After a number of shootings in Melbourne in the late 1980s, a National Committee on Violence was established to address violence in society. The Committee found violence in the media a cause of great concern. The classification guidelines were updated to restrict the level of violence allowed in the category of M for “mature audiences”, an advisory category that recommended viewing for over-fifteens, and R18+, a category which restricted content to those over eighteen. Film-makers, however, were creating more sophisticated representations of violence in film that combined aspects of action with thriller and suspense narratives. Titles such as The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991); Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, 1991); and Cape Fear (Scorsese, 1991) teetered on the borderline between M and R18+; although their use of violent representations seemed to warrant a higher rating, their narrative, high production values and cast made them accessible to adolescents. After Cape Fear was classified M by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, Prime Minister Paul Keating found this made the M rating “absurdly broad” in scope and presented a “fundamental weakness” in the classification system. Keating said:
I find it difficult to accept the utility of a system which brackets Crocodile Dundee and Cape Fear in the same “M” category
(quoted in Brough, 1992).
The classification files on the above films suggest there was already support in some States to introduce a new category. The MA15+ category was agreed upon in a meeting between Keating and industry executives in under half an hour (Summers, 2018). This category put a legal restriction on audiences under fifteen, who are not permitted to purchase access to cultural products without an adult present. At the same time as announcing this category, Keating made the categories for TV the same as those for the public exhibition of film. He also added a restriction on violent TV content which could not be screened until after the watershed of 9pm. Other developments in the early late 1980s and early 1990s saw the addition of consumer advice in 1988 and the government recommendation that the classification authority undertake periodic research into “community standards”. – Rachel Cole
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Annual Report. Office of Film & Literature Classification and Film & Literature Board of Review. (1992) “Report on Activities”, OFLC: Sydney.
Australian Government Report. Australian Law Reform Commission (1991) “Censorship Procedure”, Report 55, 11 September, ALRC: Sydney.
Australian Government Report. National Committee on Violence (1989), “Violence today”, available at aic.gov.au/publications/vt
Newspaper article. Brough, J. (1992) “Keating ups the ante on TV violence”, Canberra Times, 12 November, p1. Accessed Trove database.
Newspaper article. Summers, A. (2018) “Smile it’s the PM women loved to hate”, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October, www.smh.com.au