April 9th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Why did Terri Schiavo have to die?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Welfare to work: serious changes needed

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Trade and Australia's farm dependent economy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Infrastructure back on the agenda

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Report whitewashes declining film standards

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia, Indonesia to negotiate new treaty

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Relearning Federalism / 'New' thoughts on marijuana / Kofi's whitewash

Neglect of public infrastructure (letter)

New deal for superannuation (letter)

Compelling case for rail transport (letter)

Selling the nation's assets (letter)

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: The Labor Split - 50 years on

FAMILY: AFA calls for adopting parents to be married

FAMILY LAW: Family Court 'a monstrosity'

BIOETHICS: Australian stem cell breakthrough - adult nose cells pluripotent

OPINION: Pot goes in the too-hard basket

ENVIRONMENT: The death of environmentalism?

BOOKS: OUTRAGE: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage

BOOKS: LIBERATION'S CHILDREN: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age

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Report whitewashes declining film standards

by Richard Egan

News Weekly, April 9, 2005
A report into the first twelve months operation of the 2003 Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games claims to have found that "there is no evidence for a shift in the standards for any film classification categories, including G and R18+".

The report also claims that "the increase in R18+ films containing actual sex appears to be related to a change in product in the market rather than a change in classification standards".

The report makes two recommendations. Firstly, it recommends that "no changes to the 2003 Guidelines are required as no change in standards has been observed." The second recommendation proposes "a mechanism to improve the public's understanding of the 2003 Guidelines is recommended to ensure all sectors of the community have confidence in the classification system".

In other words, all those who think there is a problem are wrong and simply need re-education.

The Australian Family Association is one of the key opponents of the 2003 Guidelines. The Association briefed solicitor Damien Tudehope to appear before the Classification Review Board in appeals on the films Irreversible, Anatomy of Hell and Nine Songs.

Each of these films contains scenes of actual sex. Irreversible also features a detailed depiction of an anal rape of a woman and Anatomy of Hell has a scene depicting the sexual abuse of a young girl. The films were all classified R18+ by the Classification Review Board.

Mr Tudehope said: "There are two ways of fixing this problem. The first is to reform the Guidelines to make crystal clear that there must be no depictions of actual sex in R18+ films, nor any offensive depictions of a child. The second is to replace the personnel on the Classification Review Board because the current members have shown a blatant disregard for community standards."

This view is shared by a group of about 20 Coalition Federal MPs who viewed extracts from the films Irreversible, Anatomy of Hell and Birth at a recent briefing at Parliament House.

The MPs subsequently met with Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, chief censor Des Clark and head of the Review Board, Maureen Shelley. The MPs are calling on Mr Ruddock to propose new, tighter Guidelines to his State colleagues and to reform the Classification Review Board.

Mr Ruddock, who until recently has consistently defended both Des Clark and the Classification Review Board, and who dismissed the child sexual abuse scene in Anatomy of Hell as merely a "game of doctors and nurses", is reportedly persuaded by the MPs that there is a need for change.

As the Guidelines are a collaborative project of the Commonwealth, States and Territories, State Censorship Ministers also need to be brought to acknowledge the problem. So far only South Australia Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has objected to the libertarian trend in classification decisions.

The Report, with its claim that there has been no change in classification decisions, will not make this task easy. The Australian Family Association's submission to the Operational Review made a cogent case that the abolition in the 2003 Guidelines of a rule for the R18+ classification prohibiting any scenes involving "obvious genital contact" had made it possible to allow actual sex scenes in R18+ films.

It is true, as the Report points out, that there had been some instances of this under the previous Guidelines. However, part of the AFA submission demonstrated that in these earlier decisions the rule on no "obvious genital contact" had been ignored.

The claim in the Report (p 63) that this rule has always been taken into account, but that it always allowed exceptions, is simply false and the Report fails to produce a single quote from a classification decision to sustain this claim.

In any case, the real question is not whether classification decisions changed between 2002 and 2003 but about what the classification system should achieve.

Damien Tudehope, who is working with other community groups to advise interested MPs on satisfactory Guidelines, says:

"The bottom line is that families want a G classification which is entirely free of references to drug use and sexual activity, with no nudity or coarse language. They want no actual sex or detailed depictions of sexual violence or any offensive depictions of a child in any film, including R18+ films, that can be publicly exhibited or available for sale or hire in the local video store. And in between they want PG, M and MA15+ classifications which are objective and reliable in giving them information on the nature of the films their children may want to view."

  • Richard Egan

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