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SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY STANDARDS
Portrayal of violence in the electronic media
- Parl No.
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SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY STANDARDS
Mrs VAN LUYN
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
Portrayal of violence in the electronic media
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Table Of ContentsPrevious Fragment
SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY STANDARDS
(SENATE-Friday, 29 November 1996)
- Committee front matter
- Committee witnesses
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
Mrs VAN LUYN
Content WindowSENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY STANDARDS - 29/11/1996 - Portrayal of violence in the electronic media
CHAIR —I welcome the participants and declare open this public seminar of the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies. Today's seminar in Canberra is held as part of the committee's inquiry into the portrayal of violence in the electronic media. You have been invited to come here today from many parts of Australia, on the basis of the submissions that you have made to the committee of ministers. The majority of you are here on behalf of groups and organisations, some of which came together for the specific purpose of making their submission. We hope that all of you and the committee will benefit from the opportunity to address the same issue here.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank those who have agreed to take on the particular role of facilitator in this seminar today. Today's seminar is divided into five sessions of one hour. We have outlined a number of subtopics for each session, merely as a guide. We do not necessarily intend to treat them in that order or to treat them at equal length. But we would like to cover as many aspects as possible during the day, and the facilitators will guide us through that process. To help the day flow well, I ask that people keep their contributions as brief and succinct as possible. If you have any long statements that you may have wanted to read from, you may submit them to us and we can incorporate them as evidence, and we will consider those when we are making the final report.
SESSION 1--THE EVIDENCE OF MEDIA VIOLENCE
CHAIR —Our facilitator for the first session is Dr Adam Graycar, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology. Dr Graycar has held this post since 1994. He has written some 150 research reports and papers in the area of social policy and has chaired the Committee on National Violence Prevention. Prior in his appointment to the AIC, he held a number of professorships and teaching posts at various universities, both in Australia and overseas. Welcome, Dr Graycar, and thank you for chairing this session.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you.
Senator HARRADINE —Excuse me, Dr Graycar. Chairman, I would like you to explain to the seminar participants that some of us will need to be going to divisions, because parliament is sitting and one or two of us have to be there practically all the time.
CHAIR —Yes. We have a number of senators with us today. We are sitting concurrently with the Senate and have had special permission to do that today. I have leave of the Senate to be here for most of the day, with the exception of a short period of time, but a number of other senators have not. So when those red bells start ringing, do not be too disturbed if the senators suddenly disappear during the division, as they will come back again. We are considering a number of very contentious pieces of legislation today. Thank you for reminding me of that, Brian. Dr Graycar now has the floor.
Dr GRAYCAR —Senators, ladies and gentlemen, we have before us today a program that takes several steps through the issue relating to the portrayal of violence in the media. In this first session on evidence, I want to make a couple of brief comments and then open the discussion up, because our purpose today is to hear from people who are able to contribute to our discussions.
For over 50 years there has been a lot of research examining the relationship between violence in the entertainment media and acts of violence or aggression. You all have before you a very short paper entitled, The portrayal of violence in the media, which we have put out. Melanie Brown, the author of the paper, is here and she may be able to explain some aspects of it later on. In putting together the paper, we reviewed an enormous amount of literature. Essentially we found that you can find something in the literature to back up any point of view you want. They are all rigorous studies; they are all very carefully done.
When we were trying to say what triggers off violence after watching some aspect of violence in the media, we could not determine any causes and effects. The conundrum we kept talking about was that not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer, and not everybody who gets lung cancer smokes. You have that same sort of issue in terms of people who are exposed to a lot of violence: not all become violent and not all who do become violent are essentially themselves exposed to these things. But the overwhelming majority of studies that were reviewed concluded that there are a number of adverse effects from watching violence on television and films: effects such as increased aggression, desensitisation to violence, and increased fear of crime--particularly among young children and adolescents, who are the most vulnerable.
The research shows that some people may imitate what they see on television and in movies, but that many may not, and that violence on screen reinforces the behaviour of some already aggressive people; but no valid measures are available to assess the relative risk. The association is clearly there. We can look at the context of violence--we have pulled these things out in the paper, and you might like to pick up some of the themes running through the paper--and essentially the context of violence is always important. When it is depicted in a realistic context, complete with moral and legal implications, it is more likely to produce negative effects than is fantasy violence, say, when there are often no consequences, such as punishment for the offender. The other element that is important--and some of our psychologist colleagues will be able to comment on this--is that young children often cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality on screen.
The essence of our report is that, by reviewing the literature, you can find pretty well what you want; but that generally there is an association. The policy implications we were trying to draw out were that an intersectoral approach can start to deal with the issues. What I would like to do now is turn to people around the table, because we are working to a very tight timetable and we need to finish this session by 10 o'clock so we can then go on to the next. The purpose is to have as much input from people at the table as possible. For this first session, we would like to contain the comments to people at the table. There will be opportunities later in the day for people who are in the audience to contribute.
I will go through the set of discussion topics. The first one concerns
which electronic media have the greatest impact, and why: films,
television, computer games, Internet, music and radio. I wonder whether
anyone at the table might like to kick off with a comment on that general
Mrs VAN LUYN —I am President of the National Viewers and Listeners Association of Australia. What is the point of knowing `what' and `why'? It is not the medium but the message which is coming through. There is a vast range of messages pouring forth from each medium, and this is what should concern those who wish to alleviate violence.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you. Is there a further comment?
Mr WOODLEY —I am the Deputy Mayor of Tamworth, and I represent many people in Tamworth, where we have had many forums on this subject over the years. We have had John Dickie there several times. We have had 1,200 or so people at one public meeting in Tamworth some years ago and, subsequently, 600 and 400 people at forums. People in my area are very serious about this subject. There are very many people in the country who believe that violence on the media does affect people. I would say, from my investigations and from what I know from chairing many of those meetings and being a spokesman for my city, that videos are probably the worst.
Films on television are seen once and they still impact on people's
minds, but there is a chance they might forget a lot of it. The problem
with videos is that some kids or young people or whoever tend to view them
over and over again, until that message is well into their brain, never to
be forgotten. There are many studies that prove that, so do not let anyone
tell me that, after you have seen something several times, you forget about
it: that is not true. Commerce and advertising and many other studies will
show that that is an absolute lie. So from my point of view I object
strongly in regard to my people probably in regard to the licensing of
videos and the type of literature that enables people to review the scenery
or the story they are reading about many times over.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you. Is there another comment?
Mrs GRANT —I am from the National Council of Women of Tasmania. I have had a Guide and Brownie pack for over 30 years and those children create their own plays and I can see the difference week by week. I also have a degree in experimental psychology, so I could have done a lovely research project over 30 years if I had had the opportunity. It is the intermittent reinforcement that goes on. It is the minor message. Those, if you like, normal, ordinary, gorgeous little girls, they do not take up with the really violent things but they are play-acting and putting into their lives year in and year out what they have seen on television. I know Dr Radecki has done some studies. I know the early studies of Ventura and those early psychological researchers but I have seen it in practice over the years--it does have a tremendous effect.
They were playing a game not so very long ago on a trampoline and some little boys came. One of them had a gun, and they were jumping up and down playing a sort of computer game where the little figures jump over things--that sort of play. You can see it in the playground, you can see it in your next door neighbour's children. It does have an effect. Children absorb what they see. We had a child in hospital not so long ago. Dad sat there watching violent videos all day nursing this sick little child right up till 11 o'clock at night and so forth and the child was playing those games. It does have an effect, there are no two ways about it. If you have got the opportunity to really study and look at children, you can see what is going on in their lives.
I have also looked after Martin Bryant and it has not come out in the
media and I can say it now. On about the second night he was there, he
said, `Could I have the television on?' And I said, `No, I am sorry,' and
the police said, `No, sorry.' And just in the gap, there was a silence, and
I said `What do you like?' and he said, `Oh, I like all the fast action
things. I like. . . ' and he started naming all these violent videos. It
did not come out but they were the things he liked and they were the things
that he watched. You can take it as you like but that is what he said.
Dr GRAYCAR —Okay. We have got a long list of questions and I suppose we could spend some time talking about which electronic medium; we will continually come back to that. There have been a couple of comments primarily on videos, but I thought we might move to the next question and then we can go back to the one before. The thing is, do we know what media depictions are most associated with antisocial behaviour? You mentioned some of the games but, going back to your experience, the experience from your organisations, from the research that our academic colleagues have done, do we know what media depictions are most associated with antisocial behaviour. Would somebody like to start with that?
Prof. BRETHERTON —I am from the International Conflict Resolution Centre at Melbourne University, and I am also representing the Australian Psychological Society. It seems to me that the media depictions that I would be most concerned about as ones that would model antisocial behaviour are ones that would appeal to young men and show violence as heroic and being rewarded and increasing self-esteem.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you. Is there another comment on that?
Mrs VAN LUYN —I would like to table, if I may, a research paper done by psychologists at the University of Melbourne. Wherever I telephoned to find which is the latest and the best, the unchallengeable proof, everyone refers me back to this paper, The influence of aggressive and neutral cartoons and toys on behaviour of preschool children. This is apparently the answer:
The aggressive cartoon models acted as salient sources of observable aggression providing children with an opportunity to store and/or strengthen aggressive scripts in memory. Then the related toy characters provided salient queues for the retrieval and rehearsal of these aggressive scripts. A similar explanation can be made for encoding and rehearsing of pro-social behaviour scripts from neutral cartoon-toy combinations.
This is regarded as an unchallengeable piece of research by a lot of people. I could leave it with you.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you. Somebody will take the paper from you. Do I have any other comment on the content?
Mr MacDONALD —I represent the Association of Heads of Independent Schools, who has a social issues committee of which I am the secretary. I think it is interesting that all the comments we have had so far have been about videos. I think that it is important at the beginning to draw the distinction between video and film and to note that one is seen in the context of the home and the other is seen outside as entertainment. I think that that has a big impact on what views we take of those various media in so far as a computer has now become an essential element in the home. That needs attention in the same way the videos do in that they are seen in the context of the family and are very difficult, in certain circumstances, to classify and control whereas the film, which you have go to and see and therefore can be, to a certain extent, the admission controllable depending on the nature of the classification. I think that is much more easily determined.
I feel, as far as children are concerned, that what happens in the home
and what parents say and what teachers teach is very important. We ought to
be considering that in the context of this discussion.
Mr MARSLEW —Just to support what you have said, we speak with a lot of children on a weekly basis. They are affected by what they see from the home more so than what they see at an entertainment venue. I think the fact that they are comfortable, they are in what they believe to be safe surroundings and the messages that come from the video are in their home. I think those images that are projected by violent videos are supported by the antisocial messages that are coming off young radio stations. The children are aware of this.
Dr GRAYCAR —Another comment?
Mrs UHLMANN —I think that I agree with everything that has been said, but I would not like to isolate videos, television or any of them. I think what is happening is we have got building blocks here that are coming into homes and people saying the children are supervised by their parents. We have many children unsupervised for long periods of time these days. They do not only have access to videos--which parents may say they keep aside, but I know they get access to, as a former principal of a school--but they have the television, they have the computer games, which I think can become an invidious thing that is quite dangerous, and they have access to the Internet.
Children are extremely clever. Now we have the Internet with so much bad material and no control whatsoever. We fear for the mental and physical health of children from these activities.
Mr FLEW —I have two points to make. One is, I think, an important point that was brought up earlier about distinctions between media which are consumed in the context of the home, such as television and video as compared to film. Also, I think that there is a distinction there between media which individuals have made a conscious decision to consume, and material which may be inadvertently consumed, for example children viewing adult material.
Another point I would like to add is that many of the concerns about
violent material on television have arisen in relation to news and current
affairs material as distinct from drama and other fictional forms. This
brings to mind the question of the ability of different audiences, and
particularly children, to distinguish between fictional and realistic forms
of violence. In the area of news and current affairs, the onus must be upon
journalists, news producers and broadcasters to act responsibly in the
presentation of stories, particularly in the early evening bulletins. But
it is also important to add that there exists a legitimate concern among
journalists and others working in the media about governments or regulatory
bodies taking an overly prescriptive role about what can and cannot be
broadcast; and that it would be argued there are broader public interest
concerns to be considered there.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you very much. You have touched on an important issue, and Professor Baume will be facilitating a session a bit later on that will be focusing particularly on news and current affairs. What we have heard so far is of passive and active viewing, and of current affairs; and we have talked about parental supervision, about home, and about new technology. One of the things that it is really important to try to understand is the changes in technology and in a range of community environment issues. While a lot of people might say it is inappropriate for young people to watch certain things, as we heard a moment ago, young people are very clever and they will seek out and find things. So it is really important not to say, `The technology has beaten us and we have to take a certain course of action.' I think the key thing is to understand the nature of social change that is operating as well and see that within the context.
We have been talking a bit about what sorts of depictions and some of the issues of evidence. The Institute of Criminology prepared some materials for the ministerial committee on the portrayal of violence. Within that pack of materials we have put one very short study that was both a longitudinal study and reviewed a fair amount of literature. I might give you a very brief run-down. It was a study done in rural New York, started in the 1960s, by Professor Eron. He took a sample of almost 900 young children and monitored them at age eight, at age 19 and again when they were 30 years old.
He measured their aggression at age eight and again at 19. He found that those who may have had low aggression rates at age eight who had been exposed to watching a lot of violent material on television--and television was the only medium that was looked at--by age 19 were more aggressive than those who had high aggression but did not watch violent material. He found that, by age 30, those who were exposed to violence were likely to be convicted of more serious crimes if they had some sort of dealings with the criminal justice system, were more aggressive if they were under the influence of alcohol, and meted out harsher punishment to their own children. This study had been replicated so, looking over time, it encapsulated the long-term view of exposure. But starting in the 1960s there was an exposure that then may well have been different to the prevailing community standard, as children today find themselves exposed to things different to the community standard. But maybe the community standard itself is changing.
I suppose the next question on our list is: does violent media mediate community violence? Is there good violence or bad violence?
Mr DICKIE —I am Director of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. There has been some interesting work done on that very recently in the United States by the Santa Barbara group at the University of California. They looked at the types of violence. They tried to break it down into the different aspects of violence to find out which were the more offensive and perhaps more dangerous types of depictions of violence. They said the context was very important. They looked at things like the consequences of violence that may or may not be shown.
Their study was on television. They found that with things like
unpunished violence the perpetrator of violence, in about 74 per cent of
the cases they looked at, did not finish up being dealt with properly the
way normal people would be. They found there were only 16 per cent of
television shows which showed the real effect of violence. For example,
they would show somebody being shot and lying in the street, but then did
not go back to the home where somebody had not come home that night and
show the effect that might have had on the home. They looked at whether
there was any humour involved and whether that mitigated it, and started to
really look at some of the different aspects of violence where some action
could be taken. That study was directed to the people who actually made the
programs, the producers and the writers, to bring home to them some of the
projections of violence that were being put forward and to remedy the
violence at the source. There are some interesting studies going on,
hopefully directed at the right people.
Mr LAMING —I am from the Men's Shed Project, Gippsland, Victoria. The Shed's Amends project is a behaviour change program for violent men, and one of the things that comes out in the education groups, both with young men who have been charged and convicted of assault in the community and with men who have been found guilty of domestic violence, is that a key common denominator is that they do not have to take responsibility. They are not faced with the consequences, ramifications and effects of their violence or abuse, and so that allows them to get away with whatever form of violence it is, and they identify that as one of the factors that affects their re-offending and not taking it seriously.
Mr EBEDES —I am a legal practitioner from Dianella, Western Australia. I would agree to a large extent with what Mr Dickie said, and I would like to elaborate a bit further on it. My experience on the subject is that if the so-called violence does not have a sufficiently retributory effect to the bad guy--to use that term--the viewer is left with a feeling of frustration, and that is where the adverse effect is. I do not know how often I have sat in a movie or watched a television show where the bad guy's just deserts have not come up.
I am not saying that that means that we have got to have unlimited violence for the sake of violence per se, but certainly I have found that it is an adverse situation if you have a particular type of movie or show scenario where there just is not that element of retribution in a fictional setting. In other words, the suppression actually leads to the frustration; whereas, if it is actually seen, it is a vicarious substitution on the screen. It is better to have an audio and visual substitution than to actually be frustrated and go out and do the real thing; and that would be my experience on this, and also that of a lot of people and clients I have defended in criminal matters as well.
It certainly does not have an adverse effect, as such, unless it is purely gratuitous violence just for the sake of doing so. If that program is on in the early hours of television showing, where children could be possibly prone to it, it would not necessarily do them any harm, but I would be against it. As regards the effect on adults, I have found it has the opposite effect if the retributory aspect is not there.
A simple mundane scenario, if I may do this, is from my own experiences
as a child, watching a western where the bad guy goes ahead and kills
everybody and it is only in the end that the sheriff gets him. In the
meantime, I would be sitting there pent up all the time, wondering why he
was not getting his just deserts. In other words, the point I make is that
the violence in itself would not be a form of harm. I would not go and say
that the lack of violence is a harm; but it certainly is when it does not
apply in the right circumstances.
Mr MacDONALD —It is important at this stage to note the studies being done on school violence; that is, on bullying, which is a feature of schools these days. Several recent studies have been done, and two things of importance have emerged. Firstly, those who perpetrate violence as bullies are usually themselves victims, and that seems to indicate a fairly close relationship between the violence they have experienced at home or that they have seen or seen depicted and what they take out on other people. The second thing is that it is not surprising that one of the popular forms of adolescent entertainment is viewing violent videos instead of getting out and doing something constructive or useful or even athletic. Young people, you will find, increasingly obtaining violent videos and view them as a group. This too has an impact on school violence.
Mr WOODLEY —Some of the information I gathered I have received from paramedics who go into the homes of people--I hope I do not offend anyone--in the western suburbs of Sydney and some areas of underprivileged people and some areas where they constantly watch these sorts of films. Those guys have said to me, `You would be absolutely amazed at what these people allow in their homes and what they let their kids watch.' They described those things to me.
A sadder story still came from a member of my committee who is an Aboriginal pastor in Tamworth. This man relayed a story of doing some of his counselling. He counsels Aboriginal families against this sort of thing, as well drugs and different things. In Queensland, where he went into the homes of some people up there, he said on Sunday morning one of these families just pulled out some X-rated films that they had received--I guess from Canberra or wherever--or borrowed, and they allowed their family to watch this stuff. He said it was absolutely so embarrassing and dreadful because they did not know. They just did not know. They are not educated people at all.
He said that on another occasion he was in the Northern Territory and he
heard evidence there of some boys who had raped an old Aboriginal lady. The
information that was received from that was that they did it in such a
dreadful way because this poor old lady had been injured dreadfully because
they used instruments to be effective. They said that the in some of the
porn films they had been watching certain things are used to stimulate the
sexual desire, and these children had actually done this to this old lady.
He was absolutely mortified by what he had heard in evidence. That is a
story that tears at your heartstrings.
Dr GRAYCAR —We are still moving with this and we are trying to grapple with the issue of whether there is good violence and bad violence. If we can perhaps contextualise that. The comments so far have been on the retribution or the portrayal of different types of violence and the consequences of that. Can anyone comment here?
Father MALONE —I think that one of the problems in talking about violence is the very word itself in that there are depictions of appropriate violence, if that could be said. There are wars. How do you represent those, whether you agree with the stance or not? So the depictions then are present. It is a problem trying to tackle that question of appropriate violence--due or undue violence.
One of the things that I have noticed in recent times with watching a lot of films is that I prefer to use the word `brutality'. It seems to me that even in the context of justified presentations of violence there is an increase in sequences of brutality. For example, the policeman, like Stephen Seagal or John Claude Van Damme in an action film in the way that they apprehend the criminals with excessive brutality, it would seem to me.
Timothy Carter from Brisbane who put in a submission for the bishops referred to `voyeur violence'. So I think there is that particular focus. The film might be a very good one but there are these elements of brutality which we need to consider.
Mrs GRANT —I wanted to just make a comment about the difference between Inspector Gadget and De Grassi Highand maybe Batman. There seems to be a difference in children's recognition of reality and acceptable violence in Inspector Gadget which they can really very easily differentiate and do not seem to imitate to the same extent. They know that is not real by comparison to the sort of subtle violence and conflict that is in De Grassi High. That they cannot differentiate, so they act out the conflict situations in De Grassi High type situations, where they are anti this or anti that.
It extends from there and young people play-act Batman and that does not seem to be a tremendous problem with them because he is not so violent, although they do get into scrapes from that. But there is a difference and it is that difference that we have to think about in what we allow children to watch.
—I think we will deal with that later, particularly
with the Barbara Biggins session about fantasy, reality and educational
Mrs GRANT —Trying to get to what is good and what is bad.
Dr GRAYCAR —Yes.
Mrs GRANT —If people are subtly desensitised, it has a cumulative effect and it is something we have to think about.
Mr EBEDES —I would like to make a point that is at complete issue with what Mr Woodley said about X films in this country not being violent films but non-violent erotica. Anybody watching those films and who then went and duplicated the acts must have seen an illegal film--something that came from abroad and something that did not go through the Office of Film and Literature Classification.
If we look prior to 1960, and prior to the advent of television or the electronic media, the pugilistic aspect of boys in this country and throughout the rest of the world was far greater then than it is today. In other words, the so-called violence has not had an adverse effect but, if anything, it has had a supplementary effect.
Dr GRAYCAR —Yes. I think the one point that is probably worth making within this context of change, to back up that point, is that the comparative work we have tried to do at the Australian Institute of Criminology shows that, when dealing with the criminal justice system and in family relationships, Australia is a considerably less violent society today than it was 100 years ago.
Mr EBEDES —I support that entirely.
Dr GRAYCAR —It is a considerably less violent society.
Mr EBEDES —They did not have electronic media then.
Dr GRAYCAR —No, but with change, there are different manifestations of it. By and large, we are a less violent society. How do we deal with the violence, the brutality and the different comments that people have made?
I will skip the next question on the National Committee on Violence, a very substantial report of which is here because most of the recommendations are things I presume will be dealt with in John Dickie's session because they are about classifications and responsibility of media organisations.
If violent media gains higher ratings, and I suppose that is a
questionable proposition, why do public opinion polls show such high levels
of public concern? In other words, if people want to watch violence, and
they do so by paying their money at the door or renting the videos, why
then are people really worried with that consumer choice?
Mrs PHILLIPS —I think you will find this phenomenon not just in violence, which gets high ratings, but with all sorts of other things, which perhaps appeal to human weakness, that a lot of people do and to which there is widespread public concern. In Adelaide right now there is very widespread concern, which shows through all the opinion polls, on pokies. They have been in South Australia for a couple of years and they have had enormous adverse effects on other shops, on families going bankrupt and even suicides. Yet an enormous number of people use those pokies, which is why there is public concern. I think we are all concerned about smoking. A lot of teenagers can rattle off all of the harms but go into Rundle Mall and you will see an awful lot of teenagers smoking, and more than older people. I guess it is the story of human weakness.
Father GLEESON —Because we are setting the terms, I would like to put on the table--I notice it is coming up later--our great concern about violence and music. It is very much a private world for young people. It is very hard to control and yet there is a good deal of research to not just suggest but to demonstrate that violent music reproduces all sorts of violent behaviour in young people. Certainly this is very much the case in research from the Centre of Adolescent Health at Melbourne University. It is a very difficult area and certainly teachers and people in schools are very worried about it.
Dr GRAYCAR —Thank you. It is one of the questions in this first round and I would like to come back to it. Terry, did you have another comment?
Mr FLEW —It is related to a couple of the earlier observations. One of the issues raised in the initial ministerial committee was about investigating community expectations in this area. This is a very important initiative. It is very possible that it could produce two quite contradictory outcomes: firstly, one indicating a great deal of community concern about violent material in the media and, secondly, one also indicating concern about government censorship or restrictions upon access to materials, particularly among adult audiences. In a sense, the poker machine analogy is an interesting one. Is the implication of this that it is the role of governments to protect people from what they want?
I think about that in relation to studies of audience behaviour in relation to material. A lot of the earlier studies in the media field tend to presume what has been described as the vulnerable audience. More recently, it has been indicated that audiences respond much more actively to the material that they are viewing and make the sorts of distinctions that are important. In policy terms, that is an important issue to raise. This is leading on to the next session about classification standards, but I wonder about the extent to which a committee like this can judge on behalf of mature adult audiences what they wish or do not wish to consume.
—There are two threshold questions here. One is that
if people want to consume something, should they be allowed to or not? The
second question is: is the product that is being consumed necessarily
harmful to all who consume it? It may be harmful to some, it may not be
harmful to any or it may be harmful to the lot. There are those two quite
separate questions about the nature of harm and the wishes of the community
as a whole. It is trying to demonstrate that there is harm and then where
you go from there if harm is demonstrated.
Mr WOODLEY —We are talking about setting standards, aren't we? That is what this letter I got is all about. It is about standards so let us remind ourselves of that. Talking about laws and different things is fine and there are lots of arguments for and against, but the government is about setting standards for the people. If they cannot do that, we might as well close up and go home now.
Dr GRAYCAR —Okay. There are two further issues. Looking through them, we might leave the issue of whether an R-rated can become an M-rated for the next session. It will come up in the discussion. Somebody did mention erotica and particularly non-violent erotica but the question then is: is the portrayal of the combination of violence and sex a particular concern? The second question I would also like to touch on before we finish this session is: is violent language or violent lyrics a problem? Can we start with the combination of violence and sex. Is that a particular concern to people at the table?
Ms BIGGINS —I am from Young Media Australia. This is a postscript on the previous question but I could not attract your eye from over here. On the issue of violent media gaining high ratings, it seems to me that we ought to look at the work of people like Wendy Josephson in Canada who points out that it is not necessary violence in violent programs that is what is attracting the viewer, particularly young boys and adolescent boys, but what is attracting young boys and adolescent boys is the issue of power and action. It should be perfectly possible to make attractive programs for viewers which embody those elements, which are really the ones that are attractive--power and action--rather than the actual violence. I think that is a good point for program makers.
Mr LAMING —Just to follow up on that point, working with violent men, a central issue is power and control and how that connects with sexual violence and the use of violence in terms of controlling sexual activity.
Mrs VAN LUYN —I believe that endorphins are the main body change that occurs when one is viewing this material. Endorphins are very similar to morphine, and a lot of people get a chemical buzz from it. I can remember being devoted to Inspector Scott of Scotland Yard on radio in 1939 and I just simply could not miss one session because I became so excited. I was aware very early on that there was some change going on in me, which I tended to act out, and I was probably still in my teens.
This has not really been evaluated so much. There is a point at which it
accumulates and becomes a wider issue and a stronger issue and unless it is
controlled there may be some fallout for humanity itself. We do see some
civilisations rise and fall and disappear suddenly, and we do not know why.
There is a research scientist at the moment looking at the possibility, and
he feels the probability, that our environment passes into our genes and we
respond and hand it on, which is a terrifying thought. At what point are we
going to say, `This is where we stop.'
Mr EBEDES —Civilisations have risen and fallen throughout the years--the Roman Empire, before the Roman Empire and the last few years before Adolf Hitler--and certainly it was a time when the audiovisual medium did not even exist. So much for the effect that it has had.
Civilisations have risen and fallen, as that lady said, and the understanding that I get is that it is possibly because of certain bad elements in it. That may well be the case. Those civilisations did fall long before films, videos and the printed word came into existence. The printing press only became a device in the 1500s.
Mrs VAN LUYN —I think Mr Ebedes did not understand what I was saying.
Mr EBEDES —I was elaborating simply on the question of civilisations.
Dr GRAYCAR —The issue, I think, was the addiction, the way in which people become attracted. Whatever the behaviour, whether it be pre-electronic or current or whatever, it was the feeling that this is something you have got to have.
Mrs VAN LUYN —Yes, you could not miss it.
Mr WOODLEY —My friend over here brought up the Adolf Hitler days. I read a story once where many women met after the Second World War, 1,000 or 2,000 women, and they said at a conference, `Why didn't we, as a civilisation, as people, say something? Why did we let Hitler do what he did to our kids?' In other words, we sat back and did bloody nothing. That is the problem. I agree with you, Sir, the world will go on but we still have a responsibility as people and as parents and as citizens and as a parliament to do something if we see something happening in our society, otherwise you might as well close up and go away as I said before. We have a responsibility, as adults, to do that. If this is causing a problem in our society, and it is agreed it may be, do what you can about it. That is all I am saying to do.
I will probably have to sit down after this and someone else will be sitting here so I might as well say what I want to say. In regard to X-rated films, a lot of them are not violent. A lot of people here probably have not even watched them and they will not know what I am talking about. However, I have watched them to see what is in them. I have watched several of them to see what is in them. When you read some of the transcripts of judges and magistrates and coroners decisions, they identify hundreds of cases where people who have perpetrated violent sexual crimes on women and rape and things like that are addicts to this sort of stuff.
I am saying if you are not worried about rapes in our society, if you
are not worried about your kids and your grandkids, do nothing. But if you
are really worried about it, address the problem. John Dickie knows my
story, I have told him before. We have been old friends from the
battleground for years.
Interjector —Excuse me, he is out of order. This is on violence in video. The X-rated is classified as non-violent.
CHAIR —I am sorry, you are out of order. There is only the participants at the table at this stage.
Mr WOODLEY —I am saying that many of those films are not violent but that they make people violent. Is it out of order to suggest that, or is the inquiry so narrow you cannot address the subject like that? Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Mr EBEDES —I think what the member of the audience was getting at was that the question of X-rated films is not germane to what we are talking about now. In that respect he is not out of order. However, I want to address one point on the question of Adolf Hitler. He was responsible for the greatest book burning purge in the history of the world. Thank you.
Mrs UHLMANN —There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of most right-thinking people that there is a problem. We should address the problem. We could look back to the past and find excuses but that is not where we are. We are in the present. We have a responsibility to the young people and to all the people of Australia to do something about it. There is a loss of standards and values and that is a real concern. We do need to look after people, not to the extent of taking away their rights but of having some responsibility.
If you are so concerned about lung cancer and cigarettes, what about the mind? Isn't that more important and more valuable in its production? We really do have to work together, whatever area we come from, to try to see where the real problems lie, to address them and to do something about them. It is very complex, but with rights must go responsibilities.
Dr GRAYCAR —Can we move onto the next item or move down a couple that takes on from that. What are the problems and are violent language or violent lyrics a problem? We heard from Father Gleeson that lyrics, particularly, were a difficulty. I just wondered whether we could spend a couple of minutes on moving the medium to language and lyrics and the evidence that people might be able to present that deals with those issues.
Father GLEESON —The sorts of things that have been detailed from, say, the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne about violent lyrics include advocating and glamorising the abuse of drugs and alcohol, pictures and lyrics presenting suicide as an alternative or a solution--if I'm not here, my problem's not here--graphic violence, preoccupation with the occult and all sorts of sects which focus on sadism, masochism, et cetera.
I think a good deal of research has been done by a psychiatrist in South
Australia, Dr Graham. I cannot remember his surname. He has done a good
deal of research on not just associating lyrics with violence but on
demonstrating that it is a contributing factor. That is the thing that I
would like to come back to--we can certainly talk about semantic niceties
of good and bad violence, but we have an enormous amount of evidence to
suggest that media violence is a statistically and socially significant
contributing factor to violent behaviour in young people.
Dr GRAYCAR —Again, I think we have a number of issues there--that is, the actual content of the language and the content of the lyrics. The second part of it is the medium through which those lyrics are portrayed. The third part of it are the effects of the content and the medium.
Mr MacDONALD —Just one other aspect of that as well is that the purveyors of this material are also exploitative. They know the messages that the children will pick up, which are not necessarily clear to adults. Many of the music videos contain messages which are clearly designed to be heard by adolescents and to influence their thinking and behaviour. In that sense, they are being exploited. That exploitative attitude of the purveyors of that material is an important issue.
Mr LAMING —I have a comment about language. Working with violent men, almost always language is part of the violence and almost always it is brutalised, brutalising, dehumanising and sexualised. It is sexual terms that are connected with the violent activity. To that extent, the X-rated videos that portray dehumanising of a female, usually, are violent. Women who I work with who are victims of the men who I work with would be horrified to hear that it is not violence. They see it very clearly as violence and connected with all sorts of other forms of violence, and so do their children in the education groups that we are running with them also.
Mrs PHILLIPS —So what you are saying is that it is related to what we are hearing too and even though an X-rated video may not be classified violent, because it shows women being degraded and in a dehumanising situation, that has the effect of violence?
Mr LAMING —Yes.
—I wish to take up Father Gleeson's point about the
audio material. Over the last two years this has come under examination by
the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. Over the last 18 months, ARIA,
the head coordinating body in the music area, has developed a voluntary
code of practice which came into effect in October this year. There are
some aspects of it that I think the attorneys are not happy with, in
particular, what is to be done with grossly offensive material. By and
large, the attorneys have approved this over a 12-month period. It is
self-regulation by the music industry and an attempt to deal with some of
the issues that I think you have raised.
Mr MARSLEW —It is obviously not working because there are several radio stations in Sydney which play certain music. It is not just the lyrics being pumped out that I find offensive--a lot of young people find them offensive as well but the beat is there and the music is there, so the message is getting through--but the fact that the radio station itself supports the music it is playing. The messages coming out from the announcers are anti-social--in support of the use of drugs, alcohol and the degrading of women.
Prof. BAUME —Many of the issues that have been discussed up to now have related more to violence directed outward to the community and to other individuals. One of the issues that we have not really talked about at all, which I believe is obviously relevant--I guess I am slightly biased on this issue--is that of violence directed inward towards the individual themselves. I am talking about the issue of suicide.
There may well be evidence that violence is on the decrease in some areas of our community, but there is also substantial evidence to demonstrate that suicide rates in young people has increased substantially. We now know that the suicide rate in people under the age of 25 has gone up four-fold in the last 32 years. I think that is very significant.
What is more significant in this context is the issue of language and other factors. We have noted that the methods which people are selecting for killing themselves or for engaging in suicidal behaviour are becoming more and more violent. We have also noted that there is now strong scientific evidence across the globe to support the way information is portrayed, whether it is violence on a community or on a person themselves that is directly related to an increase in suicide rates after the viewing of such an event or discussion relating to such an event or the reading of that kind of material. When we talk about lyrics, we know, for example, that country music in the United States has been closely associated with significant rises in suicides in young people who were listening to those lyrics. That extends to rock music as well; we have evidence for that.
One of the issues that should be concerning us here in Australia is that certain violent means are much more difficult to control than others. We know about the issue of firearms. I do not need to relate to this again, because I think it has received widespread reporting.
There is another mode which I am, to some extent, hesitant in putting forward because in reporting those methods, we do know that there is a close association with a rise after you report such an event. I am afraid to say that now, unlike 10 or 15 years ago, the leading cause of death for people who die from suicide is as a result of hanging. This is one which is much more difficult to control.
You may well ask why I am talking about this relationship to language
and what evidence do we have to suggest that there is a relationship
between increasing hanging rates and reporting of such an event in some
form of media. We have noted in the rates in this country that since the
beginning of reporting of deaths in custody, especially the issue that
relates to hanging for Aboriginal people in custody--although a
substantially higher number of people who are non-Aboriginal hang
themselves in gaols--we have noted at the same time an increase in hanging
rates in the general population. Although this is not yet substantiated
scientifically we seem to have evidence in other countries as well that the
beginning of the rise of hanging, which is now the leading cause of suicide
related issues in many western countries, is related to how this issue has
been portrayed either in written language or in songs both in country music
or rock music.
Dr GRAYCAR —We are running out of time. What it highlights is one of the next questions we have and that is what research needs to be done. It seems that we do have the beginnings of a research base to substantiate, to look at the links between your language, suicide effect, harm, transmission and so on and so forth. I am sorry I have had to butt in but we have moved over time. What we have essentially tried to do in this session is to lay out in a fairly fluid way some of the pieces of evidence that are coming to bear. For the rest of the day we will then focus on much more specific issues. There will be a session this afternoon that will deal with the responses and the public policy responses.
I would like people to think very much about the research that needs to be done, both to substantiate what we might guess about and also to demonstrate certain relationships, associations and causes and effects. Thank you very much for the first session.
CHAIR —Thank you, Dr Graycar.
SESSION 2--THE EFFECTIVENESS OF AUSTRALIA'S CENSORSHIP/CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM
CHAIR —Our facilitators for this session are Mr John Dickie, Director of the OFLC, and Professor Julie James Bailey.
Mr Dickie has been the Director of the Office of Film and Literature
Classification since 1988. Prior to his appointment he was an assistant
secretary of the federal Attorney-General's Department. He was made an
associate member of the Australian Broadcasting Authority to assist with
its inquiry into on-line services. Mr Dickie holds legal qualifications and
has also worked as chief law courts reporter for the Age.
Mr DICKIE —Mr Chairman, could I disclaim the legal qualifications? I have enough drawbacks but legal qualifications are not added to them, I must confess. Thank you, senators, ladies and gentlemen. In this session we have a number of points that have been flagged for us to consider. Professor Bailey will come in at different stages during the presentation. We will go through them as they are presented. Please feel free to come in.
The first item that is up for discussion is the question of self-regulation against ordered government regulation. The organisation that I work for, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, is in the business of giving formal classifications to all films that are shown in Australia, all videos, computer games and a great many of the publications. We do not have any control over audio; we do not have any control over television.
To some extent that is the formal classification regime. Television is half-way between. Television has its own code. The ABC and SBS have their own code in their own legislation. They are under the broad supervision of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. But essentially, the television stations are self-regulatory bodies making their own decisions, working to a code that has been approved by the ABA.
The final end of the spectrum is the code which has been brought out by ARIA in the music industry. ARIA told the state Attorneys and the federal Attorney that it would introduce a self-regulatory code to look at some of the issues that have been raised here. That code came into effect in November. If people want any more information on that, they need to get in touch with ARIA itself.
That is the spectrum of the regulation going right across to the self-regulation that we have in Australia. It is somewhat different in countries like the United States. In the United States there is no regulation of media at all except for some overall regulatory effect of the Federal Communications Commission in relation to standards on radio and television. But that is a very broad charter.
Over there the film industry has done its own regulation. It has produced its own film classifications for 20 years without any government interference, although there have been occasional threats at times. I am sure that you would have all noticed that over the last 12 to 18 months there has been a move towards self-regulation of the television industry in the United States. Previously, none of the programs were rated on television in the United States. At a meeting at the White House all of the television stations in the United States agreed that they would introduce their own rating system as a prelude to what is called the V-chip over there. You cannot have the V-chip unless you have got some sort of rating system. The White House said, `You either introduce the system yourself, or we will do it for you.' They are in the process of introducing a rating system themselves. It is being done by the MPDAA at the moment and there is still some controversy about it.
In the United Kingdom the control of videos is done by the British Board
of Film Classification. That is a private organisation taking on some
government regulatory tasks. With films, the companies voluntarily submit
them to the BBSC for classification. That is the general scenario of
regulation and non-regulation in Australia and in two of the countries
where most of our product comes from.
CHAIR —Let me also introduce Professor Julie James Bailey, who will also be facilitating this session. Julie James Bailey is a Professor of film and media at Griffith University and she is a full member of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal from 1983 to 1989 when she had to make a number of decisions about the classification of movies. She has also had a long association with the Australian film, television and radio school and set up its research department in 1975.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —I really do not have a great deal in terms of my own personal submission to this inquiry. It does not fit into this session; it fits into lateral thinking. Having come through the regulatory process for 5 1/2 years and having had to determine classification on appeal from complaints that the viewers have written in, as was the process in the days of the broadcasting tribunal and, indeed, is still today with the broadcasting authority, I came to the conclusion that it is about words and how individuals interpret words. I address many organisations that used to say to me when I was on the ABT, `Why don't you do this? Why don't you stop that?' I would always turn around and say, `You write the rules. You tell me what should be in the standard.'
I challenge everybody to do that because, finally, it is writing down the words which then have to be interpreted. So on the other side of writing down the words you get a whole lot of words that are totally subjective. For example: qualifiable, mild, minimal, incidental, justifiable, acceptable. These are totally subjective words.
Then we come to the other side: who then are the people who are interpreting these words? You will get a room full of people, like we are today, and I am sure we will all have totally different interpretations. That came very clear to me when I was on the ABT. Therefore, I am much more interested in the session which is about lateral thinking and trying to look at other things than classification and censorship.
May I give you just one little anecdote which was one of the things that brought me to this. I cannot remember his name, but you may recall--about 1987 I think it was--there was a public servant in Philadelphia who called a press conference and in his paper bag he had a gun. In front of the press conference he blew his brains out. We--the ABT--had a lot of complaints about the coverage of that story. In fact, in talking to the networks and the heads of news, it actually came down to whether they should have cut when the gun was here or whether the gun was there.
It seems to me that that illustrates very graphically some of the problems for a censor or a classifier--and I think it is interesting that we swap those words around; we have moved to a more liberal environment in talking about classification. I wanted to start that off by showing how very, very difficult this whole area is.
Should we now go through each item?
CHAIR —Yes, like we did last time.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —John, do you want to say anything about the other issues? Do you want to finish your statement?
Mr DICKIE —I think we will go through it. But to take up what you said about writing down the words and trying to get some consensus on what the standards are, we have just been through a very lengthy consultation process to revise the film and video guidelines. In 1994 and 1995 a new classification act went through the parliament and it came into effect on 1 January this year. It had been eight years since we rewrote the film and video guidelines. Because it was necessary to table these in the parliament, we thought that there ought to be a rewrite done to make them more comprehensible not only to people who were using them in the industry but to people generally.
We had a redraft of the guidelines that was approved by the federal, state and territory Attorneys-General. We sent out copies to every parliamentarian in Australia and to all groups who had complained to our organisation for the last couple of years. We advertised saying that the consultation was going on. We appointed Professor Peter Sheahan from the University of Queensland to be an independent assessor of the comments that came in and to fit those into the guidelines as they came in. All of those were collated and it went to the standing committee again. The Senate asked for the documents to be tabled. They were tabled in the Senate. We discussed them with this committee twice. Finally, they were approved by the state, territory and federal Attorneys-General in July.
So, what we have tried to do in terms of the word, as Professor Bailey was saying, is to get as wide a consensus as we could from people all over Australia, to give them the chance to make a contribution and the guidelines have now been approved. There are some copies of them on the table if people would like them. However, that is the closest we can get to a consensus on what people want for the different categories in Australia and that is the basis of our decisions that we make for film and video, computer games and for publications.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
—I would like now to go through these
questions under this discussion topic. John has addressed the first one,
which is self-regulation versus regulation. Do people have something that
they want to say on that particular issue? It seems to me that all these
questions boil down into two major areas, after we have got rid of the
first one, and they are: who does the classification? and, what is the
process by which it is done? All those questions fall into one of those two
areas. The first one is self-regulation versus regulation. Has anybody got
any contribution that they want to make to that specific issue?
Mrs PHILLIPS —Self-regulation is not good enough. You do not have self-regulation in other important industries like the food industry. Where there has been, there has been disaster, like the food poisoning outbreak that we saw in Adelaide a year ago. It is the same in the television industry. They do what is right in their own eyes and it is not necessarily what is good and in the public interest.
Father GLEESON —This is really a question about self-regulation. Is it self-regulation within any structure? Talking from the teaching profession, the self-regulation is in terms of working in collaboration with your mentors or your peers, who are keeping you honest. This is really a question. I am just interested to know whether self-regulation is just regulating oneself per se.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —My understanding is that the ABA and the commercial television stations' FACTS have made submissions to this committee on how they carry out that self-regulatory role. It is not the place here to answer those questions. The point is for this committee to be able to get your submissions in terms of how it has worked, how it is working, whether it has worked since there has been self-regulation, which is since about 1984 when the delegation from the, as it was then, censorship board, went across to the television stations themselves. I do not know if there has been any before and after research. I do not know whether any of you are aware of before and after research in terms of self-regulation of the television stations.
Mr EBEDES —On the question of television broadcasts, whenever I see a film on television, certainly in Western Australia, they give the classification. They do not give an R, they will not broadcast an R, but they give an MA or an M or a G. If it is a movie there is always the censor classification code on it.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —But it could well be modified for television, under their own codes of practice. The Federation of Commercial Television Stations has its own code of practice.
Mr DICKIE —That is not our classification.
Mr EBEDES —It is not your classification?
Mr DICKIE —It may be, but the television stations make all their own classifications.
—As an illustrative example, there was a movie I saw
which was R-rated, I think it was called Roadhouse, with Patrick
Swaze. It was a most enjoyable film but when it came to be shown on
television it simply said M or MA.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Because it was modified for television.
Mr EBEDES —It was heavily modified. I thought they were just simply giving a television variance, I did not know they were working on their own classification. I thought there were two film classifications: one for people who wanted less content and one for people who did not. Certainly, in the states--I used to live in the states--in a situation like that they would not give a classification but they would probably show what they called the MA version, which we saw in Western Australia, and which had quite a lot cut out of it. It disjointed quite a bit of the film.
Be that as it may, in the states there is a notification at the start of the broadcast, sometimes even during the adverts, `modified for television'. So the viewer knows that he is going to see an excised film, it is as simple as that. It is probably going to have a lot less content in it than you would otherwise see if you wanted to see the rest of the content. If, of course, it was shown on cable television, where we are in our infancy, then it is pay per view, which is tantamount to hiring a video and there is no restriction at all. It is usually late at night, 11 or 12 o'clock, and it says `adults only' and so forth. That system they have there is excellent--`modified for television'.
Mrs UHLMANN —I would certainly have to say regulation because, as much as we would like to think we can regulate ourselves, for even the best of us at times, if we are talking about self-discipline, and we can look at athletes or anyone at all, there has to be some regulation and sometimes some outside help so that we make the right choices. We are talking about so many people involved here, including very young people who may not have got to the system of self-regulation. What I think is happening is that we are taking children's childhood away and we expect them to be adults when they are tiny little kids. We are giving them rights and they do not know about responsibilities. I think it is influenced by the second part of that line where it says, can industry be expected to resist high ratings? They cannot resist it because what it is all about really is money. Once you get down to it, it is about money and ratings and business. Unfortunately, if it was unregulated I think it would get totally out of control.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Is there anyone else on this one? I am watching the time.
Mrs VAN LUYN —I think a lot of people here do not realise how much of a plan that self-regulation was. I remember in 1973 the balancing of rights came out, which heralded the beginning of self-regulation. Then Peter Westaway's green report recommended that it be brought in. Then the broadcasting tribunal wrote their own self-regulation report which no-one really knew about because circulation was very narrow. In 1980 the self-regulation bill came into parliament and lapsed. Nevertheless, the tribunal did what was required in the self-regulation report and inquiry after inquiry brought them down to minimum standards as required.
The consumers were not consulted about this. They had no idea about it.
They kept going into the inquiries in the good faith that they would change
something, but nothing changed and things only got worse. That was the
general impression. The actual impression was that the words were changed
to bring the regulations and television standards down to the minimum
requirements. As far as our organisation is concerned, we condemn that and
condemn the Broadcasting Tribunal for agreeing to it and cooperating with
it. This is why we now have a code of practice that is absolutely untenable
and which even has sexual activity appearing in G time. It is the
dismantling of consumer protection.
Ms BIGGINS —I wanted to respond to that and make another comment. The self-regulation and classification of imported films on television was actually brought about by a Federal Court challenge by the television industry itself to the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. It was found by the court that the Broadcasting Tribunal did not have the power to pre-classify films for television or any programs for television. Subsequently the government of the day moved to reinstate or establish clear powers of the Broadcasting Tribunal to classify children's programs, but it was a government decision not to put the powers in the act for the television industry to classify its own films. So we have a situation where we now have individual classifiers in networks virtually working in isolation without all of the checks and balances that are there in the federal system of classification of films, videos and video games. That is a big lack, in my view.
I think an illustration of that can be seen in the problems with self-regulation and the clash with high ratings. There is a graphic example of that when three years ago we had the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, so the story goes, coming home after a hard day in parliament and finding his children watching a violent movie at 8.30. He was so horrified that he insisted that the MA classification be brought in for the more violent M rated movies. The MA classification was brought in both for cinema films and videos and also for television. In the cinema situation it is a modified success because it has legal force and an unaccompanied person under the age of 15 cannot get in to see an MA movie in a cinema.
However, MA movies on television were meant to be shown after nine o'clock. But if you look at the three-year experience since the MA classification came in on television, you could count the number of MA movies practically on the fingers of two hands. That is not because there are not a lot of MA movies around, it is because the movies were then cut by the industry in order to accommodate an 8.30 time slot, because that is where the ratings were. I think that is a very good example of where self-regulation clashes with public interest.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
—I would really like to move on, unless
somebody has a burning additional point to make.
Mrs GRANT —When we write to the television stations they say, `Sorry, we want you to ring in at the time it is being shown.' When you ring in at the time it is being shown, they say, `You're the only one who has complained, and you've already seen it, it's already been out anyway.' That is a comment we have had consistently over the last three or four years.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Thank you. That sort of information is very helpful and useful. If we could move on now--
Mr EBEDES —Every movie I see has frequent violence, nudity, sexually--
CHAIR —We are moving on.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —If we could move on now to the next question, which is really about who the classifiers are and what is their responsibility to the community. Have people got any points they want to raise about that and the question I have seen in some of the submissions about desensitisation, if people are in that position for too long.
Mr FLEW —I have just two observations. One is that I think there is some difficulty in these discussions that we do not have representatives of the relevant industries involved. By that I do not mean simply the television networks, but also those involved in the production of programs, representatives of the MEAA and so forth, because I think that would be an important perspective to get.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Can I just interrupt you there, because I think we have all got to remember that this is you giving information.
CHAIR —Could I make the comment that people here are the ones who have put submissions in to the Prime Minister's committee on violence and you are all the key people who came out of that. That is the way the seminar is structured.
Mr FLEW —Granted. It was not a criticism so much as an observation.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —But I think it is important that you are giving information here, not trying to find out information from other people around the room.
—My second point would be that I think there is probably
significant evidence of a slippage in the area of films appearing on
television. It seems to me that there are fewer problems posed by material
produced for television in terms of its content than material that is
produced initially for the cinema and the question of how it is modified to
appear on television. One anecdotal instance is about a movie that appeared
on television last week, the film True Romance, which I have seen at
the movies and on video, and quite liked, but would readily concede it is a
very violent movie. I was very surprised to see that appearing at 8.30 last
Friday night. I would have thought it would have been a clear case of an MA
movie that I am surprised to see appearing before 9.30.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Has anybody got anything that they want to address in terms of the actual classifiers and the censors?
Mrs VAN LUYN —I had been told that there was a classifiers' set of guidelines and that the Film Censorship Board does not classify using the guidelines in the green book but uses the classifiers' guidelines. I was told that that was not possible because it did not exist, but the Family Association sent an FOI request and obtained some papers which show that there are a lot of things that we do not know and are not aware of. One of the things that is said in here in regard to the El Tras Kristal paperwork is that child sexual abuse and torture is a distasteful issue but does not, of itself, warrant refusal. I find that so offensive, to think that for 12 years now we have had pictorial depictions of child pornography refused, according to the Film Censorship Board's classification guidelines. The public does not know that implicit child pornography is allowed and that textual child pornography has been legally available for 12 years. I think this issue has been now promoted to the point where child sexual abuse is widespread. It is time to say, `No implicit, no explicit, no type at all,' and if it is going to be talked about, it will just simply be verbal discussions on it and not depictions at all.
Mr MacDONALD —Our interests are particularly towards the welfare of children, so I keep trying to come back to that. They are the most defenceless in this situation. The comment I was going to make was that I have the greatest sympathy for those who classify films and videos and so on, because I think it is extremely difficult. I do not know what community standards are; I do not know how they do either. It is difficult.
There is also a danger that the people who have the welfare of children most at heart--I suppose that would be parents and teachers--are not parties to the classification of the material in a sense. They are part of the community that the OFLC represents, but we are not in a sense involved. What I was going to suggest is that there should be--perhaps John Dickie would like to comment on this--both for the OFLC and for monitoring bodies, a suitable panel of people who represent the interests of parents and teachers, who can be brought in as a panel appearing now and again so that they are not desensitised to seeing a lot of violent material, if that is a problem, and who would bring a notion of children's welfare to the business of actually saying whether a film does in fact adequately reflect community concerns. Maybe we ought to look at the possibility of such a panel. There would be lots of volunteers, I guess, but they would need to be people who are responsible.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
Mrs GRANT —We said there should be a pro forma for the community. People will not write letters but, if there is a simple pro forma that the community could send and it had some response rather than just being put in the pile, people would do so then and you would get a better feeling of what people want.
Ms BIGGINS —If I could respond to the last two comments and put on another hat as the chair of the Commonwealth Classification Review Board. I have listened very carefully to the comments that were made since the ministerial inquiry came out about concerns about whether both the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board are representative of the heartland of Australia, so to speak. I can certainly say, from my experience in the last couple of years, that both the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board have a very broad representation. If anyone is concerned about the welfare of children, it is me. I have been out there battling for kids for 22 years. I think to have representation on the Classification Review Board is a really good thing. The Classification Board has about 12 members drawn from all walks of life. The Classification Review Board has six people on it drawn from a wide variety of occupations.
It seems to me that what the community needs from the classifications system--I can only talk about films and video--is consistency. A classification system is there to give good, reliable consumer advice and you do not want people who are just going to come in and give a gut reaction and one day their gut feels good so they are going to give it an M and one day their gut feels bad so they are going to give it an R. What you need is people who are capable of working to a set of criteria--and they are clearly laid out and available to everybody--who will hold benchmarks in their minds and keep to classifications: so a G is a G and a PG is a PG. It seems to me that what we want from the system is people who are able to apply their minds to the criteria, be aware of community standards and be consistent.
Mr MacDONALD —There is a PS, by the way, to what I just said and that is that this committee has recommended twice, in 1993 and 1996, that a panel such as I was suggesting should be set up. Presumably, we are awaiting some sort of government response to that.
Mr WOODLEY —I want to take a different track here. Let me start by saying that I admit it is difficult. John Dickie and I were arguing this for a long time. I must say that I respect the fact that it is difficult. It is a difficult area yet I must say that we do need classifications for guidance for people and for parents. What I really believe is a key to solving some of our problems today is a recognition from the government and the people of this country--maybe from you professional people--that some of the problems caused in our society come from electronic media and the type of subject we are talking about today.
It is like the cigarette things: we talked about it for decades until eventually someone in the government made the decision that it is bad for health and they finally put a message on the cigarette pack, for Pete's sake, after talking about it for 50 years. Can't we do that with this as well? Can't the government and the authorities recognise that it is harmful for kids and tell the public. For Pete's sake, let's be bold enough and have the guts for the government to actually say that, so parents will then believe that it is harmful.
The problem in Australia today is that parents debate this time and time
again, and communities do: is it harmful or isn't it? And one neighbour
against whatever. Parents let their kids watch it. They do not know because
they are confused. No-one has the guts to say it. But you know it is and
everyone knows it is. For Pete's sake, why don't we tell the community. It
is like coding the thing; at least people will know and recognise it. They
will talk about it in schools. People will accept the fact that, if kids
watch too much of this stuff, it will affect them long term. Can't we tell
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Thank you. We will move on as this is bordering on the next question which is: can viewers ever be given too much consumer advice information? Would a system of stars for wholesomeness be a beneficial addition to the current system? That presumably has come out of somebody's submission.
Mrs GRANT —Can I come back briefly. The current systems are not understood by the general public. The current PA, G or MA means nothing. In most newspapers you have five stars for an excellent film. Can't we have five Vs for a very violent film and five stars for a pornographic film and ratings that way. People would understand that so simply. It should be required to be shown at various intervals through the film with the ads and so forth, then if people come in and switch on they would know what they were watching. You do not know until you have seen things.
Mrs PHILLIPS —With some adolescents it would have a counterproductive effect because they would go for movies with those five pornographic and violence stars every time.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Does anybody have another comment?
Mr GRANT —In regard to that heartland debate and Senator Alston's comment that there should be greater representation of the heartland on the classification board and that their terms of appointment should be shorter, I think that is a misguided approach for a number of reasons which I will quickly outline.
Firstly, the high turnover can actually decrease widespread participation because it discourages people living outside Sydney to relocate to Sydney for a period of two or three years, which is a very short period of time. Secondly, it works against that consistency of decision making, not just within the individual, but within the sense of a body of precedent that has been collected over time.
Secondly, in terms of greater community representation, implicit in Senator Alston's comment was the suggestion that the board was a bit too top heavy with people with academic qualifications and other sociological type experience. I do not think that is a fair criticism. It involves the misguided notion that academic qualifications constitute some sort of impediment to the process of understanding the effect of violence on society or the process of classification itself.
Thirdly, it implies that the role of a classification board member in classifying a film involves no more than a subjective response to the film itself whereas, in actual fact, they are required to take into account things like community standards and a reasonable person's response to the film, which involves notions of public opinion and other things.
For those reasons, I think Senator Alston's call for shorter terms of
appointment and for greater community representation are misguided.
Mr EBEDES —I understood that we were deciding who does the classification and who is the decider. The point I was trying to make earlier in response to your question is that every time I watch a movie on television, certainly in Western Australia--and I do not know if it is like this in the rest of the country--it states quite clearly that it contains violence, partial violence, nudity or coarse language. You are told before the film starts what the content is and you are told in between the advertisements so you know exactly what you are going to be seeing.
If you do not want your children to see it you are warned many times before the show and during the show, so you can turn it off. Certainly, whoever is classifying it is telling everybody and they are telling them in very simple English. I do not think you could do better than that.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —We seem to have moved now to the next question which is the classification system and whether it can be improved.
Mr MALONE —Could I say something?
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Yes, but I am very concerned about time. Please do not double up on what people have said if you can possibly do so, but certainly go ahead.
Mr MALONE —I wanted to support the classifications and the consumer information up till now, as it is modified, and I found in reviews and in giving information with reviews that the classifications have been very helpful, except for this year when on-line the key elements of frequency or infrequency of sexual or violent material intensity has not been available, but I hope it will be now.
As regards consumer information and whether there is enough, I do not think there is enough. The example just given for television seems to be merely an alert that there is violence in this, but it might be Pistol for Ringo or it might be Sophie's Choice. So that kind of information, it seems to me, is minimalist. It is just an alert and I do not feel it is information. There must be other ways of helping people to know that this is Sophie's Choice, it is well worth watching or this is a western and it may well not be worth watching.
The other thing I would like to say about parents, and while I am
interested to hear that a lot of parents do discuss things, one of the
things in my life that I have made available for years are seminars
particularly on this material. I am always surprised--whether it is
Catholic parents, I do not know--but they tend not to come. They will even
enrol, they will say they want to find out about this, and whatever the
reasons are they do not come. There is another problem there, it seems to
me, with a lot of parents who say that they are interested and concerned
but do not actually do any follow up.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Anybody got any other points on the classification system? Can it be improved?
Mrs UHLMANN —Just listening, I think that one of the things that we neglect is education of people. We expect them to make all of these decisions and have input and go on boards and so on and bring people in from the heartland, but there is a real danger, I would say, if they have not had some education. Do the people who go on to those boards ever have any education together, or do they come from their busy offices and their busy points of view to bring their own individual opinions to these decisions? I would think there are those two areas that perhaps need to be looked at.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Any other points on this issue?
Mr DICKIE —Could I just respond to that? Over the last six or seven years we have had two very large information campaigns in conjunction with industry to try to make people aware of the classification categories, and also what is likely to be contained in the category. We had Bill Collins doing one that appeared on every video for a period of six months or something like that, and in selected theatres all around Australia.
In the last couple of years we commissioned a teacher's kit that went out to every secondary school in Australia which had different clips from different films, teachers' sheets that could be used, and that went out to every high school in Australia. I am not quite sure how successful that was. We had reports that some of the teachers got it and put it into the media library and it never saw the light of day. Others wrote back and said it was very helpful. But, I agree with you, the education part of it is enormously important.
Mrs UHLMANN —It seems to me what we should use is what they are sitting there watching, the television, for hours at a time. There could be sections put in to educate them briefly. I think it has to have punchlines, it has to be short and quick and sweet, even something to parents, `Are you really taking your responsibility?' because one of the groups here we are leaving out as censors and classifiers all the time are parents. Very often parents do fall down, even good parents, on their role, possibly because they are not aware. We have got to look at society as a whole, they are all so busy, there is so much anxiety, there is so much stress and they cannot fit it in. But if you flash it on the television--you do it with other things, why not that?
Another area that is ignored here is advertising. I am appalled at what
is allowed on the television in terms of advertising and I like to think of
myself as a person who can accept a whole lot of different points of view,
but I was appalled the other night enjoying quite a good movie and a
terrible bit of advertising, which would have been X-rated, came on to my
screen. I do not wish to take any more of your time but I think
education--use what you have got, the Internet, what the children are
watching, and the parents to teach them.
Mrs GRANT —If it is simple you do not have to educate so much. If it is going into libraries and so forth there is a big problem. If you did a follow-up to find out how people understand the rating system and the classification system you would find that a lot of them do not understand. There needs to be something that the migrant population, all sort of people with language problems and so forth--parents in particular--can recognise easily and frequently during a film. It is not enough just to put it at the beginning. Usually the violence is over and the children are starting to get excited and so forth before parents realise. Mothers now are working, they are busy and they do not have time to supervise like they used to. We have to recognise that.
Ms BIGGINS —Just a comment about the issue of whether the classification system can be improved and whether the current benchmarks are the most appropriate. It seems to me, again just harking back to the heartland debate that it was as if people thought that the people who are determining the classifications are the classifiers, but they do not have the freedom to bring their own opinions, they are working with a set of criteria or benchmarks. In the relation to films and videos, they are being set by the Committee of Attorneys-General. It seems to me that if Senator Alston is really concerned about classification he should be turning the heat on the attorneys-general who are setting the criteria for films and videos and he should be turning the heat on the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations who are setting the criteria for television.
Anybody here who has been concerned about the issue of classification should have put a submission in to the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations' three-year review of its criteria because that is the key, to a large degree, to classifications on television.
—We have put in submissions year after year but I
get the impression that no notice is taken, and I ask other people, some of
whom are here today, and they have the same feeling. It is as if our
community input gets very little weight in the final decision and it is the
industry's opinion which carries most weight. This is the most concerning
Prof. BAUME —In terms of education for parents or key individuals, we all appreciate that parents do not always have the amount of time that they would need in order to review the type of information that their children are exposed to. I think that there is a responsibility for us to guide at least those who produce TV guides and the like to actually provide more information about the ratings. We have a very minimal amount of information about that.
We talk about busy mothers and fathers and so forth and often they do not necessarily know what it is exactly that their children are watching and the meaning, especially when it is one show after the next. I feel that more explanatory notes that are simple but quite clear about the level of violence is required.
We heard from Barbara Biggins before about the issue in terms of the meaning for those who may have a difficulty with the language itself. Professor Bailey talked about the meaning of language and words and that it has a meaning which differs from one person to the next. For example, when you say `medium' level of violence, what does it mean? When you go to a restaurant and you order a medium to rare steak, every time you get one it is different.
That is very significant because when you look at medium levels of sex or violence in a particular movie, what does it mean? There are ratings that we could consider, like from one to 10, or we can have a star rating. Everybody knows what a four-star movie is, it means that it is pretty good and one star is pretty bad. That is a uniform international language. We need to consider those issues and simplifying things so that it is more powerful and people are more likely to register what it means. Also, the source of where they are going to get that material, such as TV guides and newspapers and so forth, is important. They may be able to provide additional information, even if it is not a large amount, that gives guidance to parents that is more specific.
Mr EBEDES —May I just add to what Mrs Grant mentioned. She mentioned seeing a certain show and then there is the X-rated advertising. Sorry, was it you? Well, I would not call it X-rated but the advertisers have found a sure-fire way with very little complaint about getting their products across and that is they show a lot of male nudity. Nobody says a word about that. There are currently four adverts that I see on television comprising male nudity. God help anybody if it was the other way around!
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Thank you. Could we move now to the international comparisons? Has anybody got any submission they want to make on that?
—My work involves me in the countries of the
Pacific for our international Catholic film organisation and we rely very
much on the Australian classifications because, virtually, there are none
in those Pacific countries. Working with people in Fiji and Tonga, they are
grappling for something because it is all coming too fast, too soon. I
would like to commend the Australian classifications and any further
clarification would be most welcome. There is a great need in our Pacific
neighbours for some kind of material.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Was there a submission that you wanted to make on this submission, Ms Ballard?
Ms BALLARD —I am here from New Zealand, from the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Our system is a little bit different from yours and I do not know that it would be that helpful for me to go into it but I would certainly be happy to talk to anyone informally later if they wanted to know more.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Can disabling devices work?
Mrs GRANT —No, children will get around them.
Mrs PHILLIPS —Only the good families will use them, and families that really need them will not have them.
Mrs UHLMANN —It seems to be a real indictment on our society that we need them. We are missing out somewhere if we have to use them; but perhaps we do need them.
Mr GRANT —A problem with the V-chip is getting back to the question of how we define violence. At the moment, it is regarded as explicit physical acts of one person against another. A gentleman present today suggested that his idea of violence was more a concept of brutality, and we could extend that even more broadly to mean any kind of antisocial act. After all, what we are concerned about is antisocial outcomes: not only violence in society but also general antisocial outcomes. The problem is that, if you actually classified any program appearing between 6 p.m. and midnight, you would be likely to see the majority of programs having some sort of antisocial behaviour in them. Even when you excise the so-called violent sections of action movies, you still have that undercurrent of antisocial behaviour running through them.
I feel that, if we were to adopt the V-chip as a system, we would come
up with a very problematic notion of violence, which may well go no way
toward addressing the problem that we are concerned about. In fact, the
V-chip has been adopted this year in the United States, and a recent study
has come out which has adopted the broader process of classifying violence
as antisocial behaviour. The findings of that survey suggested that there
were equal amounts of antisocial or violent acts throughout the whole
spectrum of the time zone, and you could not say violent acts were confined
to after 9 p.m. or 9.30 p.m. There was a fairly equal distribution
throughout that period, which correlated with a fairly equal distribution
of children of all ages watching those programs at those times. V-chip
technology is highly problematic, for those reasons.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —John, would you like to wind up this session?
Mr DICKIE —Could I just respond to a couple of remarks that people have made? Mrs Van Luyn, could I just dispel any apprehensions you may have about what we do with films involving child sexual abuse? What you read out was in the context of a film which we had already refused classification to. There are films which can deal with the subject of child sexual abuse, in order to highlight the harm it causes, and things like that. We would not be in the process of banning films like that. All I am saying to you is that, if there are films which actually feature child sexual abuse and child pornography, they are automatically refused classification.
Mrs VAN LUYN —That is only if they are explicit depictions.
Mr DICKIE —Yes, certainly: explicit depictions. Mrs Phillips, you mentioned about putting in submissions and people not looking at them. We tried to address that matter this time with the guidelines by appointing Professor Sheahan, so that to some extent we stood apart from the submissions that came in and we said to Professor Sheahan, `You have a look at these and incorporate what ought to be in the final guidelines' in order to dispel the notion that nobody was listening.
Mrs PHILLIPS —But was the final version his version, or was it then subsequently written by somebody else?
Mr DICKIE —No. The version he gave to us was the version that went to the officials at the standing committee. All of the suggestions that he made were incorporated in the final guidelines.
Senator TIERNEY —I would like to especially thank Mr John Dickie and Professor Julie James Bailey for being facilitators for this session. After morning tea we will have session 3, with two topics to be discussed consecutively: the protection of children, and news and current affairs programs. That will take us through till lunchtime.
CHAIR —Before we start our third session on the protection of children in news and current affairs programs, we have been joined by the Minister for Communications and the Arts, the Hon. Richard Alston. Richard has taken a great interest in this area, I have had many discussions with him on this and he is following the proceedings of this seminar with great interest. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here today, Richard.
Senator ALSTON —Thank you very much, John. It is very kind of you to invite me to say a few words. We do regard this as a very important event. As you are aware, following the Port Arthur massacre we established the ministerial committee to inquire into the portrayal of violence in the electronic media. Because of the enormous community concern and grief we took the view that we had to respond in a fairly short time frame. As a result, we did report to the Prime Minister within a period of six weeks and we announced our decisions on 9 July. They have covered a range of areas.
The basic point we would make is that there is no single solution--I am sure many people are saying that here today--and therefore the issue has to be addressed at a number of levels. We are doing that at the moment. There are various ministers involved. My department, for example, together with Industry, Science and Tourism is looking at the implications of V-chip technology and the impact on providers of new hardware. But we are confident that that particular initiative will be properly in place in the not too distant future.
The Minister for Health and Family Services had a separate brief, in some respects, to look at groups at risk from the portrayal of violence. He has reported on that and there is still plenty of follow-up work to be done. The Attorney-General, through the Office of Film and Literature Classification in cooperation with state and territory censorship ministers, is looking at matters such as the removal of high level violence from the R classification. The Australian Visual Software Distributors Association, the Australian Video Retailers Association and the government are developing codes of practice for those industries. FACTS--the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations--is already in the process of implementing a decision, through a review of its code of practice, to put back to 9.30 the broadcast of films classified MA on account of a higher level of violence than would normally be permitted.
All in all, the government is currently addressing a range of issues. But we thought it was very important that we did not just let some of the very good submissions languish and that people have every opportunity to explore the implications of some of the existing issues and perhaps others. That is why John Tierney in particular and the committee in general are to be congratulated for convening a seminar. It has obviously attracted a very high quality of interest. Certainly I know Margaret Reynolds and others in the parliament have a deep and abiding concern about these issues.
Therefore, I think you will find that when the committee reports back there will be a great deal of interest in seeing what more can be done in this area. We understand that there are no quick solutions and experts will always differ, genuinely. I suppose that is the way it will always be but, against that background, I think the government is certainly wanting the best advice it can get, and I am sure that most of that is assembled here today. I wish you well in your efforts. I congratulate all of those who have made today's exercise possible.
SESSION 3--(a) THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN b) NEWS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMS
CHAIR —Thank you, Minister. Session 3 is in two parts--the protection of children and news and current affairs programs. I am calling on Ms Barbara Biggins, the Director of Young Media Australia, to facilitate the first topic. Following that, Professor Pierre Baume, of the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University, will be the facilitator in the second hour. Barbara, who is covering the protection of children, news and current affairs programs, has been a member of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's advisory body on children's programming and is a convenor of the Classifications Review Board as well as being a director of Young Media Australia.
Ms BIGGINS —Young Media Australia, for those of you who do not know, is a national advocacy group. It has been advocating children's needs in relation to the media for many years--actually, we have just had our 40th birthday. Sometimes people who are associated with advocacy groups are seen as tub thumpers with no real credentials in the area. I want to spend a minute or two establishing my credentials to set the scene for this debate.
My standpoint is that of a person who, for 20 years, has read very widely and closely in the field of the social impact of the media on children and young people. I am professionally qualified as a librarian, with a background science degree in statistics. I have managed South Australia's community child health library for 15 years. As a result, I have daily access to the literature of child and adolescent health and development. I regularly search the health and social science literature for references related to the issue of media violence and young people. This reading has informed my ongoing role as a community advocate for children's needs in relation to the media.
In 1989 I spent 12 weeks on a Churchill fellowship study tour of academic research and production centres related to children and television in the United States and Canada. A particular topic of interest to me was the state of research into television violence. This study tour of 14 such centres in North America created an ongoing information network for Young Media Australia in the field of media impact and children. In addition, I have been informed by the ongoing contact made by the community and parents, in particular, with Young Media Australia. Those parents give us their observations and concerns regularly about media violence and children.
As a result of those involvements, I have considerable concern about the serious long-term socialising effects of media violence on children and young people. I believe the issue of children's protection from media violence is not being given due regard. The debate often seems dominated, certainly in the media, by discussion about the media's effects on disturbed adults, and the havoc that a few can wreak on the many when they commit mayhem. I fully share the community's abhorrence at such events but believe that we must be as concerned about the ongoing socialisation of children by the daily parade of attractive, applauded and rewarded violence performed by television, videos, cinema and video game heroes.
I believe that, if we are to protect children effectively from the effects of an ongoing diet of media violence, we need a four-fold strategy. This must include appropriate regulation, relevant and effective parent education programs, age appropriate media education in schools and increasing a sense of responsibility in the media industry for their creations and their impact.
At the outset of this discussion I think we must primarily acknowledge that parents' rights to be able to protect their children from media violence is at least as important as adults' freedom to read, see and hear what they wish. We must acknowledge that the government needs to support parents in this important aspect of parenting.
There is a myth around that we do not know much about the impact of media violence, but I believe that current research is informing us quite well about the most problematic forms of media violence and about the most vulnerable ages and stages of childhood and adolescence. This information needs to be communicated to those who need it most: parents and care givers. It also ought to be informing our regulatory processes.
We have a classification and a time zone system for television and we have a classification system for films, videos and video games. Those systems need to be reflecting what current research is telling us about vulnerable ages and stages and of problematic material. The present emphasis, I see, seems to be on keeping children, youth and disturbed adults away from the extreme splatter forms of violence.
Rightly, we should protect children from the anxieties created by viewing mutilation movies--and I refer you to Glenn Cupit's work Kids and the scary world of the video in this regard. But we must also take seriously the evidence that other forms of violence that do not cause anxiety and which may even be laughed at can contribute to the three generally accepted risks to children from a diet of media violence.
Those three well-supported risks are that children who have heavy exposure to media violence are more likely to show increased aggression, develop increased callousness towards the use of violence by others, and develop a mean and scary view of the world--that is, they are fearful about the world they are growing up in. Those most likely to be affected are going to be boys, the alienated, and those already living in violent homes who are then surrounded by violence--real-life violence supported by violence approved in the media.
The national television violence study published by Media Scope--which was referred to earlier by John Dickie--has documented very well the types of content and context that increases those three risks to children. The risk of increased aggression is promoted by contexts that show justified violence performed by an attractive perpetrator with weapons, with few realistic outcomes and especially when it is combined with humour. The risk of desensitisation is increased by graphic violence in a humorous context. Fear is increased by unjustified violence performed on attractive targets with a lack of punishment. I guess the news is an example of the latter.
The Home Alone movies, often viewed as great viewing for kids, provide a good example of the former material which is likely to increase desensitisation and the increased use of aggression. There is a young boy hero with whom young boys can identify. He is resourceful, he is smart, he is everything a young boy would want to be--he has got a lot of power. He is very good at the violence and he is rewarded for it. His violence has few real-life consequences and it is all performed in a humorous context. That movie was given a PG in Australia.
If we take account of the research findings recently, we would be looking again at the whole classification of movies like that if we are serious about protecting children from the socialisation effects of violence. Barbara Wilson, operating out of the University of California at Santa Barbara, has documented very well age related differences in reactions to material such as horror, violence and sex.
She is putting forward the view that that data, well established from the research, ought to be used to review our classification systems and to be used for parent information to guide constructive action. In this context I would really like to refer you to Wendy Josephson's work out of Canada called Television violence: a review of the effects on children of different ages. It is a most excellent and very comprehensive review and one of the few that I have seen that actually takes seriously the fact that different forms of television violence content have different effects on different kids at different ages and stages. It is not always the younger children who are more affected than the older children.
Our classification systems, as I have said, presently reflect a proper concern to minimise children's and young people's exposure to extreme forms of violence, but they are not adequately reflecting concerns about the socialising effects of violent heroes on the young. In particular, the continued classification by television stations of movies which feature violent, approved, justified heroes whose violent actions do not result in real life consequences as M and showing them at 8.30 is a real problem. Cutting the worst bits of blood and gore from a movie whose theme embodies attractive violence is not any sort of a solution.
Further, the continued classification as G of violent cartoons featuring violent heroes with whom young boys identify is placing the under-eight-year-old population at risk. Even when young children reach the age when they can tell a cartoon is not real, and even though they may laugh at them, they take away inferences for the success of using violence in real life. Toy based cartoons are a particular problem. Those that promote violent toys show children how to play with them and the message of violence is reinforced.
That is the end of my tub-thumping. We will turn it over to discussion.
Our first question is: how should we balance the twin principles underlying
Australia's censorship system? Should the protection of children override
an adult's rights to read, hear and see what they wish? I guess, just to
open up the discussion, I would like to say this question is couched in the
terms of an adult's right to see, hear and read what they wish. Is it a
right, or should it just say freedom? Then should we be discussing the fact
that my freedom to swing my fist ends where this gentleman's nose begins,
and probably where my child's nose begins? Over to you.
Mrs PHILLIPS —What about a child like Martin Bryant?
Ms BIGGINS —What about him?
Mrs PHILLIPS —Are they not affected too? Can we say that adulthood automatically means you can handle this kind of stuff?
Ms BIGGINS —I think the evidence is that it does not imply that.
Mrs PHILLIPS —Can we get a copy of what you just read out to us?
Ms BIGGINS —Yes.
Mr EBEDES —You have taken one horrible massacre and taken it completely out of context and used it for the rest of the country.
Ms BIGGINS —I beg your pardon but I was not referring to Martin Bryant in my paper at all.
Mr EBEDES —I was answering that.
Ms BIGGINS —I do not think that was the point I was making. I am saying that the media emphasis has been on the Martin Bryant instance. Martin Bryant may well have been, who knows, a disturbed child whose behaviours and alienation could have been increased by watching a diet of video violence. I am not saying anything about that. My great concern is that we are ignoring the body of evidence that talks about the socialisation effect on the whole of the child population.
Mr EBEDES —My apologies on that. I actually should have addressed it to the reply there.
—First of all, can I compliment you on your statement.
As a co-tub-thumper, which I have not heard before, it is of great concern
to us that we feed our children a diet of violence and then ask them to
spew flowers. It does not work. In the work that we have been doing with
children through the schools, one of the issues and one of the major
programs that is causing concern to older young children from their younger
brothers and sisters is a thing called Morphin Power Rangers. It is
turning young girls into violent very junior youngsters as well as the
young boys. It is of major concern to older children that the young ones
are picking up on what is happening there and using them as role models. If
I might say to you, sir, thank goodness we all have different opinions.
Mr EBEDES —I would agree with that.
Mrs VAN LUYN —I believe that the excessive interpretation of civil rights that has been used in Australia but has not been used in quite a few countries--we are only surpassed, I think, by the Netherlands--has led to some very absurd situations. The one I want to mention to you as an absolute absurdity is not one which is associated with television: it is the way in which all laws--state and federal--have been turned over to accommodate civil rights.
In Western Australia, we have had for about 10 years a situation where, if an ambulance was called to a person who had taken an overdose, the officers were not allowed to touch him if he refused to go. He is sitting there very comfortably, fading away and enjoying it. For the first time in his life, probably, he is comfortable. The police have to go and fill in forms and get a JP in the middle of the night, while this man is slowing drifting off. The ambulance is sitting outside for two or three hours until someone has signed a form to say that the person is not in possession of his right mind and the ambulance people can take him. He dies on the way to the hospital.
That has been, in Western Australia at least, one of the major causes of the suicide rate escalating. The minister for health reversed that a few weeks ago, and out came all the civil rights people saying that such a patient has the right to decide for himself if he is going to die or not. This sort of remark, `Go away and leave me alone,' occurs with all types of head injuries, as well as encephalitis and meningitis. It is one of the actual symptoms. In point of fact, the people who are turning the civil rights legislation over to this absurd level are not people who actually have medical knowledge. That has probably occurred with quite a lot of different laws, and I think that, more than anything, it has occurred as an overzealous interpretation of people's rights to have, see and get what they want, regardless of whom it damages.
Ms BIGGINS —I guess, in the context of this first question, we need to be canvassing issues like the freedom of adults to see, hear and read what they want to. In other words, they ought to be free to get an R-rated video from their corner video store. What if I am a parent who now finds I cannot keep my children away from R-rated videos? Whose interests are going to win?
—As a teacher, I would just like to place on record,
for what it is worth, that this is the fundamental issue of this debate:
the question of adults' rights to see, hear and read what they wish against
a fundamental responsibility of society to protect children. That is the
fundamental issue. I would also like, as a teacher, to say that the
protection of children is the fundamental responsibility of every adult,
and that rights carry responsibilities. Therefore, adults' rights or power
to see, hear or whatever, must be overridden by the fact that children need
to be protected. I believe that, in practice, both rights can be preserved.
It is possible to say that adults can see and hear what they wish, as long
as children are protected--by whatever means in our power--with regard to
the material that comes to them in homes, through videos and computers and
so on. I would just like to make clear that we should be here defending our
Mrs CASLEY-SMITH —No person is an island, and what they see, hear and read affects their family and affects society in general in the long run. Even people who say that there should be no forms of censorship draw the line somewhere. There is a line they will draw and say, `We should not go below that,' so that is a form of censorship that that person has. Perhaps we should set a line somewhere for the common good. That is what law is about: to make laws for the common good of the people. As the gentleman said, that will also protect the children.
Ms BIGGINS —What if we put in place a law that looks as though it protects children but is really just a bit of window-dressing?
Mrs CASLEY-SMITH —It is a bad law--the law is an ass.
Ms BIGGINS —I put to you that perhaps it is a bad law that there can be R-rated videos in home video shops. Even though we have got enforcement legislation in every state that says you cannot hire R-rated videos to under-18-year-olds, why is it that in a survey of 10- and 11-year-olds carried out in South Australia some 30 per cent of them had seen R-rated videos and could describe scenes from them quite vividly? It would appear that the law was not protecting. What is the solution? Do we go on ignoring that children are not protected? If we said, `You can't have R-rated videos in video stores', what do you think the outcome would be?
Mrs PHILLIPS —I would support such a law and a lot of other people would, too. I do not think R-rated videos have any place in homes, because children always have access in homes one way or another.
Mr GRANT —Outlawing R-rated films from video stores effectively means you are outlawing them from society generally.
Ms BIGGINS —You can see R-rated films in cinemas. Is that not a way of balancing an adult freedom? Adults can pay their money and go to a cinema; it is just that you cannot see them in your own home because that means kids will get them.
—It is possible, but I am just making that point.
Ms BIGGINS —It is a very real issue of balancing rights.
Mr GRANT —I would also quickly like to make a point about the context in which we are using rights. I think there has been some misunderstanding as to what our rights are. You suggested--I am sorry, I cannot quite see what your name is--that we have some sorts of rights that are paralleled only by the Netherlands, or whatever.
The use of the word `rights' within the Classification Act is somewhat misleading. It is not a constitutional protection in the manner that the amendments to the US constitution are, which can basically override any statute law if they are inconsistent with those rights. So, in that sense, we do not have a right to see and hear what we want. It is just one of the factors that are taken into account when determining whether our society--adults, or whoever--can see those sorts of things.
So we do not actually have a right in that sense, which is evidenced by the classification system. There are some things which are refused classification, there are others which are X-rated, R-rated and so forth. That right as such does not exist in Australia.
The second point I want to make, which is really in the manner of an introductory remark, is that, when we look at the clash between the so-called right of adults to see and hear what they want and the protection of children, the focus of much of this is on television because of the nature of the television medium itself--the difficulty of enforcing classification systems. It is much easier to do so in film studios, where you can basically bar entry.
But the scarcity of spectrum--the fact that everyone watches the box, you have to squeeze something in and everyone lives in each other's pockets from a viewing perspective--means that by and large, although not exclusively, when we are talking about these competing interests we are really looking at the television form of electronic entertainment. I would add the note of caution that, if we come to conclusions flowing from that, we should not uncritically go and thereby apply them to other forms of electronic entertainment. In this regard I am thinking particularly of film.
Mr EBEDES —I would agree with Mr Harry MacDonald on his statement that we can have it both ways. We do not live in a perfect world. You can walk across the street and get run over by a car. There are certain people who may let their children have access to R-rated videos. Unfortunately, that is life. Certain children in the low socioeconomic groups see their parents copulating as well.
We do not live in a perfect world. I do not see how our rights as adults should have to completely be usurped in the name of children. By all means keep children out of R-rated films--as is the law right now, as is the case now. It is criminal prosecution for hiring a film to a child. Perhaps step up the penalties. But let us not go to the extremes and say an adult cannot go and hire an R-rated film.
It is a point that I wrote about in an article not long ago in the West Australian. First was X. We stopped that. Then the same people who
said, `Stop X,' said, `Stop R.' Now the same people who want R stopped will
want MA stopped next. Where does it stop? We have already got a good
balance. If you want to increase the stringency of the balance by
increasing the penalties, fine, but do not stop an adult's right to go and
get an R-rated video. He already cannot get an X-rated video. He has to get
it from Canberra or the Northern Territory. The next step will be MA.
Ms BIGGINS —The issues are really around not whether individual parents can stop--as they can--children watching R-rated videos in their own home. The frustration of parents is that they see that there is a general freedom for adults to see, hear and read in relation to a home video system but they cannot keep their children away from it. Children go to other people's homes. Children even go to after school care programs and find unsuitable videos shown. The dilemma is: where is the adult freedom going to be limited when parents, with all the best will in the world, cannot provide the protection that they are dearly wanting to provide?
Mr EBEDES —As I said, we are not living in a perfect world and if a child has gone to his friend's house to watch the video, that friend only got the video through the friend's parents' consent, not from the friend himself. It is unfortunate but at least the system we have has a very good balance. We can keep them away from most of the children.
Mrs PHILLIPS —We are not keeping them away from most of the children, that is the problem. When we wanted to build our house we were not allowed to put the windows in the garage closer than so many feet from the windows in the storey above because of the faint risk of a fire in the garage getting into the room above. In other words, the council put all sorts of restrictions on us that all citizens recognise as being in the public interest, even though the real risk was very small. Why can we not have laws in this area where I believe the risk is equally serious, perhaps more, and why can we not consider the protection of the public good as the No. 1 priority?
Mr EBEDES —With respect, it is a false analogy. We are talking about a piece of celluloid, not a fire.
Mrs PHILLIPS —A dangerous piece of celluloid.
Mr EBEDES —No, not necessarily so.
Mr LAMING —One of the things that we did last year was start a program for kids in schools called the COOL project, which means control of one's life. That came out of a request from violent men in the program who said, `Why could we not have had something when we were younger? Why do we have to wait until we are 30 or 40 to learn how not to be violent?' What came out of that was a sense that violentisation occurs in a whole lot of ways in our society. This program is running at 15 high schools around Gippsland and it has been evaluated and replicated, and what is being identified clearly is along the lines of something Barbara said, and that is that real life violence in all its forms is supported by violence in the media in lots and lots of ways.
There is violentisation going on. It seems to me that one of the issues
here, if it is not about rights, is maybe about how much we value the
safety of the most vulnerable in our society, the kids, women, and old
people. That is an issue.
Mr WOODLEY —Getting back to the subject of kids and how they are influenced and so forth, I want to make some remarks regarding a group of people that met together in Tamworth city a few years ago to discuss violence amongst young people and young children, in particular. These were a select group of mainly school teachers and pre-school teachers. We talked about all sorts of things. I am not going to take the video thing; you have been arguing about that for 10 minutes, I just want to talk about bad language in our society.
We are talking about community standards. This is what is on this letterhead I got from Parliament House so I guess they are interested in it. The fact is that young mothers are asking where their kids learn such bad language all the time and why they tell their dad to go and get fucked, quite frankly. Where do they learn this language?
Madam Chair, if I was to start fucking this and fucking that in this room, I would be told to stop because that language is not appropriate in this chamber. Yet I can turn my television set on and hear this broadcast across Australia late at night on films. It is not appropriate for here; it is not appropriate for these people in this hall but it is appropriate to be telecast across this country.
Not only that, I had a local solicitor in Tamworth--from whom I could get a statutory declaration, if you want it--who not so long ago rang me up and said, `I've just listened to Triple J radio.' That is a young people's ABC sponsored station isn't it? He said, `In the last hour I have heard the word "fuck" used seven times.' I do not use this word normally, my friends, but I need to do it to get your attention. Young people are using this word all the time. Whether you like it or you do not like it, is it a standard that we really want our country and our young people to be using? Is it? Do I make my point?
Ms BIGGINS —Yes, thank you.
Dr GRAYCAR —Just a very quick point about young people and teenagers, in particular. The dynamic of almost any teenage situation is that they will push things to the limit. If their parents say, `You can watch M, they will want to go to the next level.' If they have restrictions on where they go, how they go, what clothes they wear and so on and so forth, they push them. We can always understand the dynamic of young people exploring things that are always just over the horizon and just that little bit forbidden.
As a result, if we start talking about very rigid standards and clear
black and white standards, then this is almost certainly a prescription for
people to want to push to the limit. The two sorts of issues are, firstly,
the dynamic of parenting and understanding of what is acceptable in a
particular sort of environment, and that will vary right across the
community and, secondly, the dynamic of understanding what may be harmful
as opposed to preferable. In understanding the dynamic of any sort of
family relationship, people will always push things to the limit.
Ms BIGGINS —Thank you. We have been given the wind-up signal here. Unfortunately, we have barely moved off question no. 1. We have only half an hour for that particular discussion.
Mr LAMING —On that last point, for me, this subject is about harm minimisation, crime prevention, and safety enhancement.
Ms BIGGINS —Yes, I agree with you. I think that it is a topic we have barely got into and I really think that it is actually the crux of what a lot of people's concerns are. I am really concerned that the government, through its regulatory systems and all sorts of parenting education programs, ought to be making the media environment far more healthy for kids and not leaving the whole responsibility on parents to keep their kids away from unsuitable material.
There are two parts to this session. The second part is the protection of children and the issue of news and current affairs programs. The facilitator for this part is Professor Pierre Baume of the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University in Queensland.
Prof. BAUME —Thank you for the introduction. First of all, I would like to thank the government for taking leadership in this area because, certainly, in our field of suicide research this is a very troubling area. Because I realise that time is marching on, I will try to limit my brief introduction to just a couple of minutes and then give you the opportunity to discuss the questions we have listed before us.
As I said earlier, I am slightly biased because the issue of suicide, we believe, is a major tragedy, not only because people die from it--we have about 2,500 Australians every year who die from suicide--but also because we tend to forget that it also affects up to quarter of a million Australians every year in terms of suicide attempt. That is enormous, both in economic terms and social terms. There are also the bereaved by suicide which number up to 25,000 per year of individuals who are closely affected by the death of a person from suicide. When we see the issue of violence and the way those particular programs are discussed through the news and current affair programs, it warrants us to note that we are not dealing with a small marginal population, but rather a large population of Australians.
I note the comments which have been made today that refute another comment, that we have freedom, and so forth. But I must remind people that when we deal with suicide, for example, we are dealing with people who are emotionally troubled, for whatever reason. That does not mean that they have some form of mental illness. It means that they are vulnerable. It means that their resilience at that time is low. When we talk about young people and children, in particular, then their resilience is even lower than that of adults. They are very vulnerable to being affected by specific gruesome reporting of violent events, especially when the violence which is being depicted deals with violence which is turned inward--that is towards the self.
There is now a large body of evidence globally that suggests that these kinds of stories directly affect the rates of suicides following their depiction on television news and current affairs programs. There has been evidence of this reported for the last 20 years or so. But, as I said earlier, the issue of methods has become a worry as well. We have discussed recently the banning of firearms and that, in discussions on news and current affairs, suicide was mentioned. But, as we know, the largest number of people who die as a result of firearms are not homicides but rather suicides which account for 80 per cent of all deaths by firearms. But this is a small area when we know that there are other events that are reported all the time through news stories, both in newspapers and the electronic media, and these seem to affect individuals and their selections or methods.
This is an important point which we must remember, because when we are influencing the selection of a method we may well be influencing the outcome of that person's life. That is, if they select a method which is violent it means death is more likely to occur quickly and we do not have the opportunity to save that person. I have outlined clearly that when we deal with suicide we are dealing with a much larger population of those who actually do not die, and that is something that has a major influence on our community. But we are also dealing with individuals, especially when they are young, who are repeatedly exposed to deaths and violence. Unfortunately, in news and current affairs programs, those issues are not explained in terms of the emotions that are involved. News and current affairs programs have a tendency to want to focus on emotion, but not on emotion as a result of death and dying and those issues; rather, on how it can sell a story and how it an improve one's ratings.
Let me give you, very briefly, one or two examples. I know the Martin Bryant affair gets repeated all the time and I do not want to discuss that. But you will recall a number of occasions when TV personalities have actually had to front up before courts because at times they have even interfered, for the sake of ratings, with police protection in cases of sieges when they will do anything to get in contact with the person, including even telling the perpetrator what the police are about to do to stop the perpetrator. I think there is no doubt that current affairs programs are talking about vivid and real stories. We are not talking about movies, and so forth, which may or may not be based on real facts. In addition, we now have evidence that in major massacres, in Australia, Britain and the United States, there are relationships between those events and the way they are reported and those who carry out those events. Earlier this morning, Professor Sheehan was mentioned. He has recently published in this area to show that the Hungerford massacre and the Clifton Hill massacre were actually related.
We know that people in their suicide notes indicate that those stories
were facts that contributed to them doing the act. I am not saying for a
moment that banning those issues or trying to ask news and current affairs
programs not to discuss those issues will take away the problem of suicide
or specific violent acts. But there is no doubt that there is a strong
relationship. Unlike other examples that have been cited this morning I can
say that since the introduction of the electronic medium there has been an
increase in suicide and there are direct links with method selections. I
could go on and give you more of this, but I think we should broaden the
discussion. The first question we have here is: what is the effect of news
and current affairs on children?
Prof. BRETHERTON —One of the interesting things that has emerged is the effect of age. You have talked about the suicide of young people. One of the things we do have to remember is that young children may be affected differently than adolescents. For example, I was really glad that Barbara brought up the question of cartoons and young children. Because cartoons are catchy and salient, and young children relate to them and watch them a lot, cartoons may actually be more influential in terms of their behaviour than real news reports. So if you asked parents, `What affected your children more in the long term: the Gulf War or the ninja turtles?', they would say it was the ninja turtles. I was very critical of the reporting of the war because it went straight across the children's programs and, at the time, was fairly outspoken. It is interesting that, in a way, the ninja turtles are very similar to the adolescent suicides because we can actually see the behaviour. It is not a vague thing. There was a rush of nunchakus, which had not been heard of before in Australian society, into the kindergartens. It is pretty clear to see where that is coming from.
That brings us to a really interesting point about reality and fantasy. Often people will say, `This is not going to affect children because they know it is not real.' I want to draw a distinction between knowing whether something is real or not and being influenced by it. We are actually quite influenced by our fantasies, whether they are fantasies of a hero statue or fantasies coming out of the cartoons. I do not want to cut across what has been said about young people copying suicides, but I would point out that they are also influenced by the fictional and the mythical. Somehow, in our society, we have lost the plot a little bit in saying that if we know it is not real it is not going to affect us. We are not that rational. We are strongly influenced by myths, metaphors, images and less rational things.
—What you are saying is that it does not hurt to tell
our children the truth. If you say `yes' to that I will agree with you.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Yes, on the whole I would say that. We have a question here about whose truth it is and how the truth is depicted. If we had those media people here--and I agree with you, it would be great if they were--they would be saying, `We just reflect reality. That is what we do on current affairs.' In fact, they do not just reflect reality because, by editing stories to make them more newsworthy, they actually change, as it were, the diet; they change the proportion.
One of the things that would be helpful in our discussions would be for us not to be quite as negative as we are being. We keep getting stuck because we keep going into things like, `Where's the problem point?' There is this clash between the parents and the children. I think it is going to be easier for us if we start to ask questions like: `How do we make better cultural choices?' and `How do we promote a society in which non-violence is valued?' We talk ourselves down into the problem and lock ourselves in by dichotomising it. That is one of the things I would be criticising the media for doing.
Prof. BAUME —Thank you for that. In a way, question two also relates to your discussions. Mr Flew.
Mr FLEW —Taking up Professor Bretherton's comments, I think if any of my colleagues who teach journalism were here they would point out, first of all, that the news is always about representation of reality. It cannot simply be reality, and so decisions always have to be made. The second point they would make would be that the central issue is one of educating journalists about these issues. Governments cannot force journalists to do things in a certain way and, in many ways, the community would be more alarmed by measures by the government to force journalists to act in a certain way. To a large extent, they need to inculcate codes of practice.
I did want to take up a slightly different issue and here I am drawing upon some recent work by a colleague, Professor Graeme Turner, of the University of Queensland, about news and current affairs. The first point would be that the impact of news on children may be a matter of less and less concern because it is becoming apparent that fewer and fewer people in the age group from about 14 to 25 watch the news anymore. The decline in readership of newspapers and Channel 10's very healthy ratings for The Simpsons at 6 p.m. may be an indicator of that.
The second point would be that to classify news and current affairs
together is proving less and less tenable. One thing that Professor
Turner's research into current affairs shows is that A Current
Affair has long ago ceased to be discussing the news. It has developed
its own very distinctive dynamics. In terms of Barbara Biggins' earlier
comments about the `mean world' syndrome, one could imagine that if one
took one's view of reality largely from a program such as A Current
Affair you would assume that almost everyone in your society is either
ripping off the welfare system or ripping off you. I think it is important
to note that the more marginalised a group is, the more likely they are to
be stigmatised within that process. I think that issues about the social
impact of the media need to go simply beyond the frame of violence.
Mr EBEDES —I would like to state that not only do I endorse it, but also my children--including one at university--will not even watch the news. They want to watch The Simpsons.
Mrs MORRISON —Obviously, news reports are on the ratings program and, again, they are being lobbied by money and sponsorship. As a result, I think they have become unnecessarily graphic and laboured on various issues, even to the extent of being callous and dehumanising in the case of war victims and murders. I think this affects young children--adolescents and adults--because they know it is real life, and it does have a dehumanising effect.
Mrs GRANT —Something that we have not discussed is the issue of previews. When the media show a particular news item and you see bits of it beforehand, ad nauseam, particularly through the children's program time, certainly they have watched it, so they switch off at news time and want something different. They have already seen the highlights.
Prof. BAUME —Perhaps we can now move onto the second question about the reporting of violence and whether it is actually sensationalised or not and who contributes to this problem.
Mr GRANT —Again, it depends how you define violence. If you go back to the 1990 report that the ABT did on television violence, they defined it to include scenes of grief, such as victims of war, victims of famine, and so forth. There is no doubt at all that the representation of this, even in a unsensationalised way on the news, is probably the most traumatic thing that children will see on television.
There is no real skirting around the issue as to the rights of adults versus the rights of children. You have to come to grips with the question as to whether you are going to allow the ABC to show dead bodies on the road or infant victims of famine. It is something we cannot get around. We have to decide one way or the other as to whether we are going to allow that sort of thing.
My view is that it is important that it be shown, because truth is an essential quality. Children will one day become adults and they have to get a view as to what the nature of the world is. If one of the primary objects of the news is to inform us so that we may then feedback upon society, by excising this sort of thing from the news we effectively disengage ourselves with those sorts of problems and pretend they do not exist.
In this instance, and being aware of the fact that news in the 6.30 to 7
o'clock time slots is an exception to the time zone classification system,
I think that even in those time slots we should continue to show those
things. But we should define the industry codes of practice quite strictly
so that there is not the element of gratuitousness. On that point, I would
agree very strongly with Mr Flew in potentially separating out news and
Mr WOODLEY —Truth. I said that word a while ago and I believe that we need not necessarily keep our kids from knowing the truth about what is happening in the world today. But, on the other hand, we must also tell them the truth. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. If you are going to tell them the truth there, they need to know the truth in the other parts as well. The fact is that almost everyone in this room has agreed so far that kids are affected by what they see, hear and read. Parents and kids need to know that, because it is the truth.
It is the same with the Martin Bryant thing. It was not really the gun that killed the people; it was Martin Bryant who killed them. The kids need to know the truth about that. I know this is political, but the government is going to spend a billion dollars in buying back all the guns all over Australia when, in fact, it was the psycho guy behind the gun that did it. It was not the guns' fault.
Yet, quite frankly, if you wanted $100,000 from the government to tell the truth about violence on videos, they do not have any money for any of that, do they? This is where the problem lies in our society today: we have our standards back-to-front. There are certain basic truths in this world that we should be portraying to our kids and the people of this country--and we are not doing it.
Prof. BAUME —Thank you.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —There are two issues here: what is the news and how is the news depicted? It seems to me that the how question could be solved, as it has been in the UK, by having a different news at 6 o'clock and having different standards for the 6 o'clock news than you have for a later news. This has come forward time and again. It is interesting that, historically, one of the reasons why it has not been promoted very much--and certainly the Federation of Commercial Television Stations has not liked it--is that they could argue that there was never any late news.
That is not the situation today, interestingly enough. In the UK, they also said there was a 6 o'clock news and a 9 o'clock news. Therefore, what you got at 6 o'clock was different from what you got at 9 o'clock. Today, there is more and more late news. It seems to me that there is quite a case to be made for a version of the news at 6 o'clock--6.00 to 7.30--which conforms to that time zone classification, and then, perhaps, a more robust, if you like, news service later on at night.
—Is that already being implemented by some stations in
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —I know the Nine Network at one stage were.
Mr FLEW —Yes. My co-submitter teaches in journalism and tells me that, informally, news networks have been adopting that practice towards certain forms of footage.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —There is a cost factor of course. You have to keep on an editor and you have to re-edit the news. Therefore, in a commercial environment, there are pressures not to do it. I think one has to recognise that. That is always the problem in terms of setting up a standard. There are always commercial pressures in terms of trying to water that standard down for commercial reasons.
Prof. BAUME —I would like to take the comment of Professor James Bailey and move on to questions 3 and 6 together about issues of classification, the standards applying to news and current affairs, and whether graphic accounts or depictions of violence should be banned from early evening time slots, because I think that those comments link very well with those two questions.
Mr LAMING —I do not think they should be banned. I think the point about this discussion is that, with the sensationalisation of a so-called event or a truth--something that has happened--if the representation is one that sensationalises and hence trivialises, what we are getting is not the truth. We are getting a con; we are being fed a lie. To that extent, it victimises everybody who sees it or listens to it. To that extent, it is not, as it is sometimes called, info-tainment. It is con-tainment, and it contributes to the problem.
Ms BIGGINS —Just on the issue of classification standards applying to news and current affairs, at the moment the news and current affairs are excused from the G classification criteria that apply between 4.00 and 7.30. It seems to me that that has a couple of problems. It works against parents understanding what the G classification time zone actually means, because you have the intrusion of material that has been excused from the G classification criteria. You also have the problem that, because it is excused from the G classification criteria, you can have promotions of more violent material coming on later in the evening, in that time zone in the news program, that you would not be allowed to have in a G-rated program.
The other issue of concern, which has been raised earlier, is: what are current affairs? If a program is going to be excused from the classification criteria on the grounds of being a commentary on the news of the day, then it seems to me there ought to be a far more rigorous demonstration that it actually is commentary on the news of the day and not tonight's titillating story that has been dragged up from somewhere.
A couple of weeks ago we lodged a complaint to the Seven Network on the
fact that they had an excerpt out of Blue Heelers in their current
affairs program. They also promoted it during the news in a very violent
manner. The excuse was that Blue Heelers that night--which was
obviously being promoted by the current affairs segment--was on the issue
of policemen shooting members of the public. When is a current affair not a
current affair? It seems to me that we need to re-evaluate all of that.
Mrs GRANT —When you have the media focusing on private grief and private emotions and making mincemeat for public consumption, they could blur that. They do not have to focus on that, but they are doing it just to keep their ratings up. That has to be balanced.
Prof. BAUME —That is fair enough.
Mr EBEDES —I agree with a lot of what has been said, particularly what the gentleman mentioned, and for once I am ad idem with you, Mr Woodley, as well--
Mr WOODLEY —Good, you are changing.
Mr EBEDES —In all fairness to the current affairs program--and this has applied to me in practice, I personally am a squeamish type--I have seen certain programs that have said, `We must warn our viewers that the following scenes may be offensive.' They warn you that it is something that might be repugnant to certain viewers. It has happened to me once. I personally turned it off. In all fairness to them, they have done that. Certainly, in one case where I have watched it, I would not let my children watch it. So let us give credit where it is due.
I particularly want to emphasise that that is not to show us how to de-emphasise the fact that children will one day become adults. There is a limit to just how much we can restrict them.
Mr FLEW —As regards the intrusion on grief, death, et cetera, the draft code of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance cannot force journalists to do anything but it does emphasise to journalists the importance of not intruding upon grief, or conducting death knocks, et cetera. There are two problems with the draft code: one is that it has not been adopted by its members as yet, and the other is that it can only apply to journalists who are members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Mr WOODLEY —Can I make one quick comment about suicide? It is relevant to what you are saying, and it is relevant to what this whole thing is about--a liberal society on these issues. Sweden during the 1960s was the most liberal country in the world as regards pornography, prostitution and the sorts of films shown at night and so forth. In Sweden, in the cities, they had the highest suicide rate in the world of that era. They have since changed. Do I make my point?
Prof. BAUME —We will move on then. We have covered questions 3, 6 and 7. If we could move on to the last one, which is the issue of copycat effects on suicidal and depressed young people and whether the Internet plays a role in that and also in terms of the preparation of young people to deal with such problems.
I would just like to make a comment. First of all, we are undertaking a study at the moment on the Internet and the effect of the Internet. Some of you may not necessarily be familiar with it. A 13-year old boy, when I was visiting a school last year, had information about suicidal events and I asked him how he was so informed. I thought that perhaps he had read it or perhaps his parents or teacher were discussing it. He said, `No, I got it from the Internet.' And then he explained to me the type of information that was available. So I went back to my office and surfed the net myself only to find that there are thousands of web sites that relate to suicide issues. Some of them are positive, indeed we have one which is, but there are many that are negative.
But there is also another form which I would like to address and which relates in a way to Mr Flew's comments earlier that if young children do not watch the news, what is it that they do, in addition to watching the Simpsons? They do surf the Net, and at times the Net might even be more interesting than the Simpsons. We are starting to collect evidence to support this.
This means that they have access to what they call news groups on the Net. News groups are a little bit like what journalists do, but they are little groups of individuals that communicate in formation with one another. There are hundreds and hundreds of news groups. There are some that specialise on violence and homicidal violence and suicidal behaviour.
Every week, at the moment, I observe a young person, some as young as 10 or 11, reading news groups, that actually die. There are individuals on news groups who suggest to them how they should do it, that if they are depressed and if mum and dad are divorced, then the best thing for them to do is to die and to kill themselves. Then they provide them with information on the Net about where to find a menu which is appropriate for the types of methods that they have available to them.
So to believe that the Internet does not have power--and now the Internet is providing news and current affair issues. It is becoming more and more powerful, it is also uncensored, and it is an area which is totally free for everyone to access. Interviewing about 100 families recently we found that only three of those families--that is, parents primarily--knew of the Internet's existence and that they did not know that their children were using it. So those 97 children were actually using the Net and gathering information about all sorts of issues.
—You have really covered what I had to say on
that. My concern also is a concern about computer games, for the same
reason. It is very hard to censor computer games and also video parlour
games because a certain expertise is required to get into each level. Of
course, as you go further and further into it there is more and more
violence, there is suicide, there is murder, there is rape on some of them,
and dismembering of bodies. You really do require quite a considerable
expertise to get into the top level. I would be very interested to know how
these games are censored--if they are.
Mr GRANT —I think the OFLC reserves the right to ask for a video representation of the high levels of those games so they do not have to hire someone to play it for them. That is the way they attempt to do it.
Mrs CASLEY-SMITH —Is that a transcript?
Mr GRANT —Actual video footage of what the high levels of the game look like so that they do not have to play the game themselves but can just play a video of those high levels of the game. Mr Dickie is here, he can speak as to what he feels is the real problem. But I understand it is really the under-the-shelf computer games that are more the problem than the ones that are distributed quite openly.
Dr GRAYCAR —There is an interesting dynamic that I think has emerged. As we were talking earlier on about television, movies and so on, we were talking about some form of art or some sort of creativity. But what Professor Baume was describing on the Internet was an information flow saying, `This is how you do yourself in.'
Now I think that is a very, very different sort of dynamic and I would be very interested, perhaps later this afternoon, to follow that up, as to what the basis is of that information. What are the interests behind it? What is happening and who is the receptive audience? This is very different to the media audience--when you have a message that is so destructive and does not pretend to be art or anything else?
Mr LAMING —Whether it is the Internet or whether it is video games, I think the key there is the interactive nature of what is going on. So it is not just listening or seeing something, but actually responding to it and the impact that has on attitudinal change and the possibilities of other ways of doing things. I think that is where the power is.
Prof. BAUME —I realise that the focus here is news and current affairs. I realise also that video games are of great importance and significance in this thing. But when we go back to the Internet I just want to briefly mention that we are dealing here with real life events where you have, let us say, a 10-year-old boy sending a message through the Net which is potentially read by thousands of other young people or older people, who respond to this young person, and who may respond positively with a degree of assistance or at times provide him or her with the means on how to die.
These are real events. You may be dealing with a person in LA and one in Canberra, conversing with one another. This is reality today, not something which is a game or something fictional, but rather current.
It is interesting to note that Mr Flew mentioned someone at the
University of Queensland doing studies regarding access to the news by
young people. If you ever have time to read news group information on the
Net you will find that young people are very well versed in current affairs
issues and news items. So wherever they are getting it, they certainly have
the information and it seems to be fairly accurate.
Mr MacDONALD —We know what the problems are. This is where we keep coming in each session--we identify the problems. I would like to take up what Professor Bretherton said before, that is, to try to find some solutions. Is it too difficult for the providers to provide a means of self-regulation in this area of news and current affairs? Self-regulation, to my mind, involves a code of practice, some sort of monitoring and also some sort of penalties in the event of the code being broken. This can apply in the self-regulation of the Internet. It can also apply with those who provide news and current affairs. Maybe there is a part for government to play in providing a model by which this can be done.
Prof. BAUME —Thank you for those valid comments. You will note that sessions four and five this afternoon, to some extent, will actually be set aside just to address issues on strategies.
Ms SHARPE —I have two children, I am an ordinary mum and I was a secondary teacher. One of the things about news is that it is promoted to children in school as a good thing and they need to see all this, but it is not taken in the context that you see only a certain part of what is happening. You do not see the full story. This point has not been brought up yet: that you are just seeing the dramatic parts of certain stories, you are not seeing the lead up of how it came about or the resolution of it. This needs to be used in education of the children. Often they see a show like Behind the News, but not all children have that access, or a teacher or parent willing to discuss it with them. This is the concern of parents, that there needs to be some sort of rating done with news so that it is looked at and that there are things in there that are not necessarily good. It is all promoted as being good--`You should see this and you should see that'--and they are pushed to see it by the school and by the community, as if everything they see is good.
Mr EBEDES —Just to elaborate, what Professor Bailey said earlier on was ideal, about the so-called harder version of the news at 9 o'clock, which I think would answer your query.
—This is probably an appropriate response to end this
discussion. We can take up those issues this afternoon when we look at
strategies and monitoring those factors. Thank you very much.
CHAIR —Thank you Professor Baume.
SESSION 4--SUGGESTED GOVERNMENT MEASURES
CHAIR —This a free-ranging discussion for lateral thinkers. There was some comment earlier that people are eager to get to some solutions. This is the chance in this session.
Our facilitator is Associate Professor Di Bretherton, Director of the International Conflict Resolution Centre at the University of Melbourne. Professor Bretherton teaches at the School of Behavioural Science and has researched widely and published articles in the areas of personal and neighbourhood conflict, as well as international conflict resolution. She has worked on a number of conflict resolution projects overseas and, until recently, was the chairperson of the Victorian Community Council Against Violence.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here. I also thank you for the attention to process that was evident in the preparation of the agenda, and the attention to framing questions, which was really helpful and important. The excellent summary of the submissions was also useful and helpful.
Having read the summary, looked at some of the submissions and listened to our talk this morning, I was reminded that violence is a complex phenomenon with multiple causes. It permeates all arenas of society, and although we have said there might be some areas that are peak areas, violence runs through all social relationships.
It seems to me, therefore, that what we need are integrated, cooperative strategies, but we are not really used to looking for and creating such strategies. We are more used to systems which might involve, for example, people locking in and trying to defeat each other, or perhaps a majority voting down a minority. With integrative solutions, you are trying to come to solutions which simultaneously meet the needs of all people. That is obviously fairly idealistic and you cannot always do that. But if that is what you are looking for, you are more likely to come up with an integrative solution than if you structure the argument in some other way.
Conflict resolution teaches strategies to develop integrative, cooperative solutions. What you do in conflict resolution--of course, this is oversimplifying the process--is teach people to listen to themselves and to the other person. You then work out what the interests are, what the issues are, what is going on, list what is at stake, and then coopt the other to help in the process of brainstorming different options, packaging various solutions and coming up with creative ideas.
I was delighted that I was asked to chair this session because I feel it is very consistent with the idea of conflict resolution and trying to brainstorm some more cooperative solutions.
It also seems to me that, looking at the portrayal of violence in the electronic media, we are in fact looking at a number of conflicts. For example, we have talked about children versus parents in terms of rights and needs; we have talked about ratings versus the pro-social role that the media might play; we have looked at the role journalists do play versus the role we might like them to play. If you are using conflict resolution techniques, you do not really take either side. You try to say, `What are the fundamental needs and how can we, as far as possible, come up with ways of doing things that take those needs into account?'
So I believe that conflict resolution skills would be quite helpful, and that they could help at a brainstorming stage such as this, where it is labelled `lateral thinking.' One of the important things about brainstorming is that you do not try to argue and win your point because research on creativity suggests that the really good ideas come up in the context of a lot of ideas. What you try to do is suspend your judgment for a little while. That is not to say you will indiscriminately try to implement everything that comes up. There has to be a stage where you say, `This was a really good idea and that was a really dumb idea.' But you try to suspend judgment for a while and just get a lot of ideas going, because it is out of those many ideas--some of them apparently silly--that, in fact, the very good ideas eventually come.
I thought I would start our lateral thinking, free-ranging discussion. I will not go through question by question. We will try to cover all the questions, and we will also try to leave some room to do more brainstorming and be free ranging. I would start by making one suggestion as to solutions, on things we could be doing that would be a contribution.
My suggestion is that we should consider what in computing is called the `default' or `resting' position. For example, if we are looking at something like a V-chip or software, it should come programmed for non-violence and default to non-violence. So, if people want to be able to have a violent program, they actually have to take the positive action and make the decision to reprogram it to have that material available, particularly as children are likely to be much better programmers than their parents. So that is my suggestion. It is one thing to think about for solutions.
Inherent in these questions we have some other solutions. What I would like to do now is open and see what are some suggestions that we can come up with that would be positive and creative solutions to some of the problems we have outlined.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —I am concerned that, by implication, we have been talking about the television stations, regulating them and regulating what they distribute, and we have been talking about the community groups who are the recipients. But I am concerned about the production process, which, after all, is what we are really talking about--not the distributor, and the market on the other hand, but the people who actually make it.
If you think about the production process, you will see that very few people take final responsibility. When you make a film, you chop it up into little bits. People's craft is on the line. You have a lovely shot with lots of realistic blood, and the make-up artist goes in. You have a crash, where the stunt person's profession is on the line. You have a camera person, and their profession is on the line. It is in bits, small little bits. Nobody, until the process is at the very final post-production stage, is taking responsibility for what the audience is going to see. The writer certainly is not. The writer is well down the track. Once you go into production, the writer has lost any control.
So you have the director, the editor and the producer working together in the final stages of production. Then, of course, you have the sound mixer who sweetens it and adds a whole lot of sound effects. So somebody has to take final control over all that. It has to be the producer because, finally, the producer is the one who has got the money together, has persuaded the investors, and so on.
In terms of lateral thinking, I have been trying to find ways we can make the producer responsible in this process. It seems to me that one of the ways that we might look at doing this is for them to say, `I think this should appeal to this sort of an audience,' and, `It has this amount of violence in it because--' and, `I included these scenes of violence in it because--'. So, in a way, it comes with reasons for violence.
Once you have got that out on the table, you can then start debating
those reasons for violence. Looking at the machinery by which this might
happen, certainly in the Australian context every producer could submit to
a television station or to the OFLC the reason the violence is what it is
and could make a claim for a category. They would say, `We as the producer
of this television program and this film claim this category, and the
reason it has this amount of violence is this, this and this.' That is my
Prof. BRETHERTON —I wonder whether that idea could be extended to looking at the treatment stage, when you actually apply for funds.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —It does not work. The difference between a script on the page and the final product is just so different.
Prof. BRETHERTON —I am not seeing that as an either/or but as an and.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY
—The other thing--I guess it is picking up on
your point a bit--is that it is so much easier to use violence as a
conflict resolution than to write character development. So, yes, in terms
of the script, that would be the case as well. It is just so much easier to
resolve situations by a beaut car accident or somebody drawing a knife or a
gun or whatever. That is easy stuff for production. What is hard is to
develop character because it takes a long time in the production process of
actors, and so on and so forth.
Mrs PHILLIPS —Professor, who would judge whether a particular reason given by the producer was acceptable? Are you really saying that as long as the producer can give a reason for all the parts of his script it will therefore be okay?
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —No, you still have the machinery that you have got, but here is additional information which helps the office and the television station. You are not abrogating their responsibility either. Then you can argue with the producer and you can have a dialogue about whether that amount of violence does have that effect. One of the problems that we have got, it seems to me, is that that dialogue just does not go on at all. We talk about the office and we have a dialogue with the office, or the television station, about its classification, but we never talk to the producer about it.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Yes, that is a very important part of that idea.
Ms BIGGINS —Young Media Australia has already applied to a foundation, and we have heard verbally that we have got a grant, but we cannot announce it yet. The idea that we put to the foundation was that we wanted to run seminars for writers and storyboarders about developing alternative portrayals of violence, using some of the work out of Josephson--in other words, looking at how you can make your scenarios just as exciting and interesting without resolving your conflict with violence.
Mr GRANT —One of the attractions of focussing regulation on, say, the television stations rather than on the producers is that you will actually catch 100 per cent of the stuff that is being screened. The levels of Australian content, Australian drama, on commercial and national television stations is barely scraping in above the 10 per cent mark. So, if you adopt that approach, you should bear in mind that you are missing out on the 90 per cent of stuff that is foreign.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —I would extend it, you see. I would say that American distributors would know that, if they want to get stuff classified here in Australia, they have to give their reasons. They have to go back to the producers. It would have to come for classification here in Australia along with producers' reasons for violence.
Prof. BRETHERTON —It could be that, if there were a good idea working here, the Americans would come and copy it. It has happened. For example, we have a project going called `the conflict resolving government'. Every time there is an election, the group gets together and writes to the politicians and says, `Would you pledge to campaign in these ways that we see as setting a good model for younger people?'
Actually, the centre has been somewhat criticised for being more
advocacy oriented and not doing a proper university kind of thing. The
irony is that some of the most prestigious academics in the world are now
coming to look at us, not because of the academic work we are doing but
because they are really interested in this project. I think it is important
that, if there is something that we think is a really good idea, we say
that is a good idea. Maybe other people will learn from it rather than get
overwhelmed by the huge amount of American content.
Senator WOODLEY —I believe the specialist's suggestion that it needs further investigation has some merit.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Yes. In fact, I do not want to really judge it at this point because all we are trying to do is keep the ideas flowing. I wonder if there are some more--
Mrs VAN LUYN —If I may mention two films. The first one was Captain Cook that was screened at 8.30 one night and everyone in Australia kept their children up specially to see it. It ended up in a welter of the most dreadful unnecessary close-up gory violence and offended all the parents who threw their children into bed without any further ado. It was very offensive and a terrible shock to see that scene inserted into a historic film in the name of reality that children really could not tolerate.
The second one was Storm Boy and the writer and producer of Storm Boy attended a seminar in Adelaide run by the broadcasting tribunal about eight years ago. Everyone there--all the young screenwriters and scriptwriters--were really into reality. They had to produce films that showed the human condition in every possible form of degradation and they really believed in it. He stood up and had his say there. He said, `If you remember when the pelican was killed, I didn't show all the blood and the feathers. I showed the little boy sitting there and his grandfather saying they had killed a pelican on the other side of the island' and the little boy said, `Was it him?'. He had tears running down his face. He said, `You guys don't know how to produce pathos. I had the entire theatre sobbing,' which is just as much reality but with a more intelligent reality.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Thank you.
Mr LAMING —I have a comment about that because it connects with what we were talking about this morning. The consequences and ramifications or effects of what is shown clearly came out there.
—Some of the organisations which I represent have said
the media uses blurring of images when people have been taken to prison and
so forth and why do they not use it more where something comes up--it may
be a sporting event--which is violent? The adults can visualise what is
going on behind the blurring if they want to. We all have jolly good
imaginations but we do not need the graphics for those who cannot cope with
them as well as some of the more mature people. The media could use that a
great deal more as a form of control of media violence or grief episodes.
Ms BIGGINS —In relation to material coming in from overseas and what can be done about it, it seems to me that those of us who are concerned about the effect of violent cartoons on under eight-year-olds ought to be directing a lot of our anger at the Federal Communications Commission in the United States because of a result of its decision in 1983 to deregulate what were then called program length commercials or toy-based cartoons. In 1983 the Federal Communications Commission decided that those toy linked cartoons were no longer to be deemed to be advertisements and they were okay as programs. As a result of that, that industry of making violent cartoons based on toys has absolutely blossomed and the rest of the world has been the recipient of the material. It seems to me that one solution might be to send a strong letter to the FCC that we do not want their rotten old toy-based cartoons in Australia.
Mr MARSLEW —It is only when we reject them that they will start doing something about them.
Ms BIGGINS —We should not classify them G in Australia. I think they have toxic levels of violence for under-8s.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Or cutting down the maximum allowance of time that you give to advertisements.
Ms BIGGINS —Yes, or classify them as 30 minute commercials.
Mrs CASLEY-SMITH —My particular area of interest is the X-rated video industry, which I consider a violence against women and so could be included in this. These videos, as most people know, are mailed from the ACT to all states, even though the states have decided that they do not want the sale of this material in their individual states. Surely something could be done! Perhaps the telecommunication act could be changed to stop the mailing of this material across state boundaries. We would like to see that happen.
If not, perhaps the government could consider once again banning this material. Back in about 1987, the actual banning of this material was thrown out of the Attorneys-General meeting by one vote, so perhaps it could be looked at again, particularly a look at mailing prohibited material across states.
Mr EBEDES —May I respond to that?
Prof. BRETHERTON —With your own lateral thinking, positive suggestion.
Mr EBEDES —On what was just said?
—No, your own positive lateral thinking
Mr EBEDES —I do not understand you.
Prof. BRETHERTON —We are trying to brainstorm, so we do not criticise someone else's suggestion. You may follow hers with a positive suggestion, perhaps of your own.
Mr EBEDES —It depends on how you interpret the word positive. Is that a discussion topic, because I see it is on here, or is it just in response to what you said?
Prof. BRETHERTON —Suggested government measures--lateral thinking. Lateral thinking means we think of positive suggestions rather than critiquing someone else's idea.
Mr EBEDES —It is not so much referring to somebody else's idea, but the response that I have.
Prof. BRETHERTON —All right, let us hear you.
Mr EBEDES —That would be the biggest disaster that would ever occur.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Let's not call that a critique.
Mr EBEDES —Can I respond to it or not?
CHAIR —I think the facilitator has given guidance on what she is seeking in this session.
Mr EBEDES —Because a viewpoint has been put there--
Prof. BRETHERTON —You can respond to it after we have done the brainstorming.
Mr EBEDES —All right.
Mrs PHILLIPS —Can we return to the hotline that we used to have a few years ago, run by the tribunal? Now we have to go to the TV stations with any comments on programs and we have no guarantee that they will record those phone comments. When you see the program you want to ring up straight away. So I do not see why the government could not reinstate this public feedback system.
Mr LAMING —When we talk about a conflict being resolved by a gun or a knife or something exciting--some action thing--to me that is very symbolic of usually men's incapacity to resolve it in any other way. Because one of the things about male socialisation is that very often we grow up not knowing how to respond, in terms of emotions, or in terms of the sorts of values or constructive stuff that Professor Bretherton talked about. That goes across a whole lot--
I do not know whether that contributes to the discussion, but I think
they are very male things. It is about an inability and it is about a lack
of self-esteem. It is about not knowing what else to do so we just do the
action and it is not very constructive.
Prof. BRETHERTON —So something about developing other ways or other ideas of masculinity?
Mr LAMING —Alternative ways, yes. Also role models for masculinity that give positive and encouraging ways for boys to see that a real man does not have to be violent or to respond in this way.
Prof. BRETHERTON —I am wondering if someone who has not spoken yet has their hand up.
Ms MORRISON —With regard to taxation of violent material: could we suggest, as they have done in the case of cigarettes, increasing the price of violent, R-rated and X-rated material and videos to an astronomical figure. Also, in the case of hiring, people should only be able to hire that video for 24 hours, otherwise they would incur a very high rate of penalty. This would stop the video lying around the house for an indefinite period when it has been rented. Do you follow? Penalties would restrict the availability of that video in a household or a neighbourhood.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Shorter loan times.
Dr GRAYCAR —There are two types of strategies. One is to discourage bad practice and the other is to promote good practice. Discouraging bad practice is sometimes very difficult because black markets will develop and so on. But, in terms of encouraging good practice, give an award which recognises artistic ways of producing real life situations without violence.
We can work on the words later to try to develop a number of sub-categories so that these are valued and they are promoted. As a result, people who win them will be able to put this fact on their advertisements. We will be able to say that this is what we have got, people will compete for it, and it may be part of changing the culture.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Perhaps there is a variant of that idea in that the United Nations Association of Australia has a set of awards like that. Maybe the proposed awards could be linked more with the AFI sorts of awards and given that same kind of hype.
—There are mechanisms. I chair a thing called the
National Violence Prevention Awards and, around the table, several people
have put in proposals. Some have won awards and so on, and we are looking
at trying to do something. However, we do not quite get into that. The
industry does not apply to us for awards and it would probably be harder to
promote an awards system, but if it was to link the existing
mechanisms--the United Nations, the National Violence Prevention Awards,
the AFI and so on--
Prof. BRETHERTON —I think that is a very good idea. The other thing that would be helpful to address is that our award systems tend to favour people who do one-off, discrete, high-profile projects. Another thing we could think about is how do we reward the people who quietly plug away? Barbara was saying that you have been working--what was it?--20 years on this, but then it becomes part of the scenery and we take it a little bit for granted. I do not know what the answer is. That is just an idea to put in for discussion: how do we reward the long-distance runners as well as the sprinters?
Mr MARSLEW —Considering what Dr Graycar was saying, in the sourcing of funding for movie-making, perhaps there could be some sort of funding assistance if the movie is of a non-violent nature. Someone has also just suggested a tax break. Yes, that sort of thing would help; it would go directly to the beginning.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Yes. It could be a tax break or a system of outright grants or something of an incentive scheme.
Father MALONE —Working in film reviewing and education, I am very keen on the continued development of the classifications, especially the consumer-advice side of things. It would help if we could find further ways. Let me give an example of that, of something that is good in practice. You could have a group of parents sit down to watch a particular film. Or, say we had 15 minutes of one of our rather more violent, Australian, confrontational short films up there on the screen and we sat down, like the Office of Classification, and viewed them. After that, we would just check what each of us understood by such terms as frequent or infrequent, implicit or explicit, and intensive.
We would also weigh that recommendation that they make about what is justified or gratuitous. There must be other ways in which that could be developed for television, as I mentioned this morning, because it does not seem to be done at all there. It is just an alert rather than an advice. It's a matter of finding ways, as mentioned earlier, in which the simpler, the better. Unfortunately, some of the information on, say, video jackets is of the `alert' kind, not offering consumer advice in regard to quality and frequency. I think a lot of parents and educators would find that kind of development continually helpful, continuing the process that is going on.
—Building on your idea, as we have a quotient
for other things, perhaps some group could address itself to developing a
more complex quotient. We talked earlier about so many stars to denote
something and so many Vs, but so many Vs is still a very simplistic and
very negative system. Perhaps there is some way, for example, of having a
system similar to how you rate the liveability of cities. We will put that
to some research group to think about.
Prof. BAUME —I was just going to make a comment because a number of the issues that have been raised are extremely relevant.
The idea of a hotline should be supported because there are many times when individuals may not necessarily have the ability to write to somewhere or to someone and may not know how to put that information forward. Having the ability at 10 o'clock at night to ring someone and to report a particular event is very important, and it should be supported.
I refer to the matters which Professor Julie James Bailey and, to some extent Dr Graycar, have raised. One is the issue of character building and the other is of rewarding scenarios, where the show or program has an outcome that is able to resolve a particular problem in a less violent way.
I do not think anyone around this table would disagree that television and other methods of the media are powerful educational tools. It is in the way we handle it. It is a way to make money for some. It also conveys a message. Since everyone agrees it is so powerful, and since everyone watches much of that information or listens to that information, then it is a perfect conduit to use to be educational and to develop problem solving skills in those vulnerable populations.
The dilemmas that we deal with today involve those who are affected by violence, either towards themselves or towards others. They are those who are the more vulnerable, who have less problem solving ability than others. So individuals like us may well make a decision to switch off the television, to watch something else or to read a book, but there are others who may not have that ability. They cannot actually decide or know that it is a bad decision to continue with a program.
Let me give you an example of something which I was shocked by. It was not a standard type of program. I will name it--GP. It sells itself as a family program, and it is said that older children should watch it because it is educative. I do not know what was going on, whether our public broadcaster had something going on, but on one particular episode a few months ago there was a case of paedophilia and child sexual abuse. That was the theme of the story.
Unfortunately, the way the producer decided to resolve that problem was not by penalising the paedophile. The producer did not seem to know how to terminate the problem. The way they did this was that, in the pursuit of this female GP trying to resolve the problem, the paedophile ended up taking an overdose of particular pills in front of a camera. It was very clearly outlined graphically. It was in front of a middle shot--I do not know what they call it. It was graphically depicting the event in its entirety.
It was quite clear that the producer at the time did not know how to resolve the problem that they were facing and decided that, as there is no right way as to whether that person should be condemned, because he himself had a bad childhood, maybe the best way is to let him die. `We will let him kill himself,' was the way he was resolving his problem.
If he has children, or if children are watching this, then this is a role model which is obviously non-acceptable. There is an issue of violence here. But it is more than an issue of violence. It is an issue where we have actually taken away the character building completely. We have actually gone the other way, if that is possible. We are actually moving away from a non-problem solving behaviour to making it acceptable.
It was not only that it was shown on a TV program, that it was actually shown on the public broadcaster--the ABC, obviously, which is supposed to be a slight cut above the others--but that it was promoted to be a GP show. That is also very significant because we are dealing with general practitioners, who are the first point of call in terms of primary health care workers, and they could not resolve a problem--at least, in the picture they could not.
So the point of character building is to go even further in terms of building in the script and making producers responsible. The outcome would not necessarily be a positive outcome but one where there are some problem solving skills involved and whereby the audience is able to assist in that program and, at the end of the day, say, `Maybe there wasn't a right or wrong answer, but at least we tried and we have worked out a number of processes.'
This, in turn, teaches and educates those who are more vulnerable. That
is really the critical aspect of this because it is fundamental. At the end
of the day, even if there is some violence, it will not have the same
effect because there is the other factor, which is supporting options which
Prof. BRETHERTON —Thank you.
Mr WOODLEY —In answering whether there is a need for a public education campaign, I most sincerely believe there is. I believe that some of the suggestions around this table in the last 10 minutes have been good ones and they need looking at absolutely. But we still need to educate people. I think the time will come though when we as a nation, whether the government or the law or whoever does it, has to admit--and I have said it before today--that there are problems associated with young people watching too much of the wrong material. How you say that in words has to be debated. Nevertheless, it can be done.
I reflect on a situation in Sweden. I went back to talk about pornography and different things in Sweden. They also had a tremendous problem in that country with drugs. The Swedish government put out a book called The Swedish Experience. It is an admission from that country--from the government, the police, education, all parts of Sweden--that they were too liberal with their drug laws for too long. In actual fact that is an admission from that country to the world--and you can get it sent to you from any part of the world and if you want a copy I have one for you--that they have made a mistake.
Then they go through what they are doing now in the 1990s to try to prevent it. A lot of that is a turnaround in society in their theories that they had for many years. I reckon that is fantastic. Here we have a country with some people and leaders that are game to say, `We have made a mistake and this is the way we are going to go from here.' I believe we ought to do this with this issue here. A lot of that is to do with labelling. Videos need labelling. Also parents need to be told, like you are told on cigarette packets. If a video has violence you need to say that this is harmful to the minds of underage children.
Eventually if parents make a conscious decision to let their kids watch
some of those films will know themselves that it could be detrimental to
their kids' health. That has some sort of effect on people, just like the
people who continue to smoke. They know and they are aware of it. I believe
we need to do that for the Australian people. They need to know of our
concerns and videos and all sorts of things need to be labelled
Prof. BRETHERTON —It seems to me that asking about the public education campaign is nestled between the V-chip and the role of PICS. It is perhaps asking: what do parents need to know about contemporary technology?
Mr FLEW —I believe we have in the audience people who are specialists on PICS. I was wondering if we could--
Prof. BRETHERTON —Bring one of them to the table.
Mr FLEW —Yes.
CHAIR —There is actually the opportunity for people to do that in the final session, but if there is someone who has a particularly burning point we could do that.
Ms KOOMEN —I am manager of on-line services at the Australian Broadcasting Authority. Could I take this opportunity to explain a little bit about the PICS system? PICS stands for the Platform for Internet Content Selection. Basically what PICS does in the context of the Internet and on-line services is two things: it is a set of technical specifications which enables Internet content to be labelled and it also allows PICS compatible software to respond to those labels.
What this means is that Internet content can be labelled with symbols and parents within the home can set their Internet software, such as their browsers, to interact and accept or reject certain types of Internet content on the basis of the information provided in those labels. So parents concerned about violent material may block out material which is labelled in a way to indicate that it contains violence. It is the same with sexual material and material containing strong language, et cetera.
That is the first half of the equation. The second half is that the PICS system requires the development of labelling schemes, symbols. One of the systems which has emerged and which we examine in the course of the ABA's on-line services investigation is the scheme developed by the Recreational Software Advisory Council, otherwise known as RSAC. RSAC has developed a four-strand labelling scheme based on violence, sex, nudity and language, including hate language. It enables Internet content to be labelled on a grade of one to four in relation to the degree to which the material contains content of that nature.
I apologise for it being complex, but what it means is that users will be able to exercise some control over the content which they access within their homes and that control can be broken down into the areas which they are most concerned about. It gives them additional tools to filter out high level violence or high level sex or high level language, and you can change those tools depending on the environment in which you are working.
If you have a five-year-old you may wish to set your recreational software label levels within your PICS browser at level one for sex, violence, nudity and language so your child does not view anything above that level. When your 15-year-old goes to utilise the Internet you may set the standards much higher at level three, four or whatever the case may be. So it enables individual parents to exercise control over the type of material which they or their children access.
That is a basic overview of the way in which the PICS system is intended
to work. It seems at this stage that it offers a large range of
opportunities for parents, in particular, but it is not limited to parents,
to exercise a degree of control over what they and their children access
within the home.
Mr MacDONALD —How available is it? How costly is it? Can parents actually access this material without personal cost or too much personal cost? Is it readily accessible?
Ms KOOMEN —The PICS system is a fairly newly developed system. I understand that it has already been incorporated into the Microsoft browser, the Explorer 3.0, so that when you purchase that you already get it. We understand that Netscape in their new communicator will also make it a function of that browser system so that it will be part of the package. That is the trend as it appears now. I cannot give you a direct costing but it looks as if it will be widely available.
The Recreational Software Advisory Council scheme has been developed by
a non-profit organisation in the United States. They have made their labels
available freely on the Internet. Whether that remains the case is yet to
be seen, but they did make a decision which has carried them to the point
we are at now not to charge for that.
Mr DICKIE —Could I add to what Karen said about the chance that it does offer? The big service providers in the United States like Microsoft and Compuserve are getting to the stage where they are now saying, `We are not going to put anything up on our sites unless they are rated.' What this means is that if parents wish to use the PICS system they can then key in saying, `We don't want to access any material unless it is rated and then if it is rated nothing beyond, say, 2.222 or 0.110 or something like that.' So it caters for individual needs that parents may have.
There is also an advisory council that assists RSAC when they are making their classification decisions. They are about to have an international advisory council so that places like Australia, Britain and elsewhere in the world will be able to have some sort of input into what ought to be in the different classification categories. Although you would not want to bet on it, it looks like a fairly promising international classification system for the Internet which I think might help parents anyway with exclusion of offensive material from the net and also allow Australian content providers to be able to self-classify, get an RSAC ruling on it and allow their material to be put up on the big web sites right around the world.
CHAIR —How parent-friendly is it and how childproof is it?
Prof. BRETHERTON —That is my point too. How long until the five-year-old knows how to set the settings for top-rated violence?
Mr DICKIE —It is growing enormously quickly in the United States. They are getting something like 5,000 inquiries a day from parents wanting to use it. Certainly, it is a rigorous self-classification system with click on questions all the way down. The information that was given to me is that it is relatively easy for the parents to set the levels.
CHAIR —And for children to unset the levels, how easy is that?
Ms KOOMEN —It is based on a password, so that you do not give your child the password as you would not give your child your credit card number.
Mr GRANT —Does the labelling system cover news groups? Does it purport to?
—I understand that it does and it can.
Mr GRANT —So a news group will label itself as being about a particular topic?
Ms KOOMEN —News groups, by their nature, are dynamic form of Internet content.
Mr GRANT —I have in mind Professor Baume's suicide discussions and that sort of thing.
Ms KOOMEN —There would be some limitations on it, but most Internet news groups are classified into topics so that people can find the material that they want. Labelling could occur on the basis of those properly labelled news groups.
Prof. BRETHERTON —We are getting very short of time and Professor Bailey and Professor Baume are waiting, if we could just have those two comments.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —I want to throw in a couple more ideas. One is in terms of this public education where, it seems to me, we fall into the middle. On the one hand, this morning we were talking about a simplified system which is easily recognisable in terms of symbols and on the other hand we do not have enough information that supports that. I am a great believer--I guess it is from my period on the tribunal where you had to write reasons for decisions--that one way which we might be able to get more information out of the television stations is if they give us reasons, which they then circulate to the newspapers when they are giving the schedules, why they have rated the 8.30 movie every evening MA or whatever they have rated it. Then the journalists can pick it up in terms of their criticisms and we have something to go on. That was one idea.
The other one is picking up on the idea of a levy. Again, it seems to me that if a distributor wants to have an R-rated, or even an MA-rated, maybe they have to pay something like $500,000. I am just picking that out of the air, but what it means is that down the line the video retailers will have to charge higher, say $50. We would have to do the research to get the exact figure, but what it means is that, if you want to watch an R rated movie--indeed, you might have a scale of MA, or whatever--you have got to pay $50 for 24 hours. That would be a way, a machinery whereby you impose a restriction and you will not have too many kids, I suggest, particularly if it is only 24 hours, looking at the movies. This would be an economic control.
Prof. BAUME —I think Professor James Bailey has taken half of what I was going to say, and Mr Grant as well. So I do not have much left to say. But I want to expand a little bit more on the news group issues. You are probably aware that the news group, in terms of the Internet, does not always list the content of a discussion on that news group but it is usually very vague. It is usually just one or two words. That would not be sufficient, from my understanding, for PICS to pick it up. Because it is interactive, there is also a lot of information that may well go through.
In addition to that, I would like to ask a question about the IRC, or
the chat system. These are actually interactive. For those of you who are
not familiar with that, it just means that you are at the end of your
terminal and you type something like an e-mail, and the other person sees
what you have written and they respond. You could have anything up to 20 or
30 people actually engaging in a discussion across the world. This would
not be able to be picked up by PICS because they are actually just IRC;
they are just chats. I want to know whether you would like to make a
comment on that, because I think it is very important.
Ms KOOMEN —There are two issues. One is the news groups. As I understand it, the labels can be applied to the news group once there has been some examination of the type of material which that news group generally contains. So, even though there may not be a lot of information at the time in the header, it may not take that long to find out what it is about.
The second thing is in relation to the chat groups, the IRC. They do present challenges, but I understand that the Recreational Software Advisory Council is actually looking at ways in which they could apply labelling to some chat groups.
Prof. BAUME —Does that include all your chat groups? Does that include verbal ones? As you know, this is a growing market in terms of talking on the Internet, because it is a lot cheaper than actually ringing someone.
Ms KOOMEN —I am not sure exactly, so I cannot answer that. But I know that they were looking at the application to IRC. So, if they are forward-looking at all, I would expect that that would be covered. But it is early days with the technology.
Mr GRANT —The verbal aspect might not be so important because it would probably be likely to remain a point-to-point communication whereas data communication could be point-to-multipoint.
Ms BIGGINS —It is possible to pick up the issue of more information in relation to classifications but still keeping the system simple. In Australia, we have got a system, particularly in the area of G and PG, which is based on suitability for a child under the age of 15. It seems to me that it is not terribly helpful to parents when they go to the pictures with a child aged three and another one aged 10. I just want to throw in for consideration the ideas that came out of Wilson's research. They are proposing a scheme whereby you consider the watershed of the child at age eight and you signal the sort of material that is likely to be problematic for the under eight-year-old and the sort of material that is going to be problematic for the over eight-year-old. In that way you are giving parents far more useful information than just that it is G or PG and what you have to have PG about.
She is considering things like the fact that you could signal horror,
violence, sex and sexual violence in relation to age groups because there
is good research that you could base it on. You could give a signal of H
three to seven. In other words, it has got horror in it and it is not going
to be any good for three- to seven-year-olds. You could give a signal of V
eight to 12. It has got violence that is going to be problematic for eight-
to 12-year-olds. You could give a signal of S 13 to 17. It seems to me that
that is an idea worth considering in terms of more information but a
reasonably understandable system.
Prof. BRETHERTON —I notice, looking at our questions, that we have not said anything about V-chips.
Mrs SHARP —May I say something, because I have got to go. I would just like to ask what we can do about advertisements for shows, films and other things, which are very inconsistent at the moment. You have your classification and then you have, say, an M ad or a PG ad coming into a G or a C show during the day. I find that is my greatest problem with my children, because suddenly it is on you and you do not have a chance to do anything about it.
Prof. BRETHERTON —So, your positive suggestion is that the block of G time should be a block of G time--
Mrs SHARP —Exactly.
Prof. BRETHERTON —And not interrupted by other kind of material.
Mrs SHARP —Exactly. And of course they always show the most titillating things to advertise it. So the most excessive part of that show will come on in that other category.
Mr MARSLEW —We have touched on videos, films and the Internet. We have not touched on radio, which I believe exacerbates the problems coming from the other areas because of its subtlety. It is aimed at the young demographics and we have not even touched on it. It is a major problem that we have to address.
Prof. BRETHERTON —So your positive suggestion is, `Don't forget the radio.
Mr MARSLEW —Absolutely.
Mrs VAN LUYN —We recently had a seminar, `A new era in Australian film regulation' in Sydney. Richard Heffner was invited to take part in it and he was talking about the V-chip. He calls it the two-year wonder--a two per cent solution, at least. He says the movement towards regulation is politically conservative:
. . . there is a confluence here no doubt between what the radical right wants to do, but at the same time those of us who'd claim to be more liberal . . .
Right now they are embracing the rating game because they know they can dominate it. I think that is the important thing. The V-chip is a snare and an illusion.
He says that in Tennessee they were pushing the V-chip idea as a `technological fix of the problems of our time.'
After listening to the Vice President who I admire greatly, I called what he was suggesting the "two per cent solution", because he was working on the assumption that if you had a rating system and you had a V-chip, however ineffectual the V-chip would be--I mean there is no self respecting youngster of 7, 8, 9 years of age who can't not undo technically what his or her parent has done to the V-chip--you could solve the problem.
. . .for the average American concerned parent to get a V-chip adapted to the television set, put it in the kid's television set, put it in the spare room's television set, put it in the dining room's television set, put it in the kitchen's television set, and they're in all of those rooms, and learn how to program it and not expect that the kid is going to come by and deprogram it. . .
The second thing I want to comment on is that I gave evidence to the ABA that there was another system that could be in place for the Internet which has never been discussed because the service providers do not want to put it in and it is going to cost too much money. I would like to suggest that if there is something that is really so effective in preventing unacceptable material going on the Internet, then this should be investigated. It should have been mentioned more in the report.
I began asking service providers what they do for their children. They
said, `We go home and sit with them the entire evening. We have a password
on the battery and we know they can take the password off the battery every
day, so we also have a Telstra pin number to stop outgoing calls while we
are out.' Then I asked him if it was possible to put some sort of system on
the Internet that will block all of this material at the incoming site and
they said, `Of course there is, but don't tell anybody because they don't
want to do it. It is too expensive.' So they are putting out the
information that it does not exist. But there is something--I don't know
what it is. I have not been able to find out.
Prof. BRETHERTON —It seems to me that the PICS system we talked about was some approximation to what you--
Mrs VAN LUYN —No, it is taken out by the service provider. This is an unknown and I only discovered it by accident. All the private schools have Firewall and things like that. I had a teacher tell me, `a 16-year-old was organising this for us and next year he is leaving. He is trying to teach me and I am having great difficulty operating the Firewall system.' There are quite a few systems around. All the private schools seem to be putting them in but the public schools do not. We had a seven-year-old accessing pornography in one of the schools.
I think it is very important that we pursue this to the death rather
than just accept electronic advice that it cannot be done, because they
know it can be.
Prof. BRETHERTON —We will take that as your positive suggestion--to be more probing of our electronic experts, so our electronic experts can take warning there.
Mr Ebedes, I am aware that I cut you off earlier and I wonder if you would like to take the last word.
Mr EBEDES —It depends on what we are discussing. If it is about X-rated videos and you would like me to give some input on that, then certainly I will.
Prof. BRETHERTON —So we will take that as your positive suggestion to be more probing of our electronic experts. Our electronic experts can take warning there. I am aware that I cut you off earlier, do you want to take the last word?
Mr EBEDES —It depends on what you are discussing. If it is about X-rated videos and you would like me to speak on that, certainly I will.
Prof. BRETHERTON —This is just trying to be courteous because I cut you off and did not let you speak. We might round off by letting you have the last word and using it in whatever way you choose, as long as it is not too long.
Mr EBEDES —Thank you. I will try to keep it as short as I can. It is such a complex subject that I have written a thesis on it so it is very hard to digest in a very short space of time.
CHAIR —If you would like to provide a statement to the committee, that would be fine. That will be taken into account in the final report.
Mr EBEDES —Do you mean a written statement?
CHAIR —Yes, because we are out of time and we do not have time for long statements, but if you want to make a brief point--
Mr EBEDES —I can do that. If you like I can give a brief outline of it.
CHAIR —X-rated videos are not within the ambit, really, of what we are talking about. We are talking about violence on television which is an R classification.
Mr EBEDES —Yes, it is just that it is mentioned in here and that other lady did raise it, should the states make possession of unclassified material an offence. So whatever I leave--
CHAIR —X is not unclassified. That is RC, refused classification.
—And the other point was that should the states make
possession of unclassified or X-rated material an offence on the original
CHAIR--It was taken off
Mr EBEDES —Was it taken off?
CHAIR —Yes it was, and the one circulated today does not have that on.
Mr EBEDES —If that is the case--
CHAIR —It was put on unintentionally, because we are talking about violence.
Mr EBEDES —If we are talking about violence, fine. The only point I will just end on and say is that it is not violence against women or the consent of people to it, so that is the biggest misnomer going. X-rated videos are not violence against women. The actors take place voluntarily. Some of the biggest consumers of X-rated material are women themselves. There is violence against men too.
Mrs PHILLIPS —Except that we heard from Linda Lovelace that she took part in some of these X-rated videos and appeared to be consenting but she was beaten up in order to appear, so we are never too sure exactly how the consent was obtained.
Mr EBEDES —That may be one in a trillion cases.
Prof. BRETHERTON —Thank you very much because I really appreciated how people rose to the challenge to think of creative options and I think we, in a rather free ranging lateral sort of way, slid towards some of the questions and I thought it was fairly productive, so thank you.
CHAIR —On behalf of the group I would like to thank Professor Bretherton for an excellent facilitation session and I think we have quite a number of excellent ideas from it that certainly in government we will be pursuing. Thank you for drawing that out, professor. Before we move to the next session, I would like to draw your attention to the final session on media education which will now take this next hour. But at 3.50 p.m. where we have listed final discussion, the form of that is to allow anyone who is in the audience who would like to make a statement to do so.
We have had an indication from 13 people that they would like to do that and given that we have at that point precisely 40 minutes left that works out at three minutes each, so we will be applying Senate rules here that when the three minutes are up you will hear a warning bell and that is time to finish the sentence and move on to the next person. That is in one hour, so if people who are making those contributions and formulating their thoughts could think about three minutes. Thank you.
SESSION 5--MEDIA EDUCATION
CHAIR —Our facilitator is Father Christopher Gleeson of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools. Father Gleeson is chairman of the social issues committee of the AHISA. He is the headmaster of Saint Ignatius College, Riverview, New South Wales. Before that he occupied a similar position at Xavier College, Melbourne. After 11 years in that position he was granted sabbatical leave in 1992 and wrote Striking a balance, a book on teaching values for parents and teachers published by Hodder and Stoughton. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, Father Gleeson.
Father GLEESON —That book is $14.95, ladies and gentlemen. I want to highlight some of the basic considerations. Many of them have already been mentioned today, but, like a good teacher, I think we should be reinforcing and repeating some of them. Some things that I say, leading into the discussion, could be said by any association of principals, not just by independent principals. After all, we keep coming back to that basic fact that the protection of children is precious to us all.
The government inquiry on violence in schools, referred to this morning by Mr Macdonald, states quite categorically that media violence is a statistically and socially significant contributor to violence expressed by the young. I do not think we can walk away from that. When talking about the media in this paper--a copy of which I have left with the secretary--I have restricted myself to the electronic media.
In the last session, when we were talking about lateral thinking and positive strategies, I was thinking of offering a suggestion: one of the most positive things we can do as educators is promote as hard as possible the value of reading books for young people. No less a person than Stephen Spielberg said that we are in danger of losing our romance with the printed word. We, as educators, often realise that we are in competition for the imaginations of our young people. Books are a companion. As Professor Baume said, they are a friend. We should not forget that.
One of the issues that is very important in all of this--and it relates very closely to the question of classification--is that our young people are operating in a multimedia environment these days. That is an issue that all health professionals should be concerned about, particularly as young people are spending an enormous amount of time in that multimedia environment, and also as the social environment in which so many of them are doing their viewing and listening is changing so rapidly. It is being marked by smaller families and fewer relatives. Those families are very mobile. There is a loss of adult role models. There are few places for safe play, and often, as we know, television is acting very much as a baby-sitter.
In leading into this discussion, we would also like to confirm what Dr Graycar said this morning, that the context of violence is crucial as well. That bears very solidly on the issue of classification. We would want to very strongly reinforce what Barbara Biggins said about children under eight.
I was itching to get into the session this morning, when we were talking about freedom and rights, because I do not believe you can talk about freedom and rights without talking about responsibility. They are always two sides of the one coin. There is no such thing as unlimited freedom, it seems to me. If you are talking about freedom without limits, you are talking about something other than freedom: you are talking about licence. Freedom always has to be exercised within a framework of responsibility.
I think Mr MacDonald mentioned this morning, and certainly I would want to mention now--this might be controversial--that we believe very strongly that there is, first of all, a hierarchy of human rights and the right of children to a healthy development is a higher right than the right of adults to free access to media and entertainment.
Could we move to the first discussion topic, which has to do with domestic censorship. We take that to mean censorship by parents. I am trying to put myself in the place of the parents who speak to me a lot about these issues. One of the things I have found myself a little bit ill at ease with in the discussions today is that a great deal is assumed. I do not think that is fair for parents. Certainly it is not fair for me. The cognoscenti in this forum use technical language easily but, from time to time, I am not sure exactly what that language means. Information does not necessarily mean education.
While many parents have this burden of, if you like, controlling or, to use that awful word, censoring what their young people see and hear, most of them--many of them--are unwilling and unqualified to exercise that control. In fact, the children who we are associated with, who we have in our schools, have often developed excellent skills with electronic media from an early age and are better informed on access to such media than their parents. Yet we are asking parents to do the job of controlling that. It is very difficult. We have to give a great deal of thought to what we mean by parent education.
Obviously, videos are accessible to children when their parents are not present and, as children grow older, parents pay less attention to the music and videos that hold their children's interest. I want to come back to what was said before by Mr Marslew about the radio and the issue of music. Music is very hard to control. With walkmans, it is a private world for young people, and we really do not know what they are listening to.
There is one other point I would like to make, and it relates to the issue of domestic censorship. We would maintain really that the informed viewer--this might be strong language, but we will say it for the purposes of discussion here--is a myth. It can be a very easy way out for the government to evade responsibility in this area. I will leave it there for the moment and open it up for discussion.
Mr MacDONALD —I would like to add the point that I am one of those people who is both an educator and a parent. We have somewhat neglected throughout the day to consider communication with teachers. School teachers particularly, and principally primary teachers--they are involved with the children most at risk--are the ones who have the closest contact with families and parents. Most of them are parents themselves.
I hope that we will be able to see that one important part of all this
discussion will be resourcing the teachers so they can provide some of the
ongoing education, not only of children but also of the families of the
children who attend their schools and for whom they have a pastoral care
and duty. I would like to think about educating teachers and giving them
the opportunity for professional development, for communication and for
knowledge concerning the issues we have been raising today and some of the
Ms BIGGINS —Young Media Australia relates very strongly to the statements just made about the issue of parent education. The big push that is on these days is, `We cannot control the media so the parents are going to have to be responsible.' Parents--like Kerry Stokes said in his lectures of a couple of years back--are sitting blindfold in the back seat of the car, speeding down the information superhighway, unable to control where the car is going.
At Young Media Australia, we have tried to tackle the issue of parent education. We believe it is the key to not only the old media but also the new media. If the government is really serious about this issue of media violence, then it has to put its money where its mouth is. It seems to me that there has to be a whole lot more money put into parent education of a sort that enables parents to act constructively. It does not mean 30-second commercials on commercial television saying, `This is what GP, G and M means.' It means giving parents information about ages and stages of kids and what sort of material is problematic at certain ages.
Groups like Young Media Australia--it is like I am giving a commercial--would really like to get into this area, but we run on the smell of an oily rag. We are a community organisation. If the government were prepared to fund us, we could do a whole lot more of the sort of thing that we did last year, which was to produce a kit for early childhood professionals called `Off and On'. This was the message: `Is your television off and on or often on?' In it is a whole lot of resourcing material for early childhood professionals about the impact of violence, the impact of advertising and facts and figures about how and when children view television.
It has got the children's television standards from the ABA. It has got 10 top tips for parents. There is a tear-off pad here that you can tear off and give to the person who has come to the child-care centre. There are lots of things that could be done to help parents, and we know that parents will act constructively if they are given good information. We have got the information and we cannot get it to them.
Mrs GRANT —Along with that, we had quite a large forum on parents' rights and responsibilities. Every parent said that we need in Australia not just the rights of the child, but also to have parents' rights and responsibilities clearly defined. You now have eight-year-olds coming home to their parents, and the parents are trying to switch off the television and the child is saying, `That is harassment, that is verbal harassment, Mummy.' And their mother is saying, `You will get something more than verbal harassment in a minute.'
But there is this problem of just where the limits are. For teenage
children, in particular, those rights need to be spelt out very clearly
because, with peer pressure and so on, they are getting away with behaviour
that they would not get away with if parents felt more secure and more
supported by the community in general and the government in particular.
Mrs PHILLIPS —The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is not helping.
Mrs GRANT —No.
Father GLEESON —I think with every bill of rights, there should be a bill of responsibilities down the other side.
Mr GRANT —I refer to that first discussion topic, `With satellite dishes and fibre optics, is domestic censorship being marginalised?' I see that statement as an example of the older generation throwing up their hands and not being able to understand new technology. If we are talking about alternative forms of delivery of what essentially are television programs, then domestic censorship is no more being marginalised than existing television censorship. We are talking about pay TV. Senator Tierney will be well aware that the government maintains the ability to regulate those industries, because there is presently a R-rated ban on pay television.
All we have really been discussing this afternoon is Internet regulation, and there are problems associated with parents' ignorance of what children can access there, but mainly it is about television. Whether it is pay television delivered by a cable or satellite, or whether it is normal free to air television which is delivered terrestrially, there is no difference, it all comes through the television sets. So I do not see any marginalisation there.
My second point picks up on the media education aspects. We have been
talking about parental responsibilities. One of the things that the
Communications Law Centre has identified as being very important to this
debate is educating the media itself. The Victorian centre, under Paul
Chadwick, had set up what we call a JET course, which is about journalists'
educational training. That is currently in operation in respect of the
print media and it has been very successful. It began with an awareness
that journalists were generally uneducated about things such as sub judice
and contempt, but also extended into principles of privacy and grief
intrusion. Because of those latter privacy aspects, which do impinge upon a
wide definition of violence--and it was one of the particular concerns of
Mrs Grant--the centre is developing an electronic JET at this moment which
is really looking at the ethics of various practices of the electronic
media and is looking at things like grief intrusion and so forth. That
course has been developed and there is a very heavy demand from the
mainstream media organisations to book their journalists into these
courses. We see that as a very positive step towards a more organic
development, a coincidence of the media's conception of what is socially
acceptable with society's conception of what the media should be doing.
Mr FLEW —Many of my colleagues in Queensland work in JET programs and it is very important and very valuable to journalists as media professionals. I would also like to applaud the work that Barbara Biggins has done in developing kits such as that.
Being a media educator myself, there are perhaps two points I would like to take up from Father Gleeson's remarks. The first would be that, in a forum such as this, we do have a tendency to perceive the media as a problem, and much of the discussion today has been associated with problems that we perceive with the media. It is important to realise that one reason why media education has proved to be popular is that it relates to the pleasures that young people receive from the electronic media. If we are shutting ourselves off from that, we could well end up talking in a vacuum. That would be my point. I am also not sure about the statement that the informed viewer is a myth. That might be one that requires elaboration.
The second relates to questions of control. I was thinking about this in relation to the Internet. One of the reasons why the Internet has proved to be such an appealing technology, and one of the reasons why it has been taken up by young people in particular, is not so that they can find pornography, bomb manufacture or whatever but because the late 20th century has, by and large, been a century of mass media, of point-to-multipoint communications. One criticism that has always existed about broadcast media--and it has also existed about newspapers--is the limited number of channels and the limited amount of access to information. One of the reasons why we are concerned about concentration of media ownership is that we can only, for example, get Rupert Murdoch's newspaper or Kerry Packer's television station or whatever.
One of the fundamental things that has happened with the Internet is that it is possible to access ideas, information, thoughts, all legislation passed through the parliament, the constitution--any number of things--from the home at a relatively limited cost. I know that the students I teach find this one of the most exciting and empowering innovations that they have seen in their lifetime.
While we do have issues posed around regulation, classification and so
forth, I think it is important that we do not simply come out looking like
King Canute--for want of a better term--trying to stand against a tide of a
lot of positive things as well as some things that are more problematic.
Mr WOODLEY —Senator, there was mention of a ban on R-rated films through pay television. Is that a fact?
CHAIR —At the moment, the position in the Senate legislation is that R and X are not allowed on pay TV. However, a company accessing through Optus has found a loophole in the act, and we are now looking at that.
Mr LAMING —To go back to something you said about every right having a responsibility, I would say a duty. One of the things that we found in the COOL program with 15- to 17-years-olds last year was that, in fact, if given a chance, young people really do have a sense of rights. They do have a sense of responsibility. Maybe it is something to do with empowering them, giving them the chance to see other options, giving them the chance to make choices and having confidence in their capacity to make decisions in their own best interests. Part of that experience for me was a couple of teachers in that instance who were very threatened by young people actually telling the truth about violent, abusive, harassing behaviours in the school. In fact, that group now has led to a whole school policy of sexual harassment being put in place. It has led to disclosures and all the rest of it.
My point there is that I think there is a danger in the polarising thing. Given the chance, young people, or anybody--violent men, because they are not born violent, they have learnt it, and they can unlearn it--can make decisions in their own best interests and in the interests of the whole community. So, it is not that the goodies and the baddies are there or the teachers have it, because often I think the older ones of us get fairly threatened by the technological stuff around this whole area. It is just a point.
Father GLEESON —Do you want to say a little bit more about the empowering, given them the chance?
Mr LAMING —The empowering for me is that, if you really have the information at your disposal, if you have the facts at your disposal, you are able to make a decision on the basis of those facts, on the basis of something that is closer to the truth. It might not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You have the capacity, the ability and the power to then maybe get closer to what is best for you. That is what I mean by empowering.
Mr EBEDES —Just to answer that question about the R-rated shows on cable TV, I understand that the position with Galaxy is that they expected to have 2,000 or 3,000 subscribers. They wound up with about 12,000 and the majority of them are women. One of the reasons why women are the majority of subscribers is that they would like to see this material, like anybody else, and they do not have the embarrassment of walking into the video store. They simply turn on a switch.
—The explanation we were given for the majority being women
was that they control the budgets in the house and they pay the fees and
fill out the forms.
Mr EBEDES —That may be a very good explanation too.
Father MALONE —I think Chris was right with the word `empowerment'. I suppose it is not just in making decisions but in the appreciating of values which gives equality to our way of life which is what education is about. I have found that with working with school children, especially senior ones, on knowing how stories are told to go with say the film area, which is mine, and how the values are dramatised, that they do respond in a way. It opens up horizons that they would not necessarily have. I suppose with your mention about reading books, it is the parallel. If we educate them in literature then we have to educate them in the art of cinema, television and that kind of story telling.
The other thing that I have found is that the parents who actually do come to any workshops, if you provide the kind of information that we are talking about in classifications, et cetera, feel liberation because they do not have that kind of access at times, but it ties in with their experience. They understand how they function, how they respond to stories. They do a lot of psychological type stuff. So they see their children are different. Is this a moral issue or is it just simply a taste in style difference? Once they get some of that background, they can appreciate so much better the judgments that they and their children need to make about what is suitable and what is not.
Mr WOODLEY —I want to talk about the education of kids and parents. It does not matter how many laws you pass--everyone wants to get round them in some way or another. I am not saying you should not have any laws. Don't get me wrong. Obviously restrictions and labelling and all that sort of thing need to be there to help, but education is the answer to our problem in the long term. But that has to have a strong message to go with it and a recognition of the problems. It has to be spelt out.
I have said this before. What I want to say now is slightly different in so much as we are talking about the parents' role in regard to this. I hearken back to what I said a while ago in regard to drugs in Sweden. I know it is a different subject, but this is relevant. The fact that when they did the national survey across the country about the drug problem the answer came back: it was very clear that the parents knew nothing about the problem.
They found that one of the first things they had to do to solve the
problem in that country was to educate the parents about the problems with
drugs because when the kids sat down at home and started talking over the
dinner table about it the parents did not know how to answer. They do not
know any of the subjects, and they do not know about this either. They are
mystified about what are the regulations. What is bad for their kids? What
is good for their kids? Is it really bad or is it not? Who do I take notice
from? My doctor, the neighbour, the priest, the school? They are all
confused. We need to tell them.
Mrs VAN LUYN —Firstly, we do not need a media campaign if we use words instead of symbols and if we ensure that every program, not just every film, is classified. If we ensure then that the newspapers agree to publish in the guides the classification in words so that you can read `for children' or `for pre-schoolers' or `for adults only', then everyone will know. They will not need to be educated to symbols and a lot of money wasted. They will just simply read ordinary English words that we use everyday. But the number of symbols that you need to learn before you can understand the media almost looks as though there is a campaign to hide the actual meaning rather than disclose it to parents.
Secondly, because the classifications have been consistent now since 1988, the criteria have been moved down so that the classification `G' is now not suitable for children. They are left with nothing. I am suggesting that we have two further classifications for children four and under and children eight and under because they are not being provided for anywhere, especially in the theatres.
Ms EDMAN —I think the role of parents in this is vital and I think education is incredibly important, but I think there is a problem there in that while parents will say that they want to know, that they want to be educated and that they want to understand, my experience is that when they are given those opportunities they do not front. That might be for a range of reasons that I do not know whether we can go into now. I think there is a gap between parents thinking they want to be educated and then when the opportunities are presented they do not come for whatever reason. Those who do come and are given the information, as Father Peter said, go away liberated and feel as if they have at least some sense of what is happening. But I think it is that gap between saying that somehow they want to be involved in it but not actually fronting when the opportunities are provided.
Mr MacDONALD —I would like to return to what Barbara Biggins said earlier. There are in the community organisational structures by which parents can be educated. We do not need to re-invent the wheel. All we need to do is provide the resources by which the education can take place. I think we talk a lot about the need for educating parents but we really do not know how that is to be done and it certainly will not be done through the media. I think we have to ask ourselves where are the parents? The parents are at schools with their children. That is the best community contact with parents. Therefore, the resources should be where the parents can be contacted.
Prof. JAMES BAILEY —Again, I would like to turn this on its head a bit. It seems to me one of the strongest influences that our young people has is peer group. If we can get the peer group to see that it is uncool to be violent then we are a long way down the track. In the last 25 years I have seen that happen with the environment. In the early 1970s the environment was nowhere on the agenda, yet now we lead the world with the clean-up campaign. I guess smoking would be the other one.
We have turned around a cultural environment in those two areas and it
seems to me that possibly we have to think strategically about how we turn
around our whole ethic in terms of violence. It is a peer group pressure.
Perhaps if we could get a pop group that said that non-violence is the
thing to do and get it through that sort of education process then I think
we are a long way down the track. Many of us have been in this game for
20-odd years and it has been from the top down and top down does not work
with the younger generation so well. Certainly it supports them but I think
we have really got to try and get into the peer group culture.
Father GLEESON —We might take that particular strategy up in the last half hour.
Mr MARSLEW —We have just started on what you are talking about here with Enough is Enough with the anti-violence projects we are doing in schools. It is okay to give information and education but without motivation nothing happens. What we are looking at here as well is that the government is prepared to spend millions and millions of dollars picking up the pieces after the event, yet what are we going to do with what we have done today? Will there be funding put towards utilising the information we have today? What about the groups that we have heard about around the table today that are actually out there doing the doing and making differences in their own way? Can we get government support to enhance the work we are doing and push forward the projects we are doing?
Mr WOODLEY —Tell them about the Enough is Enough program, about the reception you get from kids.
Mr MARSLEW —It is tremendous. About 90 per cent of the kids that we speak to through the Enough is Enough schools based programs are fantastic. They want to get involved. We leave them knowing that they can make a difference if they want to. That is part of our process, encouraging them and empowering them to do something within the broader community. But we can only do so much with the funding that we have. I can highlight many instances where we have gone into schools that have had a terrible reputation and within 50 minutes those kids have been turned around primarily because we told them that we cared, that they do have an opinion and that they are valued as part of the future of this country. The response is enormous.
Mr WOODLEY —That is true, we did it in the high school in Tamworth and with a great response from the kids and the teachers. It was very good. It was just one little group.
—It is motivating people to want to do something. You
can have all the information and the education, but unless you want to do
something with it--what the hell!
Ms BIGGINS —Just a quick comment. I find it ironic that the federal government currently advertises for applications for grants for community organisations working in the field of a physical environment, but for organisations working in the area of media environment there are no grants. There are no grants for any organisations working for the health of kids, in relation to media environment. But if I was an organisation working for the physical environment, I could get a grant. There are strange priorities there.
Mr LAMING —My experience is the same with kids. They are really keen to do something about this. Very often they feel fear, they feel at risk, they feel like it is out of control, that it is really not a good place to be for them in their lives. The second thing is that for me it is about prevention rather than picking up the pieces after the event. It connects, in terms of an effective intervention.
The only way we are really going to do something is going back to Di Bretherton's point about working together--a collaborative and integrated intervention approach by teachers, parents, kids, educators, media, government--the whole bit. It is really about having a consistent line. That will work.
Mr MARSLEW —And at all levels.
Mr WOODLEY —We seem to think they are all against us. They are not against us at all. Eighty per cent of them want to work with us to stop all this. They really do.
Father GLEESON —Yes. Some of these practical issues of funding might come up in the last 40 minutes that we have before half past four. Could I take the discussion back to something that Mr Terry Flew said about media studies, because it does bring up one of the questions on our agenda: `Should schools be expected to teach media studies?' In doing a little bit of preparation for this session I wondered how many students in secondary schools, and primary schools for that matter, are actually engaged in media studies. The number of students in New South Wales--that is the only research I could get done--is something like 1,750 from year 10 to year 12. Now that is not many when you consider that something like 65,000 are sitting for the HSC in New South Wales, and that is from years 10 to 12. I am also told on good advice that Australia really is leading the world in the development of media studies curricula in schools. Yet I wonder how that is impacting directly on our students. I wonder whether there are many actually engaged in the study.
The other question I wonder about is how effective it is, because my
experience of media studies in two schools is that the practical side of
media studies is a delight--the boys and girls love to get behind cameras
and get involved in studios and whatever--but the critical evaluative side
of media studies, for example, examining the bias and prejudices, et
cetera, of whatever goes on in the media, is not appealing and is much more
difficult and rigorous, and I think is not taught as much. They are
impressions. Can anybody enlighten me or confirm what I have to say or
whatever? But I think it is different in the tertiary sector.
Father MALONE —I got the impression that things have been improving in Victoria in the last 10 years. I might have agreed with you even five years ago, but the number of courses, the development, the number of students and the number of enthusiastic teachers who I come across doing what you just said latterly, I think is improving. It needs the enthusiastic teachers, of course.
Mr FLEW —The Australian teachers of media conference in Brisbane in October was attended by about 600 teachers so there are indications that it is a growing area. Your point about the relationship between the hands-on work and considering the media is an important one. Certainly at a tertiary level the growth in demand for hands-on media-type courses going into film and television journalism, areas like that is enormous. It has really been one of the major growth areas of the 1990s.
But your point is absolutely right about the importance to encourage a critical approach. When I say critical, not just finding what is wrong with the media, which is perhaps my earlier concern, but an approach to understanding the media which enables people who will be future media practitioners as well as being media consumers, to develop ideas, concepts, understand the ways in which media works and so forth. So my impression certainly at a tertiary level and less certainly at a secondary level, is that there is significant development in media studies education.
Father GLEESON —If I am right, that media studies has a low profile in our secondary schools around Australia, primary schools as well--despite what you said, Fr Peter, then it is obviously a big lacuna in our program because media is one of the great teachers and our young people are not being exposed to that in any rigorous, disciplined way; not in any numbers.
Mr FLEW —Media education can also be taught in other areas. For example, if you think about the reasons why English has traditionally been compulsory, it is not just learning how to speak English, it is learning how to evaluate novels and other forms of text. You can approach media programs as text and evaluate them in those ways and other areas of the syllabus have the opportunity to incorporate a media dimension.
Ms MORRISON —Two of my children have studied media studies in its very earliest stage, though,--about 14 or 15 years ago--and they benefited a lot by it. They had no hands-on experience, they had more a critical appraisal and an evaluation side and it was an eye opener for them at a very impressionable age in their lives. But it did need parental assistance with it which is a good thing.
—It depends very much on what the curriculum is and
how it is taught. I have done relief teaching in schools and picked up the
message that media studies was the bludge subject. Very sad, you watch Monty Python videos and just have a good time.
Father GLEESON —It is a great shame.
Mrs VAN LUYN —In the early days, the teachers were tending to show R-rated films which were breaching state regulations. I can remember one issue that came out. A teacher had shown Porkys to a classroom of children and they were all very absorbed in the idea that they had experienced some sort of arousal from it, and that was all they learnt out of that particular exercise. A lot of parents then pulled their children out of the class. Atom is a very big leader in the field and in the beginning they made quite a lot of mistakes.
Mrs GRANT —Most of the eduction unfortunately is really directed at the converted. Those who can take it in and absorb the sorts of points we have been making or the sorts of concerns we have are usually from a background that can cope with that. The very people who are most vulnerable in the community, not just the children but the adults as well--and this is why I come back to simplicity again--somehow we have to have something for those people and their children, that percentage of our community who are at risk in various ways. This is something we have not addressed to date.
Ms BIGGINS —That is why we cannot rely solely on parent education as a solution to the problem. Governments have got to make sure that they are promoting conditions for a healthy media environment. Children from families that are under stress already are those who are most vulnerable to violent media portrayals, and they are the ones who are least likely to get adequate supervision and any sort of media education from their parents.
Mrs GRANT —And they will watch the most hours of television, et cetera.
Ms BROWN —One of the things that we have discovered recently at the Australian Institute of Criminology is that, in looking at the indicators of aggressive behaviour as well as media violence, it seems that most offenders are people who have developed through life without the proper skills to cope with various frustrations and problems in their life; and this is where the conflict resolution work that Di Bretherton is doing comes in. It seems to me that media literacy classes in schools, from primary level upwards, together with appropriate life skills in general--conflict resolution skills and relationship skills--should all be a vital component of education from the beginning of an education life span and career, from the four-year-olds right through. It should be a general class that everyone has to attend. It is not a bludge class; it is not a choice; it is part of education for life.
It is something that we certainly see would reduce the level of offences
and reoffending. It all can be seen with most offenders, particularly
juvenile offenders. Of course, once they get into the system, the problem
perpetuates; but getting there could certainly be prevented with
appropriate life skills that perhaps they do not get taught at home but
really ought to be taught in schools.
Mrs GRANT —We should not be depending on the schools to do it all. The media can do it too. They are the most wonderful educational source and they do not do the educating. And it should not be at 4 o'clock in the morning during university programs. It should be part of a complement of studies that everyone can have via their television or via their videos.
Mr LAMING —I have a brief point to back up what Melanie Brown was saying about offenders and their backgrounds. Some statistics we prepared at the beginning of this year showed that almost 75 per cent of offenders coming to the Shed Project in rural Gippsland had themselves been victims of violence of one sort of another. That is not an excuse for their behaviour; it simply reinforces what Melanie said.
Ms BROWN —That is right, and it is all linked together. The people who perpetuate the violence produce more victims who then become perpetrators. It is a cycle, but the cycle has got to be broken somewhere. I think proper conflict resolution skills taught in schools, as well as in homes, would be a first step in breaking the cycle. Of course, schools are where we can really target people,
Mr LAMING —That is also what I meant by empowerment.
Ms BROWN —That is right, yes.
Mr MacDONALD —There is already the scope for doing that in the health education movement.
Ms BROWN —That is right.
—There has been significant interest over the past
two years in health education. There has been the development in Australia
of the Health Education Association, the implementation of health education
courses, and pilot studies as core curriculum from beginners through to
year 12 in schools but, once again, the problem is resources. The problem
is trying to find adequate professional development training for teachers,
and curriculum development materials. If they were available, if some
resources were thrown into this, health education would take some of the ad
hoc problem out of the teaching of media studies, drug education and a
whole lot of life-skill programs which, otherwise, are on a sort of in and
out basis in schools. I feel that it is best to have that in the whole
concept of health education where each of these has a part to play.
Included in that, of course, is the education in values, spirituality and
so on, where it all belongs as part of the core curriculum and is not seen
as something coming in from outside. We feel that it is very important that
the health education movement should be supported.
Prof. BRETHERTON —I just wanted to say something about the teaching of conflict resolution skills. I agree that it does fit in very well with ideas of empowerment. Some people have been concerned about the way the media, as a whole, represent world problems in a rather overwhelming way without necessarily presenting solutions. These people have considered that if you actually teach conflict resolution skills, you can bring things back to a more manageable level and you get across the message that you can do something, and that you can make changes in your immediate environment. Once you have established that, you can then have people working on a slightly larger scale rather than feeling, `I am disempowered by everything that is going on in the world.'
I also I think there is a problem to be tackled about how people see skills in the tertiary curriculum; that teachers go to teachers colleges and it is actually very difficult to run conflict resolution programs in the teacher curriculum program because that program is becoming increasingly academic. To teach conflict resolution skills, I think you must teach it--I do not mean you should just teach skills; I could equally have an argument that it must have theory as well. However, I would say that you cannot just do it theoretically.
In fact, I think the best way is by using video and using role-play and using ideas from the media. You need to have people actually doing role-plays and enactments, and being engaged in moot courts or whatever it is. Videotape that, get feedback and reflect on it and play and replay. That process is not looked on with favour by those educational faculties which have been recently incorporated into the university system and which are under a great deal of pressure to produce much more abstract academic research. I would see that level as a key intervention point. Now, if we are talking about, say, whether it is in the house curriculum or where, then in a way things are going exactly in the opposite direction: that people spending their time teaching experiential life skills and the prevention of violence would be quite penalised in the academic system because, instead, they should be writing theoretical papers.
Mr MacDONALD —Just a quick point on that. I agree with all that, but we are talking about professional development for practising teachers. I think it is a point that teachers are better able to deal with that area of health education if they have already been teaching for some time, rather than to put that part of their training into pre-teacher preparation.
Prof. BRETHERTON —I would argue you need both.
Mr MacDONALD —I think you may need that; yes, that is true, but I think it is more effective-
—And that the students, I would say, actually
respond very well to it and find it very useful. They comment that it
really helps them because it gives them some practical ideas on classroom
management and discipline, all the things that are very concerning to a new
teacher. So I think that is something where, in fact, government
attitudes--and I am not really even talking resources here--to what
faculties of education should be doing could be really quite influential.
Mr DICKIE —I must say that our experience in trying to provide material for teachers was a bit disappointing from our point of view. We had it prepared by a proper and experienced education unit in Victoria. We sent out letters to headmasters and we sent out complete kits and, although we got some reasonable feedback from some of the follow-ups that we did, an awful lot just went into a black hole and was never seen again.
Prof. BRETHERTON —With reference to the health education curriculum again, we did a little study that suggested that, in fact, with the health curriculum, there were some teachers who could handle the particular topics and had some background in things like action methods, who made very good use of curriculum changes, but others avoided what they could not handle very comfortably themselves and so, the health curriculum looked one way on paper, but actually was quite differentially implemented.
Mr MacDONALD —That is mainly because the people who teach the health curriculum do not receive proper resources and training. The reason that the material from the OFLC disappeared into a black hole, was simply that. The teachers did not feel confident about being able to use it in a teaching situation. I think that is incredibly sad. I think we ought to redress that.
Mr LAMING —My own experience in the same area last year was that, in fact, some teachers do not have the appropriate sort of personality and skill. I do not think that it is a matter of learning or incompetence. It is about saying that some people are good at this and some people are good at being politicians. We found that an integrated, collaborative approach worked where you had a teacher with a group of kids, plus a member of the school psych team, or the district educational psych team. You had two disciplines and a cross-sectorial collaboration in the educational effort so, you got both the action method--games around experiential learning--and you also got the other educative sort of mix.
Mr MARSLEW —One of our experiences in implementing something a little different in the school was that the teachers are overloaded with what they have got now--what you would call core business--and we have found it very effective to bring in an outside element that is, perhaps, far more passionate about the issue anyway than the teacher could ever be, to help the teacher. So, all of a sudden, the teacher has a played-down role, and the outside element becomes the driving force with it. The outsider is usually far more motivated than the teacher on the particular issue.
—I would agree with that, but I would also say
`but' and I think that there is a big `but'. If you come in, you do a
workshop and you go away. That is not how children learn.
Mr MARSLEW —No. There has to be the constant contact.
Prof. BRETHERTON —When teaching conflict resolution skills, we have found that people who are not very skilled at teaching conflict resolution skills--and this comes from videotaping people who have done training and then videotaping what they actually do with children--lecture the children on being good at resolving your conflicts, like a politeness lesson. Then, as they get better at it, they can become better at directing role plays and so on. As they get very good at it, you would not even know that they were doing conflict resolution because they incorporate it into something, such as saying,`Okay. We are going to do this activity. How do we negotiate who does what?' And they will come back to the principles as they are needed, as something comes up.
If you have got an outsider just coming in, you are not going to get that follow up and monitoring and I think that one of the things that we really have to be very cognisant of is the importance of monitoring. All of us have been brought up in a violent society. If we are going to change, we cannot just think that you do a workshop and that is it. You cannot think, `Alright I am going to be good with my head.' You have to go on practising and practising and get feedback.
People underestimate how much the change is actually hard, long-term work. That is one of the reasons why people like ourselves get this deja vu thing. Something big happens in society, we go into a panic because there is something on, we think, `Let's think about all of these schemes, let's have seminars, let's have workshops, let's do something,' and then gradually we forget about it and default back to the way things always were. Then something else happens, we go almost into panic mode, and then it dives off again. One of the best suggestions, if we had one suggestion for today, would be to revive the report that the National Committee on Violence put out many years ago to highlight the things that we need to work on and go back and start on that and look at ways of implementing that, because it is all there.
Ms BROWN —In my research looking back at this issue I went back for years and years and the same recommendations kept coming up year after year. So we do not actually need to make up our minds what to do; it is just a matter of doing it. It is all there.
Mr MARSLEW —You beauty!
—One of the things that has really interested me this
afternoon, and Kenneth almost said it a while back, is that combined--the
educators, regulators, community groups, parents--we have a great power to
influence the community. The thing that has surprised me today is that I
have heard a pretty unified message that we are all concerned about the
impact of media on children. We believe that there is a real problem. It
seems to me, if we could get that message out to the community, that would
be a very big start, because one of the basic problems is that parents,
media, teachers, regulators or whatever have been getting mixed messages:
violent media does, it doesn't, or maybe it does impact on our kids. It is
small wonder that nobody acts, or small wonder that parents don't do
anything. We have the power here today, even if it were a federal
government task force representing all of the strata, to go out and put a
message out that yes, there is a problem that everyone needs to take notice
of with the socialising effect of violent media on children. Let's not say
it may or may not be a problem.
Mr MARSLEW —Is there a reason we cannot walk away from here today knowing that is not going to happen, or that is going to happen?
CHAIR —I will address that in a second.
Father GLEESON —That is a good place to finish this particular session. There is a great deal of action going on, represented by people like yourself and organisations around this table, It is a matter of doing it in a coordinated fashion.
CHAIR —Thank you, Father Gleeson, for being the facilitator in this session. That is the end of the series of sessions. We will be asking people from the audience to come up and make their statements in a minute.
On that final point--and it was raised earlier--that is, what is going to happen with all this information, with the shock that came from the Port Arthur massacre and the setting up of the cabinet subcommittee that called for submissions, 700 submissions came forward. We are monitoring quite regularly what happens as the follow-on from that. The 61 recommendations that that committee of the cabinet saw as crucial, and on which it based its recommendations, are now being put into action. We have a check list of all those things that were announced in May and where they are all currently up to. The wheels of government tend to move a little slowly, but let me assure you that all of them are away being worked on in various government departments. One of the roles of the community standards committee that has been given to us by cabinet is to continue that monitoring process. So be assured that the work you have put in previously and the work you have put in now will continue to be monitored.
The purpose of today was to flesh out from those submissions and from the people who had provided them further ideas on which we might be able to act. I think that some of the things that, perhaps, were not in the submissions have come forward today. There will be a report from the proceedings today to the Senate and back to the minister and the Prime Minister. We will then recommend a course of action to the government on the recommendations that have come out today. The ministry has, under the rules of the parliament, 90 days to respond to those recommendations. They have to address each recommendation and say, `Yes. We are going to do that,' or, `No, we are not going to do that and these are the reasons we are not going to do it.' The people who have been involved today will inform you of that process as it goes on.
SESSION 6--OPEN FORUM
CHAIR —I thank you all for your contributions. I think that the way that it has worked today has been magnificent. I thank the facilitators, particularly, for drawing out all the ideas. I will just explain again quickly how this last session is going to work. There are now 14 people who will be speaking for, as I indicated, three minutes each. Any additional information they would like to put in writing we will receive. We have from Mrs Van Luyn and some other people some documents they want tabled. The committee is prepared to accept those documents to be tabled as part of today's proceedings. Is there anyone else who wishes to table any documents for consideration at this point? Thank you. Those documents will be part of the proceedings and we will table them. The committee secretary will collect them.
Ms KERR —I will be fairly brief. I am representing the Australian Association of Social Workers. I support almost everything that has been said today, apart from a few ideas. I am really pleased with the breadth and the extent of the issues we have covered. Most of the issues of my concern have actually been covered. I would like to comment that if we are a society that values children, I think that we need to make a statement about taking some responsibility to protect children and not leaving it to parents. Many parents struggle to address this issue and many do not, in fact, have the ability, or the means, to address it.
Moving on to talk about parents and families for a moment, I support the idea of taxation for all violent material. I think that some of the proceeds of that taxation could go towards supporting some of the initiatives that we have discussed today and supporting parents, for example, who cannot afford to have their children attend more positive activities, such as sport and the arts. Some financial assistance to those families would be advantageous to prevent children from spending so many hours watching television.
I would also briefly like to say that I do not think we have particularly addressed the issue of criminal, or paracriminal, activity on the Internet very well. I am not sure what the solution is there, but I would suggest that we look into the technical possibilities. I know that has been mentioned but, again, leaving that entirely to parents is not the way to go. I think that we need to look at introducing some control as a society on the more criminal activities that are on the Internet.
That is about it. Finally, I would like to say that the fundamental question we need to be asking is: what sort of society is it that we want to live in? Do we want to live in a sort of society that is producing this graphic violent material for the entertainment of the masses? Personally, and on behalf of the association, I would say that we do not want to live in that sort of society.
—Thank you very much. In response to the comments on the
Internet, this committee did one inquiry into the Internet a year ago and
we are now planning another one early next year before we get to 1997
deregulation because the field has moved so fast in that year.
Mr NUGENT —I am from the research area of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. I would like to address the issue of the importance of research to the debate about media violence and to refer to some ABA research to address a couple of the issues which have been discussed today. Firstly, let me comment on the informed viewer being a myth. Another perspective that comes through in the ABA research is that the majority of people whom we surveyed over a three-year period on each consecutive year following the introduction of the FACTS code of practice, could name one or more of the classification symbols unaided, although some people, even this year, are still referring to the old AO and PGR classification symbols. So obviously there is a need for ongoing education and a continuation of the consumer education that currently is in place.
The majority also understood the basic purpose and intent of the M and MA classifications, although there is still some confusion as to the difference between those two classifications. So, again, that points to the need for ongoing consumer education. Perhaps, encouragingly, parental status is an important factor in people's understanding and awareness of the classification symbols. Parents are more aware than those who are not parents of the difference between M and MA, and the meaning of those symbols.
The other issue was regulation versus self-regulation. There was a reference, I think, from Julie James Bailey to the research about the changes between regulation and self-regulation. While we do not have any before and after research, we have been, as I said, monitoring the operation of the FACTS code of practice over a three-year period and have taken a measure at a point in time in each of those three years 1994 to 1996. Those findings tend to suggest that concerns about material on commercial television are not increasing. We asked people whether they had concerns about material they had seen in the previous seven days. Twenty per cent of people said, yes, and in the previous eight months, or in that calendar year, it extended to about 38 per cent of people saying, yes. But those figures have not really changed over the three years that we have been monitoring.
In terms of the nature of concern, news and current affairs and violence were at the top of the list and this supports, I guess, the focus on those particular areas in this meeting today. In terms of news and current affairs, the concerns were both about the way it was presented and--
Just to wrap up, there were other aspects of the research I wanted to address. I suppose one thing I could say in terms of movies is that people were asked whether they had seen movies which they thought should have started later, and they were then asked to nominate what time they thought the movies should start and 9.30 was the time that was the biggest response. Now we are seeing that idea reflected in proposed changes to the FACTS code of practice.
To sum up: research is important. There have been a number of good ideas
discussed today and, whatever changes occur, we need research to monitor
their impacts. Thank you very much.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Ms UHLMANN —Thank you very much for this opportunity. I really enjoyed it and found it a very educating experience. I guess I will zero in on education because that is my lifelong work as a parent and as a teacher. One of the things that I thought, yes, they have come up with that; they have got on to that--but I think it is something we have to look at--is the children themselves.
We think of teachers and parents teaching the children. We forget to get the children to teach us. We forget to ask the children what they are really thinking and what they are really feeling. We tend to think that they are too little to tell us. It is quite amazing that my little grandchild, who is 16 months old, is teaching me things all the time. If we observe, if we look and we listen--and in a very unthreatening way we just ask, `Why are you watching this program and how does it make you feel? Let us talk about it and let us document that--I think we will find that we will have some amazing outcomes. I think partnership is very important.
What I also hear coming through is that we all love the children of this country. They are our greatest resource. If we do not protect them, we will be bereft of the future, because we do not know what will happen. We have heard about Martin Bryant. Someone said to me, `We shouldn't be talking about him.' But he is an outcome; we can measure it. Port Arthur did not just happen on one day, it started many years ago. It starts in schools, too, if we do not see those children who are in need of love. Where there is love there is no need for power.
We heard a lot of talk about power. These children who behave in this violent way often feel powerless in their situations, so they have to find someone to take it out on. But what sometimes happens in schools, through nobody's fault, is that they are the nuisances, nothing very much that is nice is ever said to them, and that situation is perpetuated. We have to break that cycle. We have to look at the whole thing. We have to take a holistic approach to this. We heard about media. I think media studies in schools is very important.
It has to be linked with health because we have to think of the holistic approach of the body. We talk about the lungs and the destruction of the lungs. We must talk about the destruction of the mind. We only get one go at life. I used to say to the children, no matter how small they were, `Do it for yourself. Make an effort. You want to have the best life you can have.' You put it back on to them and they will lift their game. Make them part of the process if they are in trouble. All those things are important.
Teachers are overloaded. We are expecting too much. We need some
creative approaches in education, which is one of the things we tried in
the school. I have heard it said here that some people are better at doing
some things than others. Why do the ones that do not want to do it have to
do it? Why do we not say, `Okay, we do not do this much in primary
schools', let the people out of their classrooms to swap and change so that
those that can do it and are doing the best job, can do it. Let someone
else be doing something else in their classroom. They may be very good at
art; let them do the art while the other person does something else. For
example, they may be really turned on to this particular area of health. I
think partnership is important. As the young lady over there said, `We come
up with the words. We do this in education.' We do not always come up with
answers. Yes, there has been some progress, let us be positive about that,
but let us keep progressing.
Mr LARME —I am a private citizen with a special interest in computer games. That is a topic that has not received reasonable attention by this committee since about 1993.
One of the misconceptions about computer games is that they are an exclusively children's phenomena. They are not. A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics booklet that was released only in September was called, Household use of information technology. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in that booklet, 50 per cent of the people who play computer games in this country are adults. At the moment, they are not being treated that way by the games classification system.
I will give you a practical example of this. I am not sure if I will have the time, but I will start reading anyway. The Office of Film and Literature Classification produces a summary sheet of the reasons they classified a particular movie or a particular computer game the way they did. These summary sheets are available if you ask them. This summary sheet is for a movie called, Rob Roy. It is a movie about a Scottish outlaw in the 1700s. It was produced in 1995 and it was rated M.
In the opinion of the board this film can be accommodated in the M classification for depictions of realistic violence of low intensity and some sexual references. I will read to you the violence section. Keep in mind that the M classification means it is recommended for people 15 and above, but it has no legal force:
Violence: a female is punched to the ground and then manhandled into a room where she is forced face down on the table and implicitly raped from behind by a male making thrusting movements. They both appear fully dressed and when the man is finished he asks his mate, who has been watching, if he wants a go "now that I have loosened her up".
There are various other acts of violence. For instance, a pregnant woman hangs herself and there are sexual references such as references to a paedophile.
I am going to compare this to a refused classification computer game. This game is called Phantasmagoria. This game has sold almost a million copies worldwide and is very popular overseas in the US, the UK and so forth. This is the primary reason why this game was banned. Keep in mind the quote I just read out from the Rob Roy. This is a banned computer game and Rob Roy is an M rated movie. The woman is at a mirror combing her hair.
Her husband walks up behind her, strokes her hair, runs his hand over her clothed breast. Angry from a prior scene argument, she brushes his hand away. He continues his advances until they both willingly embrace and kiss.
This will just take one minute.
CHAIR —Could you just finish off quickly and make the point you are making.
Mr LARME —This woman is sexually assaulted and both participants--the perpetrator and the woman--are clothed exactly the same way as in the Rob Roy movie. This scene lasts for 40 seconds as opposed to the Rob Roy one which lasts at least two minutes. As a computer game I am expected to accept this as banned and Rob Roy gets an M rating, which means that children can see it. There is a major discrepancy between the cinema ratings and the computer games ratings that needs to be addressed.
CHAIR —Thank you. We will have to ask Mr Dickie to go through Rob Roy, I think.
Ms BIGGINS —Am I allowed to just make a very quick comment on Phantasmagoria?
CHAIR —No, I am sorry.
Ms BIGGINS —It is here. If anyone would like to see an extract from Phantasmagoria, I have it.
CHAIR —I am sorry; if we have comments on it, it will blow out for about an hour.
Mr AUER--Good afternoon. I am here representing both myself and also the PC Users Group of the ACT. As far as the PC Users Group is concerned, we rather keep harping on the same two points when it comes to these kinds of debates. The first is that any censorship program really must be technology independent: if it is illegal on a video, then it should be illegal in all other forms of media. If it is not illegal in one form of media, it should not be illegal in other forms. You have just heard one rather good account of an area where this has been basically completely abandoned.
The reason why the laws must be technology independent is that the technology is changing far too fast for the law to keep up. Anything which is based on a particular medium will date. It will date fast and it will date badly.
The second point which we made to last year's Senate Select Committee on a similar topic is that you must not make legislation or encourage legislation which is unenforceable and ineffective and easily bypassed. We have heard PICS discussed. As a voluntary scheme, it is wonderful. As a mandatory scheme, it is a dead loss. The question was asked: how easy is it to get round? If it is password protected, your average eight-year-old will be in there three seconds after mum closes the door. Those are the two main points that the PCUG would like to make. They are very general points.
As a private individual, I have heard various people saying that they
have been appalled by this and appalled by that. I have been appalled at
the lip service which has been paid to the freedom of speech in this
country that adults are supposed to have, if not in law, if not
constitutionally protected, at least by long and firmly held tradition. I
am disturbed at the ease with which people discuss chucking the baby out
with the bathwater. Freedom has been defined as the ability to do wrong.
When I am no longer free to do wrong, I am not free. This is a classic
example of people seeking to apply technology to the point where people can
no longer do wrong. When you have had that freedom taken from you that is
the last freedom you will ever loose, for there are no more. I believe I
will donate my little extra time to the next person. Thank you.
Ms SIMES —I am Megan Simes from the Australian Visual Software Distributors Association which represents distributors of video and video games. Most of the message that the association wanted to get through is in the submission to the ministerial inquiry. However, I think today has been very interesting. I know today's committee is on violence and the electronic media but I guess the impression is that the answer to violence in our society is through one avenue--that is, by controlling the electronic media rather than looking at the myriad of causes and trying to, as we go through the day, look at means of addressing those through education and whatever.
The industry which the association represents is very cooperative. The companies cooperate well within the current system and with the OFLC, and will continue to do so. The fundamental question, which everybody is trying to answer today, is whether the system that we have in place is working, and obviously people have questions about that.
The other point is the dichotomy between the new technologies working with the system, to whatever extent you think it has worked in the past through the OFLC for movies, videos and games, and the Internet, which is not controlled in the same way and cannot be. You could play a game on the Internet that is from overseas and that has not gone through the OFLC here. There is no control on it and, to distribute it in Australia, it needs classification. That is a technical problem that people are going to have to come to terms with, if we are to address things.
Mr HAINES —I am David Haines, a pay TV consultant. I think we still seem to be looking for simple answers to violence such as we saw at Port Arthur, which is a shame. I was very glad to hear Di Bretherton refer to the report from the National Committee on Violence. Its recommendations seem to have sunk without trace but that report stated that the process of dealing with violence in the community is a process that will take at least a generation. The answer would seem to be very much in the area of education. Not only education in conflict resolution but also education of children today to become more responsible parents in the future. In the short-term, there is certainly the education of parents and kids in the understanding and use of the classification information.
I agree totally with Barbara Biggins about the need for more precise information on material for children. We have already got a G8 subclassification for computer games. If that was extended to films and videos that would certainly be helpful. I think the addition of consumer advice on all G-rated material would also go some way to address this issue.
Just another word on the additional information for consumers, a lot of suggestions have been made about expanding the amount of information. There are practical considerations for the print media in particular. I already find it difficult enough to read the television guides, and if there is going to be a little sentence about each film, it is going to be increasingly difficult, which is why I think education in the use of the classification system we have now is so important.
Taxing violence is a nifty idea, but what exactly is taxable violence? We have heard today that there is good violence and there is bad violence. I remember seeing Treasure Island and West Side Story and both have acts of violence in them which I think it could be argued are justifiable. Julie James Bailey said that producers should perhaps argue for the inclusion of violence in their product. Was the violence in Treasure Island justifiable when Jim Hawkins throws a dagger at Israel Hand? I do not know. Certainly with films like Dead Man and Massolini's Salo in more recent times in both cases there have been arguments on both sides as to whether the violence in them was justifiable or gratuitous and excessive.
There seems to be a continued misinformation and misconception about the X category. Although people might find it offensive, it is something which people indulge in all over the world all the time--explicit sex between consenting adults. I do not quite know where all this nonsense about sexual violence keeps creeping in from.
Mr SWAN —Thanks for the opportunity to talk today. I represent the Eros Foundation which is made up of prostitutes, sex workers, brothel owners, X-rated video duplicators and people like that around the country--the adult industry. I would like to ask, first of all, a rhetorical question: if the worst crime in the country at the moment is the murder of 35 innocents by a crazed gunman, why isn't the realistic depiction of this the most restricted or the most censored image in the country? It is not. And in 10 years time when someone makes a re-creation of this, which they undoubtedly will, it will get an MA rating or possibly an R rating.
My members are quite upset about this because we feel that this is one of the reasons that there is a preponderance of violence in electronic media today and that is why it is so difficult to deal with it. What we would like to see is the censorship rating system in this country parallel or mirror the criminal codes. If it is a reality that murder one is on the top of the scale in the criminal codes and it goes down through manslaughter and whatever to parking offences, there is no reason why the censorship code should not follow that line. The criminal codes are society's way of rating its worst possible acts. But, instead, we are still stuck with completely legal acts of adult erotica on the top of the pile which is one of the reasons that we are facing so much violence in the media today.
I would also like to say that our industry would like to see an educational program set up for politicians and members of parliament, both in the federal parliament and in the state parliaments. We believe that many of them really do not understand the classification system themselves. They are voting on very important issues which affect us all like restricted stuff on pay-tv and narrowcast services and the perennial X-rated video debate and things like that. Many of them do not really know what it is that they are talking about. I am sure that the members of parliament present here do--and I have no doubt about that--but as an example coalition backbencher Paul Zammit recently wrote to the Attorney-General asking him to ban X-rated videos because of the sexual violence and the child abuse that they showed. They do not show any, so he is really clearly misguided.
Recently the New South Wales Attorney-General, when I asked him did he
know the difference between the level of violence in X- and R-rated videos,
he had to say, `No, I don't. I don't know the difference.' Even in this
committee here, in the first draft of the itinerary, X-rated videos were
included amongst discussion under one of the headings of violence. I do not
blame any of those people for those mistakes because they are honest
mistakes and people make them all the time. There is a problem, though, in
that parliamentarians are not kept up to date. I would like to propose that
the Senate committee actually embark upon an education campaign with, in
the first instance, members of parliament in the federal parliament, to
explain the video film classifications to them. And also I guess that would
include the criminal codes as well.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Mr BOOTH —I came here today to listen. I should start by saying that the Australian Video Retailers Association represents about 3,000 video retailers. We are a mainstream entertainment industry and we probably have 3 million customers coming through our doors every week. Each of those customers probably brings a partner or a friend with them so we probably have 6 million people coming through our stores every week. They would not be coming through our stores if they were not happy with what we were offering.
What we offer is a range of products including R-rated products and MA-rated products, and our customers are telling us that R-rated product is not the top of their list. Of the top 100 movies last year, only six were rated R. Of the top 100 movies last year, only 12 were rated MA. So, our customers were looking for things other than R-rated movies and MA-rated movies. They are looking for comedy, they are looking for dramas, they are looking for escapism, they are looking for other things.
Having said all of that, we are here to listen. In fact, we are working
on a code of practice to improve the professionalism in the industry and
that will probably be part of what comes out through what develops here.
CHAIR —Thank you. Following Nick Herd we will have an overseas international contribution from New Zealand to finish.
Mr HERD —My responsibility in the Australian Broadcasting Authority is to manage the codes and complaints function of the authority and I thought I would take the opportunity to impart a bit of information about the current system that applies to commercial television. The system that the parliament has established under the Broadcasting Services Act is one of co-regulation between the industry and the regulatory authority, the ABA. The code of practice was developed by the commercial television industry after a period of public consultation and registered with the authority. It has been in existence for just over three years and the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations have just completed the public phase of a review of the code of practice.
I heard mention earlier of the complaints process. Under the code you can complain by telephone to a commercial broadcaster about something you see on television. They have undertaken, under their code of practice, to inform you if you raise an issue to do with the code of practice how you can put your complaint in writing. They have also undertaken to deal with your complaint promptly. If they do not do any of those things, if they do not inform you about the manner in which you can make a complaint under the code, you can complain to the ABA and the ABA will investigate.
The commercial television industry also has, in the past, broadcast information on their stations about the code process and about the classification process and how you can make a complaint. In the review of the code system they are proposing to make formal commitments to the number of times per year that they will advertise on television about the code system and how to make a complaint, which would be roughly once a day on each commercial television station from the time that the ABA registers the changes to the code. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you very much.
Ms McLEOD —I am a member of the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority. I would like to thank you, first of all, for giving us the opportunity to be here today. A lot of the issues that you are raising are issues that we have to confront in New Zealand, although at the moment we are not so much driven by concerns about violence as we are about sexuality on television. Our regime is different from yours, and we have material on pay television that you would not permit here. We are a little concerned, and there is some public concern, about where that may lead us.
One point I would make is that we have a self-regulating broadcasting environment, which is not always a bad thing. One instance of that is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series that you were referring to earlier today. Following a decision of the BSA that it was really an unsuitable program, the broadcasters voluntarily withdrew it and that was the end of that subject. We now have different powers, partly probably as a result of that decision, so that we can remove programs from television effectively that are considered by us to be breaching the standards.
Our overwhelming brief is good taste and decency, in which we differ from the censor, whose main agenda is whether things actually commit some kind of social harm. That is a bit of a concern for us at the moment in that there are anomalies in the sanctions between the censor's office and our sanctions. We have some quite draconian sanctions, as broadcasters see them, in that we can actually stop a station transmitting for up to 24 hours and possibly longer if it was a serious transgression. Whereas, of course, if they were to transmit material that the censor had classified a different way, there are no penalties.
In other words, let us say you could actually be imprisoned, in theory, or heavily fined for showing R18 material in your own home to kids, whereas if you broadcast it on a television station, there is no such severe penalty. So I think that you appear, from what has been said today, to have some conflicts in those areas too.
We are currently reviewing our pay television code of practice. We are in the very early stages of doing that. That is really partly predicated by people's concern over, as I have said, the sexual material that is being transmitted. So far, we, rather like you, are finding that people are particularly concerned to protect children, but people are really also suffering from the same things that you are--that is, these different censorship regimes or coding regimes make parents very uncertain as to what they really are going to see. Indeed, a good number of our complaints are based on that.
As far as the Broadcasting Standards Authority is concerned, I am not
familiar enough with your system, but we are complaints driven. So, in that
way, we are linked to public opinion. We can only react or do anything once
people have complained to the network and are unsatisfied with the result.
I can tell you that most of our complaints are not about violence, they are
actually about balance, fairness and accuracy in the news and current
CHAIR —Thank you very much. I thank all those very patient viewers in the audience here today who have listened to us all day and I thank you for your contributions as well. They will be taken into consideration when the committee reports. We will be writing a report from the proceedings today and I think that will be available in about mid-February to late February. To all participants around the table, we will send you a copy of the proceedings. If any of you wish to comment further on it, we would be very grateful. So thank you very much for appearing today. I declare this seminar closed and the Senate hearing adjourned. Thank you.
Seminar adjourned at 4.31 p.m.