FILM CLASSIFICATION: by Angela ConwayNews Weekly
Australia's pornography industry suffers setback
, January 20, 2007
A push by Australia's pornography industry to relax restrictions on sexually-explicit erotic films has suffered a rebuff at the hands of the Classification Review Board.Reporting on the outcome is Angela Conway, who represented the Australian Family Association at the board's recent hearing.One of the big players in Australia's pornography industry, the adult online retailer Adultshop.com, suffered a significant defeat when the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) review board rejected its appeal to grant the currently X-rated film Viva Erotica an R rating.
Had Adultshop.com's appeal succeeded, it would have set a precedent for other sexually-explicit material also to be placed in the R classification, thus rendering the X classification meaningless. This would effectively have ended the states’ ability to prohibit the sale, or public viewing, of pornographic films within their borders.
Adultshop.com has admitted that, in making its film Viva Erotica
, it deliberately selected content typically covered by the X classification. It had requested a U.S. film production company to provide it with a smorgasbord of sexually-explicit scenes.Explicit
Then, in order to support its argument for getting rid of the X classification, Adultshop.com commissioned an A.C. Nielsen online poll on Australian people's attitudes to the content and availability of films with explicit sexual or violent content.
After the results were reported in September, a series of full-page advertisements appeared in newspapers around the country, claiming that films containing non-violent explicit sex between consenting adults did not offend the majority of Australian adults and that, therefore, current restrictions on such films were inappropriate.
Significant sums of money are estimated to have been spent on the film, polling and advertising. Adultshop.com would have incurred an additional $9,000 for the appeal process itself, culminating in its appearance before the Classification Review Board, not to mention further fees for hiring an instructing solicitor and two barristers (including a well-known Sydney silk).
Adultshop.com also submitted to the hearing expert witness opinions from well-known pro-pornography academics, Catherine Lumby, Alan McKee and Katherine Albury. The NSW Council of Civil Liberties also made submissions in support of Adultshop.com.
Contesting Adultshop.com's appeal was the Australian Family Association, which provided its own submissions to the classifications hearing.
A lawyer from the Australian Government Solicitor's office also attended the hearing, although her involvement during the proceedings appeared to be as an observer only.
Adultshop.com's core argument was that sexually-explicit material ought only to be given an X classification if it was offensive to reasonable adults.
It insisted its own polling and research had demonstrated that films such as Viva Erotica
were not offensive to the majority of adults and therefore negated the need for the X classification.
The R classification prohibits actual sex as a general rule. Adultshop.com, however, has argued that its opinion poll findings have trumped this general rule contained in the OFLC's Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2005
. These guidelines, provided for by legislation - and agreed to by federal and state attorneys-general - reflect an ongoing process of public consultation, and aim to achieve consistent and accurate classification decisions.
The AFA argued that the current classification mechanisms - such as the classification guidelines, public consultations and the selection of board members - aim to ensure that the operation of the scheme continues to reflect community standards and attitudes.
Had Adultshop.com succeeded in its bid to abolish the X classification, it is not certain how explicit sexual content could not, over time, remain uncontaminated by violent and degrading material - an outcome about which the community has consistently raised concerns.
The AFA also sought to raise growing community fears that the greater availability of pornographic films has directly led to the increased incidence of children being exposed to undesirable material and sexual abuse.
Ross Fitzgerald, reporting on the appeal outcome in The Australian
, summarised comments reportedly made by the federal Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock, at an OFLC Christmas function, to the effect that we ought "to be careful of self-interest groups hijacking the censorship agenda by claiming to be the natural representatives of community standards". Fitzgerald concluded "most of those present had no doubt that he was alluding to religious fanatics and other fundamentalist hardliners." (The Australian
, December 12, 2006).
The AFA has sought clarification from the Attorney General's office concerning the meaning of Mr Ruddock's comments, but so far has received no explanation.
To date, the review board has yet to publish the reasons for its decision. There are reports that Adultshop.com will seek to take its appeal against the decision to the Federal Court.- Angela Conway is national research officer for the Australian Family Association.