Not suitable for children: Parenting group warns on plan to change trailer rules

Trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming

It's time to suit up.

A child protection group says proposed changes to cinema trailer rules could lead to psychological harm in kids.

Children could suffer lasting psychological damage if proposed changes to cinema trailer classifications are approved, a child protection group claims.

The Australian Council on Children and the Media, which runs the Know Before You Go movie review service for parents, has drawn attention to a proposal now before Communications Minister Mitch Fifield that seeks to allow trailers for M-rated movies to be screened before movies rated PG, so long as the trailers themselves are rated, or likely to be rated, PG.

Parenting expert Steve Biddulph, a patron of the ACCM, on Wednesday urged his 170,000 or so Facebook followers to complete a survey posted by the group seeking views on the matter.

Not suitable for children: Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman was rated M.
Not suitable for children: Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman was rated M. Photo: AP

In its first 24 hours, the survey has drawn around 2300 responses from concerned parents; the group's last survey received 1000 responses in two months.

The ACCM's Barbara Biggins claims the proposed changes could "create a misleading idea of what the film is about", and might generate "an extremely scary experience that doesn't bother an adult but may stay with a child".

There is also a "philosophical issue" in the proposed change, Ms Biggins says. "Having chosen my entertainment and paid for it I don't want M-rated movies being marketed to my child."

Lesley-Anne Ey, a lecturer in child development at the University of South Australia, argues the proposed changes "place children at risk of being exposed to adult content" that "can have a huge impact on their psyche".

She cites the example of her own daughter, then aged five, who was watching Sesame Street when the signal was interrupted to bring footage of the 9/11 attacks.

"She became scared that Osama Bin Laden was going to come to Australia and kill her," she says. "That fear lasted for two or three years."

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Though trailers are unlikely ever to feature such traumatic images linked to real-world events, Ms Ey believes a PG-rated trailer for an M-rated film is a form of "false advertising".

"It indicates that the content is going to be child-friendly, when in fact it is not. It creates a desire to see the film, and if a parent goes with them a child of 10 or 11 can see an M-rated film that might have content of a type that was not indicated by the trailer."

But the organisation behind the proposed change says such concerns are misplaced. "This is something we've been pushing for close to eight years," says Lori Flekser, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, which represents the major film distribution companies (and through them, the interests of the major Hollywood studios).

Levi Miller and Angourie Rice in the M-rated Jasper Jones.
Levi Miller and Angourie Rice in the M-rated Jasper Jones. Photo: Madman

"Trailers are available across the internet, cinema is one of the last places they are regulated. During school holidays it really restricts the ability to trailer films that are coming up after the holidays, which are primarily M-rated."

She cites the example of Lion, a PG-rated film whose audience was primarily adult, and the inability of the distributor of Jasper Jones, which was rated M, to target that same audience by screening its trailer before it.  

Despite concerns that the change is primarily about exposing younger audiences to trailers for M-rated superhero movies, Ms Flekser claims there is no intention to try to mislead. (Recent releases Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonderwoman and The Avengers: Age of Ultron were all rated M.) 

Sunny Pawar in Lion, rated PG and thus unable to carry a trailer for Jasper Jones.
Sunny Pawar in Lion, rated PG and thus unable to carry a trailer for Jasper Jones. 

"There is absolutely no value, commercially or reputationally, in that," she says. "Trailers are expensive, opportunities to screen them are scarce, so there is no desire to show trailers to audiences that are not going to be able to see that film."

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