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Report Finds Parents Confused About The Meaning Of TV Classification

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Fuseworks Media

Many parents and guardians are confused about the real meaning of a PG or PGR classification for television programmes, a new Broadcasting Standards Authority report says.

The report, Some Content May Offend, looks at people's awareness of, and satisfaction with, the classifications and warnings applied to television programmes. It is based on focus group research involving 88 people, mainly parents or guardians of children aged between five and 17.

Television broadcasters are required to provide a classification for all programmes apart from news and current affairs, sport and live broadcasts. They are also required to provide warnings if programmes contain content likely to offend or disturb a number of people.

The report found that while parents and guardians generally understood the G (General) and AO (Adults Only) classifications on free-to-air television there was confusion as to the meaning of PGR (Parental Guidance Recommended).

BSA chief executive Dominic Sheehan said that it was important for parents to understand the intent of the PGR classification, because it covered a wide range of programmes between those classified as G and AO.

"The PGR classification is a guide. It advises parents or caregivers that they may need to sit with, or supervise children aged 14 or under while watching a PGR programme. Despite what some people think, it's not just an extension of the G classification, which means children can watch unsupervised," Mr Sheehan said.

The equivalent classification for pay television, which has a different system of classifications and warnings, is PG (Parental Guidance recommended for young viewers).

The report also found confusion over the M (Mature) classification on pay television. Many felt it was open to so many interpretations as to be meaningless. Instead of using M, parents and guardians indicated a preference for age-based classifications.

To help viewers, the BSA has created summary sheets that set out the different classifications and warnings used in free-to-air and pay television. These printable guides can be downloaded from www.bsa.govt.nz.

"As the report highlights, parents and guardians don't want to be told what they should be doing but they want information that will help them decide what their children can watch," Mr Sheehan said.

"Having a clearer understanding of the classifications used on television will help parents and guardians make up their own minds about which programmes their children watch and how they watch."

Another finding of the report is that free-to-air classifications and warnings are more effective than the system used on pay TV, particularly the way warnings are provided.

"Free-to-air always uses a visual and verbal warning presented in front of a programme when they want to alert viewers as to the content. While pay TV sometimes does this they also have a system of warning symbols. But many parents thought these symbols were too similar to the classifications. Also the way they were presented to viewers - in a single block of letters - added further confusion," Mr Sheehan said.

Many parents also questioned why there should be separate systems for free-to-air and pay TV.

While there were a number of issues raised about classifications and warnings, overall people felt well served by the broadcasters, Mr Sheehan said.

"Viewers noted in particular that they appreciated the verbal warnings given before certain news items."

News and current affairs, because of their distinctive nature, do not require classification but broadcasters are expected to provide appropriate warnings about particular items that may offend.

The BSA would be discussing the findings of the report with broadcasters and working through the specific recommendations with them, Mr Sheehan said.

The entire report is available at www.bsa.govt.nz. Printed copies can be obtained from the BSA.

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