‘Who’s the target audience?’: Push to overhaul PG classification
There are growing calls for Australia to overhaul its popular PG category for films, television and computer games.
The Walt Disney Company and even the Classification Board itself have joined children's groups in calling for the "parental guidance" rating to be split into separate categories for younger viewers and those approaching their teens. The arguments are contained in submissions to the government's wide-ranging review of Australia's classification rules.
Disney, the company behind the animated film Frozen 2, has backed calls to overhaul Australia’s PG classification.Credit:Disney
The PG label was first adopted in the late 1980s and is used for films, television and computer games that may contain mild violence, sex, nudity, drug use and coarse language.
Jenny Buckland, from the Australian Children's Television Foundation, said the PG rating was too broad and overused. She pointed to the family film Frozen 2 and the Sunday edition of Nine's saucy reality show Married at First Sight both being rated PG as an example. (Nine is the owner of this masthead.)
“Today, just about everything [for kids in the cinema] gets a PG rating,” she said. “Little Women, on the other hand, got a G rating. It’s got some beefy scenes – it’s about death and things like that. They’re just shoving most things into PG and going, ‘The parents can work it out.’ The consumer isn’t getting any sense of, ‘Who’s the target audience?’”
Ms Buckland said Australia appeared to be out of step with European countries such as the Netherlands and Finland which have multiple parental advice categories based on a child's development.
“If there’s a general sense that this is for a young child, this is for school age and this is for a teenager, that would be helpful,” she said. “What you don’t want to do is be so prescriptive that people are … getting into the semantics. Some parents are going to be very engaged in all of this and some parents less so. Some people say their children are easily scared.”
The Classification Board has also called for a new classification to sit between the current PG and M (“mature”) categories given how much media is being “targeted specifically at young people”. In its submission to the classification review, Disney said it was time to “introduce a PG13 category” but said self-classification was the best way forward.
But not everyone supports a classification shake-up. While Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association support a streamlining of the classification rules, both organisations say there shouldn't be changes to the current rating categories.
Free TV's chief executive Bridget Fair said classifications shouldn't be thought of as “shoe sizes”.
“The existing classification markings are long-standing and have a high level of consumer awareness,” Ms Fair said. “The reason they work so well is that they support parents to make the right decisions based on consumer advice and their children’s individual needs.”
Some broadcasters and copyright holders are against an overhaul of the PG category because they believe new categories will turn away potential audiences, even if they are only recommendations. For example, if the government was to create a PG13 rating, parents with an 11-year-old child may not see a PG13 film at the cinema – or so the argument goes. Likewise, a 13-year-old may assume a regular PG film is made for younger children.
The government's classifications review is being led by Australian Press Council chair and former communications department boss Neville Stevens. The high-ranking public servant is expected to hand his list of recommendations to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher next month.
Mr Fletcher has flagged the government's wish for greater "harmonisation" across broadcast television, online streaming, cinema releases, video games and DVD sales and rentals. Film, video game and DVD classifications are currently handled by the Classification Board while TV broadcasters largely self-regulate.
This can sometimes lead to a situation where a children's TV show is broadcast with a G rating but then given a PG label once it is released in hard-copy. The Australian Law Reform Commission has called for a uniform system "across all classified media content" since at least 2012.
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