student profile: Ms Rachel Cole


Thesis work

Thesis title: Reasonable Adults and Vulnerable Minors: The restricted ratings in the history of Australian media classification

Supervisors: Catherine DRISCOLL , Liam GREALY

Thesis abstract:

Media classification now stands as an uncontroversial practice in everyday life. This thesis is concerned with the ways media classification has historically shaped, and continues to shape, norms and practices within media, culture, and education, particularly in regards to citizenly attitudes, gender and sexuality. Classification functions as a set of guidelines that organise media content for different audiences on the basis of age and Australian media classification governs young people by restricting access to violent and sexual material. The restricted R rating is a boundary category that designates viewing for those over the age of 18, and in this way it addresses adults as ‘reasonable’ people and in terms of their responsibilities as liberal citizens in the governance of minors. The R 18+ rating in particular operates as a marker for content deemed inappropriate for adolescent consumption (rated M or MA15+), content that is primarily sexually explicit (X 18+) and content deemed inappropriate for everyone (Refused Classification). This thesis takes an historical view to observe the social conditions that brought about the Australian classification system, including the changes that occurred to the system over time – such as the shift from censorship to classification – and the associated effects on the way media is consumed. Many social groups are invested in this system that is enacted from the level of policy through to the way social groups are represented within media.

This thesis also examines how classification works. That is, who makes ratings decisions, under what conditions, and how consensus is reached. The classification of film content is undertaken by the Australian Classification Board (ACB), a statutory body that responds to legislation put in place by the federal government and is implemented differently at state and territory levels. The processes in place to ensure ratings decisions represent Australian ‘community standards’ are the contemporary indicators of whether content has the ability to offend, or even ‘deprave and corrupt’, and establishes the classification system as meaningful. Debates over ‘media effects’ remain relevant to this discussion, particularly in relation to new technologies, media convergence, and the protection of children. Using ethnographic, archival, and textual methods in its analysis, this thesis aims to examine the governmental practices that shape the Australian media landscape and have played a part in constructing social norms, and how it will continue to do so in an age of enhanced media distribution that poses great challenges to classification regulation.

This project is part of an international study into media classification systems being undertaken by Prof Catherine Driscoll and Dr Liam Grealy.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.