Helen Coonan’s mooted legislation requiring the classification of all content to be delivered electronically probably has some implications for staffing levels in her department. We have one suggestion: start hiring now. May we suggest thousands of speed readers?

The classification workload is set to multiply immeasurably. Crikey suggests a review of the following numbers.

According to their website, in 2004-2005 the Office of Film and Literature Classification Board made decisions on a measly:

  • 1,588 publications
  • 427 films for public exhibition
  • 5,922 videos or DVDs for sale or hire
  • 750 computer games
  • 34 Australian Broadcasting Authority Internet referrals
  • 537 enforcement referrals
  • 24 Australian Customs Service referrals.

When making these decisions, the board considered the following factors:

(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted
by reasonable adults; and
(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the publication,
film or computer game; and
(c) the general character of the publication, film or computer game,
including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and
(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published
or is intended or likely to be published.

The board also looked at what are known as “classifiable elements” (such as violence, s-x, coarse language, themes, drug use and nudity), and “considered the impact of these elements individually, and their cumulative effect.” They took into account things like “tone, duration, frequency, narrative context and the amount of visual or verbal detail to decide consumer advice.”

Based on the proposals in Senator Coonan’s legislation, the newly hired help may have to apply the above considerations to:

Books (information kindly provided by Bookseller+Publisher):

  • The Nile website only sells books that they can prove are actually sitting on a warehouse shelf — they offer about 1.5 million titles (legally availiable in Australia). Amazon’s inventory is well over 2 million. This isn’t including PoD and self-publishers, eBooks, etc.
  • Beyond the major commercial publishers, there are thousands of people who publish a small numbers of books (in some cases a single book). In Australia we have a total of some 23,000 on record.
  • 3,000 books on average were published in Australia for Jan/Feb/March, which are traditionally very quiet months. In Oct/Nov it would be up to three or four times that.
  • The Bowker Global Books in Print database currently records 8 million unique ISBNs (editions of books), covering US, UK, Canada, AUS and NZ.

When putting together the Helen Coonan How To Handbook on classifying electronic content, perhaps new staff should be pointed to texts like Power without Glory and Lady Chatterly’s Lover which have been banned in the past.

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis is rated R so they should be sure to check that one out. The odd euthanasia book (like Nitschke and Derek Humphry’s Final Exit) has been banned and there are those pesky Islamic titles banned last year by the Attorney-General.

Some alarming art books have also run into problems, featuring artists like the questionable Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

The web in Australia (numbers courtesy of Hitwise):

  • Hitwise measured 582,222 published Australian websites for the week ending 24/2/07
  • There were 4,688,659 unique Search Terms that drove traffic to All Categories over the 4 weeks ending 24/2/07
  • Over a 24-month period, visits to Lifestyle — Blogs and Personal Websites grew by 168%, week ending 24/2/07 (Note, this does not include RSS subscriptions).

Disclaimer: this memo does not include newspapers, magazines, and the international figures for the internet, a seemingly immeasurable and unquantifiable amount of material.

Crikey wishes the new staff all the best in their endeavours. Censor well, and censor often.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey