ntral lism sland Terry Flew FROM CENSORSHIP TO POLICY: RETHINKING MEDIA CONTENT REGULATION AND CLASSIFICATION ABSTRACT Debates about media content regulation have tended lo bc dominated by pro-censorship and anti- censorship arguments. This paper argues for a shift in understanding towards a more policy- oriented and empirical approach, which recognises thjil the field lias been cluiracterised not so much by the 'prohibition model', but by complex and mullifaccled techniques of institutional governance, ami less by censorship than by restriction and classification. This has implications for the value of empirical research into thc relationship between media representations and audiences. The recent ABA Report on content issues with on-line services is considered in order lo show how regulation and classification issues are continuing to be important in the on-line environment, although they are likely to take different forms to the regulation of traditional media of print, film and television. A number of developments since 1996 have prompted renewed debate in Australia about media content regulation and classification policy. The killing in April 1996 of 35 people at the Tasmanian tourist centre of Port Arthur by Martin Bryant rekmdlcd national concerns about the causes of violence, including thc question of links between the portrayal of violence in the electronic media and violent acts in society. Election of the federal Liberal-National Party Coalition government headed by John Howard has led to an expectation, among both supporters and critics, that the government will enact stronger policies toward the censorship and classification of materials deemed to be potentially harmful. There has also been concern about the forms of material accessible to the home through new media such as the Internet, and about how parents, teachers and others can be empowered in limiting the access of children to such material. These.concerns are not unique to Australia, as seen in concerns raised in Britain about the potential influence of 'video nasties' in die wake of the killing of two-year-old James Dolger by two 10-year-olds, or the moves in the United States to pass the Communications Decency Act (1996) as a means of restricting access to 'objectionable' material to the home through the World Wide Web — a law which was subsequently struck down by the US Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Such debates have led to the restatement of arguments for and against tighter censorship of the media. Pro-censorship arguments, whether put by individuals (Manne, 1997) or Parliamentary committees such as the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies (Senate Select Committee, 1997) proposed that there was an association between the repeated viewing of violent material and aggressive behaviour on the part of individuals. They also believed that the combination of such findings, and
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- Fall '19
- Mass Media