The draft for the latest revision of the Commercial Television Association (CTVA)’s Code of Practice is yet another attack on families who are trying their best to raise their children with decent values.
The draft proposes a drastic reduction in the G classification “time zone” and a corresponding expansion of the hours during which PG material can be broadcast. At present only G material can be broadcast between 4 pm and 7:30 pm on weekdays and between 6 am and 7:30 pm on weekends.
This has given families at least some confidence that during these periods children can watch television without being exposed to offensive or unsuitable material.
If the draft is adopted, the afternoon G period will be reduced to just one hour from 4 pm to 5 pm. This would mean that PG programmes could be shown from 5 pm, a time when in many families mum is preparing the evening meal and dad is not yet home from work, leaving little opportunity for direct supervision of children’s television viewing.
Similarly, on weekends, the G period will be cut by 11 hours each day to run only from 6 am to 8:30 am. This proposal amounts to a loss of family friendly, G classification programming of nearly 35 hours per week.
The arguments advanced for this change in an explanatory note accompanying the draft are misconceived. It is claimed that other viewing options such as DVDs and the Internet are not subject to classification (time) zones.
This argument logically entails the complete abandonment of the classification zone scheme. Short of this, it has no particular relevance to reducing the G classification zone. Commercial free-to-air television enjoys the privilege of broadcast licences which give automatic access to every home in a broadcast area with a television.
Every child old enough to manage an “on-off” switch can access free-to-air television. It is reasonable for families to be able to have confidence that there will be no unsuitable viewing from after school until 7:30 pm and during the day on weekends.
It is also stated that 97% of those surveyed would agree that parents should control what their children watch on television. However, this is not a valid argument for reducing the time period when all the programming is suitable for children to watch without close supervision.
It is claimed that “PG level material is by definition suitable for children to watch with parental supervision”. This is inaccurate. “Parental guidance” means that there are classification elements in the program that mean it is not classified G. Parents may decide that a particular PG program is in fact not suitable for their children to watch at all, due to age or other personal factors.
Parents may also decide that a particular program is suitable for their children to watch with their guidance on some aspects of the program. PG elements include “mild visual depiction of illegal drug use”, “restrained visual depiction of nudity”, etc – and there are many parents who do not want their younger children exposed to such viewing.
It is demanding a lot of such parents to require them to ban all television viewing after 5 pm on weeknights and after 8:30 am on weekends!
Another problem with the draft is that it adopts the latest descriptions of classifications from the OFLC Guidelines for Films, Videos and Computer Games.
This latest revision attracted strong criticism from many community groups and from families because it explicitly permitted drug use and nudity in the G classification for the first time.
The Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, was forced to promise a 12 month review of the new Guidelines due to this strong community reaction. While in principle it is an advantage to families to have comparable classification schemes for television and for films it would be better for the Commercial Television Code to modify the G classification to exclude all nudity, drug use and sex to ensure that it genuinely indicates material that will not contain any elements unsuitable for viewing by children of all ages.
This would be particularly important if the new Code drastically shrinks the G classification zone to a mere one hour after school and two-and-a-half hours in the early morning on the weekends. In that case, surely parents are entitled to know that there will be no nudity, sex or drug use during the limited time of viewing allegedly suitable for children of all ages.
The draft Code offers no improvement to the complaints procedure for viewers who object to offensive material. The practice of reporting only written complaints to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) is seriously flawed. For many viewers the requirement to lodge a written complaint to the television station is too onerous.
While it may be valid to give more weight to written complaints than to oral ones, it will not do to go on suppressing information about oral complaints. Telephone complaints represent the immediate and instinctive reaction of viewers to program and other material. Unless this response is accurately recorded then the ABA and the public have a very limited picture of viewer responses.
The administrative burden would not be great. The Code already requires that switchboard staff record the substance of telephoned comments from viewers and bring it to the attention of key staff. It would not be difficult to compile these recorded telephoned comments into a regular report to CTVA for forwarding to the ABA.
The switchboard staff should also be required to give viewers the option of whether they wish for a response to their complaint or not. If they do wish for such a response, then the complaint should be treated exactly as a written one. If they do not wish for a response then the complaint should still be recorded and notified to CTVA and the ABA.
Submissions on the draft Code closed on September 19. The final revision must be approved by the Australian Broadcasting Authority as meeting community standards before it is implemented.
- Richard Egan