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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 913

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. Given the public concern and debate over the portrayal of violence on television, can the minister advise the Senate of progress over the registration of new codes of conduct for commercial television stations?

Senator COLLINS —I think we are all indebted to the initiative of the Prime Minister—

Senator Vanstone —What about a code of conduct for you? You'd never agree to it!

Senator COLLINS —He got a lot of kicks for it at the time, so I think that he is due for a little credit for it now. It is a timely question because under the Broadcasting Services Act broadcasters are required to develop codes relating to programming matters and complaints procedures. The Australian Broadcasting Authority on 19 August endorsed a code of practice which will form the basis for commercial television program regulation. The code of practice was developed by the Federation of Commercial Television Stations, FACTS, after extensive consultation with the television industry, the public and the Australian Broadcasting Authority and took effect yesterday.

  As a result of the consultation, safeguards have been strengthened in relation to program classification, advertising time, program promotions and the portrayal of women and indigenous peoples in the media. Some senators may have seen these new classifications on television last night and I think they will agree that more useful information is now being provided to the viewing public than before.

  One of the most important aspects of the code of practice is the new classification information about programs. Last night the new classification information provided this information before the Sunday night movie. A summary of this information was also screened after each ad break during the movie. Significantly, the code introduces the new M and MA classifications to television. This means there is now a uniform treatment of classification across cinema, film, video and television—something that people have been wanting for a long time.

  While M—soft mature material—films can be shown after 8.30 p.m., MA, mature adult films and programs in which there is a high level of violence and sexual depictions, may only be broadcast between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. M and MA classification programs must carry in addition to the classification symbol brief on-screen consumer advice detailing the main elements which have contributed to the classification. These are—honourable senators opposite should listen carefully because I know some of them are going to find it hard to work this out—S for sex, L for language, V for violence, D for drug use, H for horror and A for adult themes.

  This consumer advice is designed to assist viewers in making informed choices about their own viewing and, importantly, that of their children. The ultimate decision again, as it always has been, is in the hands of parents but at least they will have better advice on which to base those decisions.

  In relation to the calculation of advertising time, the prime time viewing ban has been extended to cover the period 6 p.m. to midnight. This will give broadcasters greater flexibility to take into account different program styles when scheduling non-program matter. The code also includes a new complaints procedure. If people wish to complain about programs, they must now first make their complaint to the particular broadcaster. If a response is not received within 60 days or is unsatisfactory, the ABA can be asked to investigate.

  This new code, which will operate in conjunction with the ABA's program standards regulating Australian content and children's television, represents a significant step forward, as envisaged by the Prime Minister, in alerting parents to the content of evening television in a simple and effective way, helping parents select what is or is not appropriate for viewing by a young audience.