Friday 30 October 2020

The Film Censors Grilled at Senate Estimates - "animal torture, violent death and alcohol consumption" ...and what is "the Netflix tool"?

"animal torture, violent death and
alcohol consumption"

Editor's Note: This a complete and unabridged transcript of a part of proceedings at recent Senate Estmates hearings. It is the first I have ever heard of something called 'the Netflix tool', apparently some sort of application by which Netflix does its own classifying ad this is accepted by what a Polish film-maker once described to me as "the authorities".

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm wondering about a specific film on Netflix. It follows on quite well from the questioning that both Senator Urquhart and Senator Van have put to you already. I'm interested in whether you've had any complaints about the film Cats, produced in 2018, directed by Gary Wang. It's on Netflix animation. Have you received any complaints about Cats?

Ms Ryan : I'd have to take that on notice.

Mr O'Neill : Yes, we will have to take that on notice. I'm not aware of any complaints on that title. We usually keep fairly good tabs on titles.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you could take that on notice, that would be good. The cartoon is rated PG but it shows animal torture, violent death and alcohol consumption. I'm asking this from both a general public perspective and as a mum. I can understand that sometimes when there is something in an animated form, the themes are perhaps, at times, seen through a different lens than if it was a live drama production. But I know for a fact that this film has actually created great distress amongst a number of small children. That's why I'm asking this; it's been put to me by a constituent.

I'm fascinated as to how we're going to manage these things going forward, considering more kids' content is going to be moving to the streaming services. The ABC has been a very good place to access good quality kids' TV, and I think it's right to say that parents would feel quite safe about putting their kids in front of ABC Kids. But our kids are accessing a lot of content on streaming services now, and I'm just not sure whether we're educating parents and families enough about what these different classification types are or how we monitor and ensure that, when they are put in front of a screen, that it is appropriate. Just because it's a cartoon doesn't necessarily mean it's safe. So, from a classification perspective, how do we manage this? More kids are going to be logging on to Netflix, on to Stan, on to other streaming services. The government is putting up money so that content can be made on these services. How do we ensure that there is a correct level of classification and knowledge from the consumer's perspective?

Mr O'Neill : With regards to your question about the correct level of classification, the acting director is properly better placed to respond to your query there.

Ms Ryan : For a Netflix decision on this particular title, we'd have to absolutely take that on notice and see whether there's been any other information that we've received or any complaints that we've received. In assessing impact of the classifiable elements, the board is required to apply the act, the code and the guidelines when making decisions, and that's no different for the Netflix tool as well. When assessing impact, our guidelines do talk about the fact that when things are more realistic rather than stylised that the impact could be higher. It's not always higher. It's a matter of assessing each film or computer game on its own merit and assessing the context around that. Our guidelines also tell us that context is crucial. So if we were trying to determine whether classifiable elements are justified by a particular story line or a particular theme, that would—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But what work is being done to ensure that consumers know that there is the same level of ability to complain about classification on streaming services? This is a bold, new world in many regards, so there has to be some type of effort being put in to ensure that parents would know, for example, in relation to Cats, if they have problem, it should be raised. I don't think people would have a problem with raising it with the ABC. It's their ABC. They know what to do. They can ring up and lodge a complaint. I'm not sure, not convinced, that consumers have the same level of awareness about what they do if there is a problem on Netflix.

CHAIR: In the interests of time, would you be happy with Ms Ryan to come back to you with an answer on notice about how to address that?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That would be helpful, but the acting director was about to respond with something.

Ms Ryan : The board shares your concerns about that. We feel that there hasn't been a lot of information made publicly available to people to know they can complain to the board, to the department about decisions of the Netflix tool.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Take on notice if there has been a complaint about Cats. It's called Cats—2018, Gary Wang. I'd like to know whether it's been reviewed for classification? Is it still on air? Obviously you'll look into that.

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