Australia’s National Classification Scheme (NCS) provides classifications (like G, PG , M) as consumer information about the content in apps and games. It’s intended to help parents choose media for their children, and protect them from harm. But do parents think it does a good job?
The Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) has evidence that parents want more and better information, especially in this increasingly complex media environment. ACCM’s 2017 survey responded to by 940 parents and carers found that over 80% thought the NCS didn’t give them what they needed, which was more information that was age-based. The problem is that the NCS only says whether content is recommended or not for those under age of 15 years: not much help if your kids are 4 and 7. Parents also say PG is far too broad to be helpful.
ACCM saw this need back in 2002. It set up a team of reviewers with child development expertise and sent them to every newly released G and PG movie, plus those M movies promoted to young children via toys or clothing etc. Reviewers provided an overview of content and identified any content likely to scare or disturb, be overly violent, or otherwise problematic at different ages. Parents easily accessed these reviews from the web-based Know before You Go movie review database.
In 2006, the SA Labor government recognised the value of this extra information to support choices of movies, and provided ongoing financial support enabling the service to continue. The ACCM movie review database now has over 1000 reviews accumulated over its 17 years of operation. The service gets 35,000 visits per month, and has won three child protection awards.
In 2014, at the instigation of the SA Government, ACCM developed a similar service Know Before You Load reviewing those apps most popular with children, but also including information about in-app purchasing, loot boxes, and simulated gambling behaviour (issues not covered by the NCS or app store classification systems).
Parents have greatly appreciated these reviews telling us that they’ve saved them time and money, as well as enabling them to find movies their children will enjoy, and to avoid the ones that might cause sleep disturbances or unnecessary fears and anxieties. The app reviews alert them to traps with apps, as well as those that are age-appropriate.
BUT, ACCM’s support is due to cease from June 30. The incoming Liberal SA Govt has defunded the program, and the federal govt has declined to step in and fund (despite there being national access and benefit).
The Minister for Communications’ advice was only received in early April. In a strange twist, in the same week, he announced that he was providing $24m to ensure production of a new Marvel film in Australia. (which, no doubt, will be classified M but marketed to young children months before release).
ACCM needs support to continue. It cannot fund the reviews from its own slim financial resources. Further removal of funding for reviews undermines ACCM’s ability to support the input of its many professional volunteers who contribute to seminars and other supports for parents.
Readers can help by donating to the ACCM SOS: Save Our Services fund via www.trybooking.com/BBXV. They can also check out the reviews at www.childrenandmedia.org.au and add their comments in the survey on the movie reviews page.
Barbara Biggins OAM
Hon CEO, ACCM