.
  2. Lodge the required items to the Classification Board within 48 hours including a completed “Film (Public Exhibition) Application Form”, the applicable fee (as determined by the length of the film), a complete and final copy of the movie and a synopsis of the film.

Key Takeaways

Film ratings serve to protect the public from unsolicited material, and the Classification Board must classify a film within the stated guidelines and provisions. Applying the principles of classification to a film can often be tricky due to their subjective nature. There are, however, review processes available to the applicants. If you have any questions regarding your film’s rating, get in touch with our commercial lawyers on 1300 544 755. 

Esther Mistarz

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