Defending Children’s Rights as Media Consumers

Small Screen - Thriving in a Digital World

December 5, 2022

Defending children’s rights as media consumers

Children and Media Australia (CMA) is always active in advocating for a healthy screen environment for children, and for their rights as media consumers. Here’s some of the issues we’ve tackled in this, and recent, years: it takes persistence, and can be a long wait for action to be taken by those with the power, to fix some of them.

  • Some three years ago now, CMA was developing its submission to the Stevens Review of Classification Regulation in Australia. The recommendations from that review were given, in May 2020, to the then Coalition government, never to be heard of since.  We’ve been urging the new Labor Government to take up the reins and drive a restructure of the classification system that meets the needs of parents for more detail about age suitability of all screen content, and most especially for younger children.
  • The lack of privacy protections for children when online and using apps has been a growing concern over the past few years. Our submission in 2022 (to the Federal Attorney General) embodied much of our previous work in this regard. In 2020, CMA was funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, and by the Law Foundation of SA, to conduct two privacy-related projects. One was to develop resources for parents to explain the importance of privacy protections for children online and additionally, a protocol for reviewing apps which enables parents to find out the tracking behaviour of the most popular children’s apps. The second project examined Australian privacy law to determine if the present law provided protections for children online – it doesn’t!
    The Coalition government requested the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to set up the Digital Platforms Inquiry in 2019, received submissions on possible changes to the Privacy Law in late 2020, with another round lodged in early 2022.  Now here is a newish government, and we are awaiting a path which clearly sets out how the missing protections for children’s online privacy will be achieved.
  • The promotion of gambling to children and young people via multitudes of sports betting ads during family-type TV programs, and via simulated gambling activities in games and apps (think loot boxes) is of increasing concern to the broader community. CMA has just lodged its 2022 submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry into online gambling. Way back in 2014, CMA launched an app review service and associated Children and Gambling Watchlist, that signalled the inclusion of devices such as loot boxes in apps popular with children. A few years later, we argued to the Senate that games which include gambling-like processes, should be classified R18+.
    With regard to sports betting ads, in 2017, we set up a Taking Action page on sports betting after the then Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, decreed that the Free TV Code of Practice would allow sports betting ads in live sport only after 8.30pm, but left the field wide open in all other programs bar those specifically for children. That arrangement has pleased nobody but the gambling and media industries.
    Perhaps this current House of Reps inquiry and government will grasp the nettle! CMA’s September 2022 submission to the Digital Platform Services Inquiry into Social media risks strongly urged the ACCC to use this opportunity to make robust recommendations to keep children safe online, to protect their privacy, and to stop their exposure to age-inappropriate content. All such reforms should be based on a clear recognition that children have a right to access online services safely: the necessary safety guarantees require government action. The Federal government should remove, or at least drastically minimise, relevant risks and not leave the responsibility with already overburdened parents and teachers.

 We have worked for constructive outcomes from these inquiries, and hope that we, and all Australian parents, won’t be waiting for much longer for a safer screen environment for our children.

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