Memorandum from the British Board of Film
The BBFC is a highly experienced,
independent regulator of film, video/DVD, and video games. Its
determinations have legal force and are based on published guidelines
developed through extensive public consultation.
The BBFC pioneered the comprehensive
provision of individually tailored content advice, and has developed
a role as a major player in the promotion of media literacy.
The nature and range of the media
it regulates, and the fact that its regulation involves thorough
pre-publication scrutiny of the material, sets it apart from Ofcom
and from PEGI.
A diversity of regulation is an important
guard against concerns relating to civil liberties (especially
freedom of expression) but when diversity of regulation exists
within a particular, well defined medium, as it does for video
games, there are significant disbenefits.
The BBFC has accumulated unrivalled
experience and expertise in the regulation of extreme video material,
including "hardcore" pornography and violent or indecent
material which poses a risk to the well being of children, vulnerable
adults or society.
The BBFC has accumulated unrivalled
experience and expertise in the regulation of video games, including
(but not limited to) those which pose a risk to the well being
of children by virtue of content featuring strong violence, criminal
behaviour, or sexual activity.
The realism of video games has increased
dramatically in recent years and the most violent games feature
realistically gruesome killing, torturing and dismembering. They
are converging with film rather than the reverse.
Because most are not "gamers",
many parents still regard video games as "toys" and
do not feel anywhere near as confident about controlling their
children's access to violent video games as they do about controlling
access to violent films and DVDs.
The presence of two different sets
of classification symbols on video games does not help, although
bit reflects the current legislation.
BBFC symbols reflect game playing
context; have statutory force; enjoy very high levels of public
recognition, respect and understanding; and are supported by clear
content advice (rather than confusing and unhelpful "pictograms");
heavily used websites for children, students and parents; and
the expertise of the BBFC's Advisory Panel for Children's Viewing.
Individual PEGI classification decisions
are less reliable than BBFC ones because they derive from inferior
methodology based on a self-assessment questionnaire. By contrast,
every BBFC decision is based on extensive gameplay by independent
Unlike PEGI, the BBFC can reject
a game (and therefore prevent its supply in the UK) if the risk
of harm is unacceptable. This power gives the BBFC greater leverage
to require changes in other games.
Unlike PEGI, the BBFC has wide public
recognition as a credible and independent media content regulator.
Very recent qualitative research has strongly re-inforced this
It would not be in the best interests
of children and parents for the UK to opt for PEGI as the single
set of games symbols. Such a choice would be highly politically
contentious. And would not enjoy public support.
If the BBFC symbols were adopted,
the UK games industry would suffer no detriment in decision times,
and would gain substantial benefits from increased public trust
and confidence, and from the BBFC's strong websites and other
media literacy activities.
Online video games raise new risks,
such as quasi-addictive playing patterns and bullying by fellow
players (especially online), for which industry-related self-regulation
(as in the PEGI system) may not command sufficient public confidence.
The Internet is presenting various
and serious challenges to the established regulation of film,
video/DVD and video games, with potentially significant consequences
for the welfare of children.
The Internet has created platforms
for delivery of audio-visual content and video games which are
not subject to any independent or statutory based regulation.
Media literacy has an important role
to play in minimising risks to children.
Effective labelling and trusted content
advice, such as that provided by the BBFC category symbols, Consumer
Advice and Extended Classification Information, is vital in enabling
parents and others to make informed choices with regard to children's
access to video games and video material on the Internet.
The BBFC, in partnership with major
content providers (including Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner
Bros and Sony) and online distribution channels (including Tesco,
BT Vision and Entertainment UK) has developed a voluntary, opt-in
system for the classification and regulation of material offered
via download, streaming or set top box over the Internet.
Given clear public demand, mainstream
UK providers of mainstream material on the Internet are likely
to participate in effective co-regulation schemes such as BBFC.online.
Outside the mainstream, providers
of some kinds of harmful material will not voluntarily submit
to any form of regulation and, in such a situation, parents will
struggle to exercise effective control over the material to which
their children are exposed.
Adults seeking harmful material will
not be prevented from accessing it by such voluntary schemes or
by labelling requirements.
It is possible to define a set of
material which is likely to cause significant harm to children,
vulnerable adults or society. This would be highly focussed, and
not a generic attempt to regulate the Internet.
Any attempt to regulate such material
on the Internet would need to address jurisdictional issues, and
would be likely to involve placing obligations on the Internet
Service Providers and/or the financial services sector.
The experience of the BBFC in regulating
a vast range of moving image content in a non-linear environment,
and in developing the BBFC.online scheme, would be an asset to
any such initiative, and the BBFC would very much like to be involved
in any future developments.
1. The British Board of Film Classification
(BBFC) is a highly experienced regulator of the moving image (especially
film, video/DVD and video games), and is trialling a voluntary
co-regulation scheme (BBFC.online) for video material supplied
over the Internet by means of download or streaming, and for online
games. The BBFC regulates not just as a statutory designated authority
but also because we believe we serve a socially useful function.
Through the efficient classification of the moving image into
advisory and age-related categories, the provision of content
advice and the maintenance of our archive, we: give the public
information that empowers them to make appropriate viewing decisions
for themselves and those in their care; help to protect vulnerable
viewers and society from the effects of viewing potentially harmful
or unsuitable content (while respecting adult freedom of choice);
provide media industries with the security and confidence of cost-effective,
publicly trusted regulation; help to protect providers of moving
image content from inadvertent breaches of UK law; and assist
Trading Standards officers in their enforcement role.
2. The BBFC's independence is protected
by its status as a not-for-profit private company funded by the
fees it charges for making its determinations. The fee tariff
is based on the cost of considering the submitted material and
is agreed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
The BBFC's structure reflects the importance of keeping decisions
relating to finance separate from those relating to classification
determinations. Responsibility for classification decisions and
policy ultimately rests with the President and two Vice-Presidents,
while the BBFC's business affairs are controlled by a separate
Council of Management which has no involvement in policy work
or classification. This submission is being made on behalf of
the BBFC by the Director, who is delegated to make executive decisions,
and to formulate and ensure the execution of policy.
3. This submission was prepared specially
for the committee but draws heavily on the BBFC's submission to
the Byron Review (which, in turn, developed issues raised in the
BBFC's memorandum to the committee's enquiry on new media). The
BBFC acknowledges and applauds the many benefits that flow from
both the Internet and from a vibrant video game industry but leaves
it to others to list and quantify them. The purpose of this submission
is to offer the Committee the perspective, knowledge and expertise
of a media regulator specialising in the moving image for whom
issues of harm to children, vulnerable adults or society are of
the utmost importance. Paragraphs 6 to 14 deal with the background
issues relating to the current statutory regulation of media content;
paragraphs 15 to 27 set out the current position of the BBFC;
paragraphs 28 to 43 identify the particular areas of BBFC expertise;
paragraphs 44 to 90 deal with the harms that may be caused to
children, vulnerable adults or society through access to inappropriate
video games; paragraphs 91 to 112 look at opportunities for preventing
or minimising the risks of harm that may be caused to children,
vulnerable adults or society through access to inappropriate video
games; paragraphs 113 to 139 deal with the harms that may be caused
to children vulnerable adults or society through access to inappropriate
material on the Internet; and paragraphs 140 to 177 deal with
opportunities for preventing or minimising the harms that may
be caused to children, vulnerable adults or society through access
to inappropriate material on the Internet.
4. It is important to note from the outset
that, despite the overlap evident in the expanding field of "online
gaming", the issues relating to regulation of "the Internet"
and "video games start from rather different positions. Video
games which are supplied by means of physical media (typically
by means of a disc that is inserted into a games console) and
which contain certain elements relating to sex, nudity, bodily
functions, gross violence or crime are required by law to have
a classification certificate from the BBFC. By contrast, most
legal opinion suggests that supply of moving image material over
the Internet is currently not covered by the various statutes
governing the regulation of similar material in the mediums of
film, DVD and television, however strong or unpalatable the content
5. Any account of the ways in which the
Internet allows access to media content, runs the risk of creating
a sense that ground has already been lost and that the very possibility
of regulation is rapidly slipping away. It is easy to understand
why this impression is widespread but, in the view of the BBFC,
it is not appropriate, especially in light of the continuing need
to protect children, vulnerable adults or society from the effects
of exposure to certain kinds of media content. Regulatory regimes
are rarely free of gaps and anomalies, and the absence of a single,
perfect solution to the problems thrown up by the Internet in
particular should not be accepted as an excuse for inaction. What
is required is a coordinated and systematic approach in which
the major new media industry players and the regulators come together
to devise a coherent set of solutions. Such an approach is unlikely
to develop unless it is driven by Government, the only authority
that has an overview across all aspects of new media, technology
and the public policy concerns that underlie all types of media
6. Founded in 1912, the BBFC's role in the
regulation of cinema films has evolved over many years, both through
legislation relating to the licensing of cinemas and through changes
in the nature of the material and in public attitudes towards
it. Although licensing concerns were originally focussed on issues
such as fire safety they quickly expanded to cover the potential
effects of the films themselves on audiences, including child
audiences. The current statutory basis for the regulation of cinema
films is found in the Licensing Act 2003 which requires that the
admission of under 18s must be restricted in accordance with any
recommendation made by the licensing authority or by the film
classification body designated under section 4 of the Video Recordings
Act 1984 (namely the President and Vice-Presidents of the BBFC).
In practice, almost all cinema films released in the UK are classified
by the BBFC according to its own thoroughly researched guidelines
in order to satisfy the licensing objectives set out in the legislation:
the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention
of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm.
The current classification categories for cinema films are "U",
"PG", "12A", "15", "18"
and "R18", though the latter category is very rarely
used in practice. ("R18" is, however, an important and
well-used category for video/DVD.)
7. The advent of domestic video recorders
in the early 1980s led to widespread concern about the way in
which the new technology enabled children, especially, to gain
access to unregulated and inappropriate material, including pornography
and extreme horror films. Parliament responded by introducing
statutory regulation of video works by means of the Video Recordings
Act 1984 (the VRA), and the President and Vice-Presidents of the
BBFC were designated as the authorities responsible for making
arrangements for determining whether video works are suitable
to be classified (having special regard to the likelihood of videos
being viewed in the home), and the classification to be awarded
to a suitable video. Since the amendment made by the Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the BBFC has also been obliged
to have special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential
viewers (including underage viewers) or, through their behaviour,
to society by the manner in which a video work deals with criminal
behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific
behaviour or incidents, or human sexual activity. The current
classification categories for video works are: "Uc",
"U", "PG", "12", "15",
"18" and "R18".
8. The definition of a video work under
the VRA is any series of visual images (with or without sound)
produced electronically by the use of information contained on
any disc, magnetic tape or any other device capable of storing
data electronically and shown as a moving picture. It therefore
encompasses moving image material supplied on VHS tape, DVD, UMD
(a disc for playing films on the handheld Sony PSP games console),
games console cartridges, memory sticks or similar, but not moving
images which are transmitted to the user via, for example, the
Internet or mobile phone networks. A video work is also exempt
from classification if, taken as a whole, it is designed to inform,
educate or instruct, or if it is concerned with sport, religion
or music. Drafted at a time when video games had not advanced
far beyond "Pong", "Pacman", and "Space
Invaders", the VRA also offers exemption to video games.
Exemption is lost if to any significant extent, the work depicts:
human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated
with such activity; mutilation or torture of, or other acts of
gross violence towards, humans or animals; human genital organs
or human urinary or excretory functions; or techniques likely
to be useful in the commission of offences. Exemption is also
lost if the work is likely to stimulate or encourage human sexual
activity (to a significant extent); or mutilation or torture of,
or other acts of gross violence towards, humans or animals (to
any extent). The presence of linear (ie non-interactive) material
may also cause a game to lose exemption. In addition to video
games which lose exemption, the BBFC also classifies a large number
of exempt games which are submitted to the BBFC by the publisher
by choice. (Once classified the statutory restrictions on sales
of age restricted games apply with full force).
9. In performing its classification function
under the VRA and in relation to the Licensing Act, the BBFC recognises
its status as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998
and also acts effectively to ensure that regulated works do not
transgress against other pieces of legislation. These include
the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 (CFA), which makes
it an offence to exhibit a work containing real animal cruelty
orchestrated by the film maker; the Protection of Children Act
1978 (POCA), which outlaws the taking, possession, showing or
distribution of indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of
children; and the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964 (OPA).
In carrying out its responsibilities, the BBFC also has regard
to whether the material has arisen from the commission of an unlawful
act. The BBFC provides a convenient and streamlined single source
of authority in considering whether such statutes may have been
breached. In doing so, it assists not just the public but also
the industry in making available its experience and expertise
on possible inadvertent breaches of the law. It is likely that
such UK legal issues will in future arise in relation to video
10. In recent years, particularly with the
establishment of Ofcom (the regulator and competition authority
for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications
services), content regulation has been concentrated in fewer hands.
The BBFC believes that there is a self-evident benefit in having
a diversity of regulation to guard against concerns relating to
freedom of expression and other civil liberties: the main forms
of regulated, popular, cultural content should not all be overseen
by a single, statutory body. However it does not follow that a
single form of content, such as video games, should be regulated
by more than one regulator.
11. There is also a powerful case for applying
a single regulatory approach to films, DVDs and games, given:
the presence of linear (ie non-interactive) material in most games;
the existence of film and game versions of many works; the convergence
of films and games through increased game photo-realism; the existence
of common classification issues such as violence; and the need
to think through where interactivity does and does not make a
12. The form of regulation practised by
the BBFC also remains quite distinct from that practised by Ofcom,
for reasons which, historically, have derived from the nature
of film and video content and the different nature of the media
concerned. Up until recently, technological factors (eg the spectrum
of broadcast frequencies) have placed a limit on the number of
TV or radio services that can operate at any one time, encouraging
a requirement that providers must be licensed. Ofcom regulates
TV broadcasts, radio broadcasts and radiocommunications by means
of making adherence to its codes a condition of the licence. Failure
to adhere to these codes may lead to sanctions, or ultimately
to the licence being revoked, but there is normally no assessment
of the content by the regulator prior to its dissemination. An
apparent failure to adhere to the relevant code may be brought
to the attention of the regulator through complaints and, in such
circumstances, Ofcom will rule as to whether the code has, indeed,
13. There is no technical limit to the number
of video/DVD distributors. Perhaps more significantly, film and
video/DVD have always attracted a significant amount of content
which challenges the limits set by the law and which raises issues
relating to harm. In light of the experience of the pre-VRA era,
which saw large quantities of obscene material widely distributed,
a "light-touch" approach based on post-publication oversight
has not been considered appropriate for the UK regulation of video/DVD
material. Consequently, the BBFC operates a unique system based
on the independent and thorough assessment of content prior to
its public release. This is carried out swiftly and efficiently,
but nevertheless makes possible a thoroughness of scrutiny, an
accumulation of expertise and an authority in advice provision
which are not available under purely post hoc regulatory systems.
14. Although many exempt video games are
voluntarily submitted to the BBFC for classification, the majority
of exempt games are currently awarded non-statutory age ratings
under the PEGI system. Although this is a pre-publication system,
it operates in way which is quite different from the approach
of the BBFC. While the BBFC makes a determination by means of
extensive gameplay by independent BBFC examiners, supplemented
by viewing of "cutscenes" and other materials, a PEGI
rating is generated primarily by means of an online questionnaire
filled in by the developer or publisher of the game. Context is
crucial to BBFC decisions, but is generally not taken into account
15. The BBFC is currently experiencing historically
high numbers of submissions, mainly as a result of the industry
move from VHS video tape to DVD and the resulting submission of
back catalogue titles and "added value" material. The
past three years have also seen a dramatic rise in the number
of submissions of video games, as games publishers responded to
the widespread public concerns raised when the mother of 14-year-old
murder victim Stefan Pakeerah linked the video game Manhunt to
the brutal killing of her son (a link that is far from proven,
and which was not accepted by the police). Overall, in 2007 the
BBFC dealt with 15,276 individual submissions, compared with 5,266
submissions in 1997.
16. Despite the rapidly increasing workload,
the BBFC has dramatically improved its levels of productivity
and efficiency over the same time period. Average turnaround times
for decisions have fallen to a quarter of their previous level.
It currently takes an average of under 11 working days to classify
a video work or video game once payment has been made. Fee reductions
in 2002, 2003 and 2004 reduced the cost of classification by 30%.
This reduction has only been marginally offset by a modest rise
in fees at the start of 2007, necessary to fund the digitisation
process that will secure the future of the archive of classified
works we are obliged to maintain under the VRA.
17. The industry has the facility to challenge
BBFC decisions by reference to the local authorities (for film)
or through the independent Video Appeals Committee (for video
works). However, appeals of that sort are exceptionally rare,
with just three appeals with regard to video works since 2000.
This low rate of appeal is despite the fact that, in 2007, over
8% of new films were given a higher category than that sought
by the distributor, and over 27% of pornographic "R18"
video works were subject to compulsory cuts (usually to material
which is obscene, violent, abusive or non-consensual).
18. Productivity gains have not been at
the expense of the quality of decision making, which continues
to be exercised in accordance with the criteria set out in our
published guidelines. These guidelines, introduced in 2000 and
revised and updated in 2005, are based on over 90 years of experience
and expertise in the regulation of the moving image, and are informed
by very substantial research exercises designed to ensure that
our policies are broadly in line with public opinion. The latest
published guidelines were produced after consulting over 11,000
people across the UK covering all ages and demographic groups.
The main outcomes of the research were that overall support for
the guidelines had gone up from 59% in 2000 to 63% in 2004. Support
for the guideline criteria had also increased on each of the issues
of main concern to the publicsex, drugs, violence and bad
19. More recently, BBFC research during
2007 has suggested that 89% of adults understand BBFC symbols
(see para 29). High levels of public recognition and understanding
of BBFC film and video/DVD regulation are also recorded by recent
which revealed that viewers differentiated between dedicated TV
content and films broadcast on television on the grounds that
the films had already been classified by the BBFC and the classification
was known. A comprehensive and very recent review of media effects
also concluded that "Public attitudes to film content
are, generally, more tolerant than for television. This is partly
because the public is also aware of and supportive of, current
levels of regulation in film, and partly because people understand
the decision process behind choosing to watch violent or sexual
content". Viewers clearly regard a properly regulated
environment to be a safe environment and appear to have confidence
in the regulation provided by the BBFC. Many mainstream distributors
of download material already see BBFC classification and Consumer
Advice as an important protection which also adds value.
20. In recent years the BBFC has also sought
to enhance its reputation as centre of excellence in media regulation
and related functions, both nationally and internationally. This
is particularly evident in the field of media education. For the
BBFC, enabling members of the public to make informed choices
about what to view, and what to allow those in their care to view,
is a fundamental aim. The provision of a clear classification
and of some specific content advice for each individual work is
a significant contribution but the usefulness of such information
is greatly enhanced if the public itself is aware of the nature,
purpose and extent of regulation and possesses the critical media
literacy tools that allow the information to be used effectively.
21. To that end, the BBFC has developed
two dedicated educational websites (plus a website for parentssee
paragraph 32). The first, CBBFC (www.cbbfc.co.uk), launched in
2003, is aimed at primary school children and their carers and
teachers and seeks to heighten awareness and understanding of
the regulation of the moving image through interactive activities
in an appealing and fun environment. The site receives up to 160,000
hits and 3,000 unique visitors each month. The second website,
SBBFC (www.sbbfc.co.uk), is aimed at media studies students and
teachers and features a range of resources, including case studies
of key decisions. It was launched in June 2005 and by November
was receiving over 108,000 hits per month resulting in over 6,000
significant sessions per month. During 2007, the popularity of
the site continued to grow and it now receives up to 274,000 hits
and 12,000 unique visitors per month. Both websites are constantly
updated and improved. They also complement the longstanding commitment
to make presentations to education establishments on the work
of the BBFC. During 2007, this programme resulted in over 100
visits across the UK speaking to over 10,000 children, students,
teachers and family groups from primary through to post-graduate
and adult education level. We also hosted 12 in house seminars
for over 250 students and teachers. The BBFC is thus a major player
in the promotion of media literacy in the UK, and no media literacy
strategy would be complete without adequate treatment of the films,
videos, DVDs and video games which the BBFC regulates.
22. As required by the VRA, the BBFC keeps
an archive of classified works and uses this resource to assist
Trading Standards Officers (TSO) in their enforcement role in
relation to alleged breaches of the legislation. In many cases,
before a prosecution can take place, the TSO must first establish
the true classification of the video work, or that the work is
not classified, or that the work differs from the version classified.
The BBFC provides this information in the form of a Certificate
of Evidence, after checking the title on screen against our database
of classified titles or, where necessary, by conducting a detailed
comparison between the seized copy and the archive copy. In 2007
the BBFC provided Certificates of Evidence for use in court proceedings
involving over 8,700 video works.
23. During 2005, one of the clear intentions
of Parliament in passing the VRA was challenged by a number of
distributors using the mechanism of the independent Video Appeals
Committee (VAC). Eight distributors appealed, claiming that nine
explicit "hardcore" sex videos works should be classified
"18" and allowed on general sale rather than "R18"
with sale restricted to licensed sex shops. The videos were fairly
typical "hardcore" fare, featuring close up images of
genitals engaged in various consensual and legal sexual acts,
and designed primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal. The
BBFC vigorously defended the decision to classify the works "R18",
engaging leading counsel and arguing that such a classification
was appropriate given Parliament's clear intention, the public
policy objectives underlying it, and the evidence of public opinion
on the issue. The appeal was unanimously dismissed.
24. More recently, the BBFC's decision to
reject the video game Manhunt 2 was appealed to the VAC. The game
has an unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall
game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with
exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. It is a game wholly
devoted to stalking and killing human characters in a modern urban
environment. In order to progress, the game player must kill almost
every character encountered. Many of these killings are "sneak
attacks" in which the character controlled by the game player
hides in shadows until his victim's back is turned, then creeps
up behind him and attacks with one of a large variety of weapons
available to him. Killing in such a fashion maintains the character's
health, whereas fighting face to face depletes the character's
health and risks failure to complete the level. There is sustained
and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings
are committed, and encouraged, in the game.
25. Of particular concern to the Board is
the game's unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and
the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer.
There is no significant objective other than killing and the only
significant variety in the game play involves making use of the
full range of weaponry, including: syringes, pens, shards of glass,
knives, axes, saws, a bottle (both unbroken and broken), a mace,
baseball bat with barbed wire, spades, pliers, plastic bags, garden
shears, a circular saw, prod, night stick, hand drill, sickle,
flare gun, hand gun, sniper rifle, Uzi machine gun, shotgun, toilet
cistern lid, iron maiden, electric chair, meat hooks and an industrial
compactor. Each weapon produces its own unique set of "kill
images", encouraging players to seek out the most brutal
and graphic kill possible.
26. Against this background, the Board's
carefully considered view is that to issue a certificate to Manhunt
2 would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults
and minors, within the terms of the Video Recordings Act, and
accordingly that its availability, even if statutorily confined
to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.
27. The VAC upheld the appeal but its written
judgement suggested that its decision may have resulted from at
least one serious misdirection in relation to the legal interpretation
of "harm" in the VRA. The BBFC therefore sought and
was granted Judicial Review. At a hearing on 24 January 2008,
Mr Justice Mitting ruled in favour of the BBFC and ordered the
VAC to reconsider its decision. The game will remain unclassified
and therefore unavailable in the UK at least until the outcome
of that reconsideration is known.
28. There is inevitably some overlap between
the work of the media regulators: films classified by the BBFC
for cinema and/or video/DVD release often end up being transmitted
on television (and subject to regulation by Ofcom) while successful
television programmes and series will often be submitted to the
BBFC in order to allow their release on video/DVD. Many video
games receive both a PEGI rating and a BBFC rating (the latter
taking precedence in the UK given its statutory nature). Although
the regulators take broadly similar approaches to the suitability
of certain types of mainstream content for different age groups
(not least because they rely on a common body of research evidence)
there are very significant differences in terms of the manner
in which the regulation is carried out, and the range of material
dealt with on a daily basis. The BBFC would also stress the value
of the existence of a diversity of media regulation, not least
in ensuring freedom of expression.
29. The BBFC believes that much of the trust
and respect its regulation commands among the public is derived
from the fact that it examines each and every piece of classified
material prior to its release, attaches a simple and unequivocal
rating based on criteria set out in researched and published guidelines,
and provides clear and concise content advice (eg "Contains
strong language and bloody violence"). Our classification
symbols are instantly recognised and very widely understood, especially
by children and those with responsibility for children. Early
in 2007 the BBFC commissioned quantitative research from leading
market researchers TNS.
Their poll of over 4,000 adults revealed that 89% understood BBFC
ratings (those that didn't tended to be aged 55 and over and less
likely to have children at home).
30. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the BBFC
pioneered the systematic and comprehensive provision of content
advice and has persuaded the film, video/DVD, and video game industries
to carry the advice provided on video work packaging and film
promotional material. The nature of the advice provided is kept
under constant review and in 2006 was adjusted in accordance with
the results of a major research exercise designed to discover
ways in which the wording of the advice might be improved to make
it even more useful to the public. One outcome was that the word
"peril" was dropped from consumer advice formulations
because the public found it archaic and unhelpful. The BBFC remains
convinced that content advice is best provided by an impartial
body, free from commercial considerations, and that a simple but
individually tailored sentence deriving from continuous scrutiny
is far more effective than a simplistic and rigid system involving
numbers or pictograms. This view is supported by very recent research
commissioned by the BBFC (Classifying Games: Qualitative Research
which is discussed in detail later in this submission (see paragraphs
61-65, 95-97, 105-106).
31. In 2007, the BBFC further developed
and enhanced its provision of content information. Nearly all
cinema films submitted for classification since 11 June 2007,
and nearly all new video games submitted for classification since
1 August, now have "Extended Classification Information"
(ECI) which is published on the main BBFC website (www.bbfc.co.uk).
This is a simple explanation, in two or three short paragraphs,
of why the work was classified as it was, and includes a straightforward
description of the relevant material, and of other material likely
to be of interest to a parent looking for guidance before allowing
a child to view the work or, indeed, to persons looking for guidance
with regard to their own viewing choices. With the introduction
of ECI the BBFC now offers parents two tiers of advice alongside
the statutory restriction on sales which come with BBFC age restrictive
32. Detailed information for all video games
(U to 18), and for films classified U to 12A, is also a key feature
of Parents BBFC (www.pbbfc.co.uk), a new website launched in October
2007 and aimed at providing parents with all the information they
need in order to make informed choices about the material they
allow their children to view. Operating under the motto "Parents:
you call the shots", this website offers the extra information
provided by ECI under the title "Extended Consumer Advice"
in a format specially designed to appeal to busy parents. In its
first three months, Parents BBFC has achieved over 930,000 hits
from over 9,600 unique visitors, purely on the basis of word of
mouth and promotion on the BBFC's main website.
33. Such sources of extra information are
particularly important with regard to video games: BBFC research
(see paragraphs 52 to 55) has revealed a deep lack of confidence
among parents with regard to controlling their children's access
to games which are classified as unsuitable for their age group.
This lack of confidence appears to stem from a lack of knowledge
about what modern games actually contain: many parents still think
of video games as children's toys and imagine that the content
is merely an update of the simple (and anodyne) Space Invaders
and Super Mario games of their own youth. This makes parents more
susceptible to pleas such as "it's only a game" and
"all my friends have it" than they are in relation to
age restricted DVDs. In such an uncertain context, the BBFC's
system offers clear and thorough guidance for parents from a source
they know and trust. For example, a parent unsure of what to expect
from the video game "Timeshift", will see the BBFC "18"
symbol on the packaging, indicating that it is unsuitable for
a child. Alongside the BBFC symbol on the back of the packing,
the parent will also see the short BBFC Consumer Advice, in this
case: "Contains strong bloody violence". If still unsure
of its suitability for their own child, the parent can check the
record on either the main BBFC website (www.bbfc.co.uk) or Parents
BBFC (www.pbbfc.co.uk) which contain the following ECI /ECA for
this particular game:
TIMESHIFT is a futuristic shoot-`em-up on the
Xbox 360 in which the gaming action takes place in first person,
as if from the player's point of view. Players are required to
blast through the levels using a variety of high powered weapons
as they attempt to save the world from a tyrannous neo-fascist
regime. It was passed "18" for strong bloody violence.
The BBFC Guidelines at "15" state that
"violence may be strong but may not dwell on the infliction
of pain or injury". In TIMESHIFT however players are given
the ability to inflict violent repeated injury on their victims,
with blood splashing up on to the camera lens as they do so. Players
can also blow enemies to bits with either exploding crossbow bolts
or a rocket launcher or set them on fire with a flamethrower,
and should they choose, do this in slow motion by using the games
time suspend feature. This focus on violent injury was therefore
considered too strong for "15" and better placed at
the adult "18" category.
Additionally, TIMESHIFT features some mild bad
language and mild female nudity when a woman sits naked on the
edge of a bed with her back to camera.
34. The material submitted to the BBFC for
classification covers a much broader range than that broadcast
on UK television, from the mildest of entertainment for pre-school
children to the most horrific and exploitative examples of fictional
sexual violence and real death and mutilation. Importantly, the
BBFC's judgements have statutory force: it is illegal to sell
or hire an unclassified video work (unless exempt), or to sell
or hire a classified video work to a person below the age specified
by the certificate. As a regulator, the BBFC is unique in its
experience and expertise in relation to "extreme" material
and has developed robust policies and procedures for ensuring
that the right to freedom of expression is properly balanced against
the need to protect the vulnerable from harm. Two recent examples,
both refused classification by the BBFC, illustrate the nature
of the trend in "reality" material.
35. Bumfights: A Cause for Concern
is a US video/DVD work in which the film makers persuade real
homeless people, who are often incapacitated through drink or
drugs, to fight or take part in dangerous stunts. Some of the
incidents result in significant injuries, for instance one man
pulls his own tooth out with pliers and another sustains a broken
ankle during a fight. Part of the work is given over to a spoof
wildlife programme in which the film makers approach homeless
men who are asleep in public areas and treat them as if they are
wild animals. This typically involves startling, forcibly subduing
and then binding their arms, legs and mouths with duct tape. Their
physical attributes are then discussed as if they are not human.
There is considerable doubt as to whether the homeless men in
these sequences are consenting and they appear bewildered, frightened
and angry. The film makers were convicted for soliciting an assault
during filming and the video is reported to have sold over three
hundred thousand copies in the USA. Two sequels have been made.
36. Terrorists, Killers and Other Wackos
Volume 1 [aka Terrorists, Killers & Middle East Wackos] also
appears to have been produced in the USA but features real, documentary
material from around the world. The work edits together over 50
minutes of footage of people being killed or seriously injured.
The incidents are not put into any recognisable documentary or
news context and appear to have been selected for shock value
alone, and edited together almost at random. Upbeat music and
"jokey" captions (including an onscreen graphic which
keeps a running score of the number of "mullet" haircuts
seen onscreen) suggest that the primary purpose of the work is
to entertain or even amuse but there is little doubt as to the
reality of the footage. Sequences include live kangaroos having
their limbs sliced off, a man having his arm hacked off, a man
being shot in the face but remaining alive for a while with his
face half destroyed, people on fire in the Bradford City FC disaster,
a dead man being scalped and many similarly horrific images.
37. In both cases, the context as much as
the detail was crucial to the decision to reject. The Board also
took account of the appeal of such works to adolescents and teenagers
seeking extreme viewing experiences.
38. The BBFC is also unrivalled in the UK
in its experience in relation to the regulation of sex material.
Since the adoption of new guidelines in the summer of 2000, legal
material designed to sexually arouse and featuring clear sight
of real sex between consenting adults has been classified in the
specially restricted "R18" category. "R18"
video works can only be sold to adults who visit a licensed sex
shop and must not be supplied by mail order. The Ofcom code also
specifically outlaws the transmission of "R18" material
or its equivalent on UK television. During 2007, the BBFC classified
over 1,150 video works "R18". The type of material classified
at "R18" is that informally known as "hardcore".
Such works normally feature close up images of genitals during
the performance of various sex acts, including oral, anal and
vaginal penetration, masturbation and ejaculation. Unlike the
"softcore" images commonly passed at "18",
in "R18" works there is normally no doubt that the sexual
act is being performed for real rather than simulated.
39. The regulation of "hardcore"
sex material is a particularly difficult and specialised enterprise
which is not well suited to a "light touch" approach
based on responses to complaints, not least because the audience
is unlikely to complain at the excesses. Much of the material
deliberately skirts the boundaries of consent, legality, abuse,
and harm with the result that the BBFC is forced to intervene
with a regularity unmatched in other types of material: during
2007 over 27% of "R18" features were subjected to compulsory
cuts. It is abundantly clear to us that self-regulation does not
work in such an area, and leaves serious abuses.
40. The modern trend in explicit "hardcore"
sex works is to depict sexual activity free from any pretence
at narrative or relationships, and to show participants (especially
women) being pushed to the very limits of their physical capabilities,
often in a group sex scenario. Consensual adult activities are
carried out in a manner which ranges in tone from gentle to mechanical
to domineering to aggressive to abusive, and the task of establishing
at which point to draw the line is not at all straightforward.
Many "hardcore" works also play around with notions
of consent, youth, innocence, inappropriate relationships, pain
and violence in ways which range from relatively innocuous to
extremely disturbing. Over the course of years of experience of
classifying thousands of "hardcore" submissions, the
BBFC has developed policies and procedures which allow for the
consistent application of the tests of harm and legality.
41. In relation to pornography and harm,
the BBFC takes account of the vast and varied body of research
evidence and also takes expert advice from specialist psychologists
42. The legal issues relating to pornography
are also complex and include consideration of offences which may
have been committed in the UK during filming (eg public indecency,
voyeurism), issues relating to privacy (eg private home videos
being distributed commercially), and material which may itself
be illegal. The latter category includes both indecent images
of children and material which might fall foul of the OPA. The
question of what might be considered "obscene" in UK
law is particularly difficult. In effect, it is up to each jury
to decide what constitutes obscenity and the standards not only
change over time but also vary from jury to jury and from geographical
area to geographical area. The BBFC seeks to avoid classifying
obscene material by ensuring that it is up to date with the current
application of the law.
43. As a result of its daily experience
of regulating extreme material in the age of the Human Rights
Act, the BBFC has developed significant expertise in balancing
freedom of expression against the constraints on such freedom
required by UK law in the interests of the public and of society.
The Home Office made use of the BBFC's expertise in this area
as it considered introducing a new offence relating to possession
of extreme pornographic material (currently before Parliament
in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill) and, in light of
the concerns expressed by the BBFC and others, the Bill excludes
video works classified by the BBFC from the scope of the offence.
The BBFC's formal response to the Home Office consultation is
available on our website and on request.
44. The VRA requires the Board, in making
a determination in respect of a particular video game, to assess
the game's "suitability for viewing in the home"
and, in doing so to have "special regard ... to any harm
that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour,
to society by the manner in which the work deals with [...] criminal
behaviour; [...] violent behaviour or incidents; horrific behaviour
45. The VRA does not restrict the
consideration of harm that may be caused to viewers to "behavioural"
harm. Rather, section 4A requires the Board to have special regard
to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers. In
the Board's view this is an appropriate and necessary test in
relation to violent video games, and one which does not feature
in the voluntary PEGI system by which most exempt games are classified.
46. The Board believes that a video work
may cause harm in a variety of ways, many of which are not "behavioural".
A work, either on its own, or in combination with others of a
similar nature (the "drip drip" effect), may cause harm
to an individual, whether an adult or a child, by desensitising
that person to the effects of violence, by degrading that person's
sense of empathy, by encouraging a dehumanised view of others,
by suppressing pro-social attitudes, by encouraging anti-social
attitudes, by reinforcing unhealthy fantasies, or by eroding the
sense of moral responsibility. Especially with regard to children,
video works may retard social and moral development, distort an
individual's sense of right and wrong, and limit their capacity
47. The impossibility of proving "harm",
including "moral" harm, was clear at the time the VRA
was passed. The VRA addressed this problem by designating an authority
to make a judgement based on the prescribed criteria. Consequently,
the VRA does not require the BBFC to "prove" harm. Rather,
it requires the BBFC to use its collective experience and expertise
to make a judgment as to the suitability of a video game for use
in the home and, in making that judgment, to have special regard
to "... any harm that may be caused [...]"
[my emphasis]. The Board makes such judgements in a manner
which commands public confidence.
48. Concerns around harm may arise not just
from the visual detail presented by a game but also from the context
in which it occurs. Given equivalent visual detail, a game which
encourages a sadistic mode of play is surely of greater concern
than one that does not. Because BBFC examination of a game is
based around extensive gameplay (rather than a PEGI-style self-assessment
questionnaire), BBFC decisions take this fully into account.
49. Unlike the voluntary PEGI system, the
VRA requires the Board to consider harm in relation to "potential
viewers" including underage viewers. If persons under 18
are likely to play a violent video game, even if it is classified
"18", the Board is not just entitled but obliged to
consider the possible harmful effects that might arise from such
viewing. Again, the Board submits that this is an appropriate
and necessary test in relation to violent video games, especially
given the relative lack of effective control of such games in
50. At the extreme, if the risk of harm
is too great, the BBFC can reject a game. If a game cannot claim
exemption, and has been refused classification by the BBFC then
supplying, or even offering to supply it, is a criminal offence
punishable by an unlimited fine and imprisonment for up to two
years. The BBFC has not been afraid to exercise the power to reject
a game and has done so most recently in respect of Manhunt 2.
By contrast, the PEGI system has no facility to reject a game,
the most severe outcome being a legally unenforceable 18+ rating.
This shortcoming of the PEGI system is causing some concern in
mainland Europe and recent news reports suggest there is now a
majority in the Dutch Parliament urging the Government to seek
a power to ban extremely violent video games in the Netherlands.
51. In light of its statutory obligation
to have special regard to any harm that may be caused to "potential
viewers" (including underage viewers), the BBFC takes very
seriously the possibility that violent video games may be played
by children. A video game classified "18" is a very
different proposition from a hardcore porn video classified "R18".
Such a video game can be sold in any shop, not jut a licensed
sex shop, and is likely to be kept in the home alongside other
games (some with lower classifications) on display to, and within
reach of, children.
52. Parental attitudes to video games also
appear to differ from attitudes to "18" rated DVDs.
The Board's own research (Video Games: Research to improve
understanding of what players enjoy about video games, and to
explain their preferences for particular games)
suggests that many parents are ignorant of the content of modern
video games and have not yet fully taken on board the need to
protect younger children from violent "18" rated games
in the manner that they do for violent "18" rated DVDs
or pornographic "R18" rated DVDs.
53. Any attempt to quantify definitively
under-age use of games faces grave methodological difficulties.
In particular it is likely to founder on the strong disincentive
to publishers, retailers, parents and children to provide truthful
responses. But there is strong anecdotal evidence that such games
have been played by, and even bought for, young children.
54. To many parents "video games"
are still essentially electronic toys and evoke memories of the
original Space Invaders, Pong and Sonic the Hedgehog type games.
Because many parents do not play video games they are unaware
of the development of games such as Manhunt, The Punisher or 50
Cent: Bulletproof and are consequently less likely to monitor
or control their children's access to age restricted games. The
research commissioned by the Board concludes that:
"Many parents and gamers believe the
classifications are not taken as seriously as those applied to
films and DVD. They say they are widely ignored... Many gamers
in the sample had played games classified as suitable only for
significantly older children... and many parents had supplied
inappropriate games" [page 103]
"Many [parents] are less familiar with
the content of video games than with that of films and therefore
have fewer/weaker convictions... when they are buying games, some
are like illiterates in libraries and they focus on what their
children say they want, ignoring content. Many parents feel more
vulnerable to pressure from their children in relation to games
than films because they are so much more ignorant about games"
55. The research goes on to quote parents
admitting buying specific "18" rated games for pre-teen
"We bought him GTA [Grand Theft Autogame
in which the player can sell drugs, have sex with prostitutes
and kill policemen] when he was almost 10" [page 104]
"I didn't have clue what Grand Theft
Auto was about... and I must admit I bought it for him (12-year-old)"
And quotes children discussing violent, age-inappropriate
games, for example:
"The blood is necessary in GTA but in
Manhunt I think it gets a bit too extreme... In Manhunt... holding
him down as long as you can and then sawing his head off with
a wirethat's a bit too much" [male gamer aged 14-15]
56. In the view of the Board, the current
two-tier regulation of video games, in which the majority are
subject to non-statutory PEGI regulation and a minority to statutory
BBFC regulation, contributes to the relative lack of parental
control over children's access to violent computer games.
57. The very fact that video games are normally
exempt from classification immediately suggests to parents that
they are of less concern generally than are films or DVDs. Violent
video games usually only require statutory classification if they
contain "gross violence" towards humans or animals.
This is a high threshold and means that many quite violent games
claim exemption from classification. For example "Prince
of PersiaWarriors Within" allows the gamer to
carry out many bloody killings including decapitations complete
with blood spurts (a short 2 minute 43 second video showing examples
of the gameplay in this video game can be found on YouTube at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHgGfsZN-5I ). "Tom Clancy's
Rainbow Six Vegas", "Far Cry Instincts Predator",
"Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare" and "Red
Dead Revolver" are further examples of violent video
games which claim exemption. Another is "Just Cause"
which includes a visit to a brothel alongside its bloody violence.
Although these games all carry PEGI 16+ ratings, there are no
legal restrictions whatsoever on their sale to children. The BBFC
has no power to require such games to be submitted for statutory
classification. The onus rests on the publisher and PEGI.
58. By way of contrast, DVDs containing
equivalent scenes of violence require statutory classification
by the BBFC. Should the classification be age restrictive, supplying
the DVD to a person under the specified age is a criminal offence,
punishable by a fine of up £5,000 and imprisonment for up
to six months. The modern trend for games based on big film releases
further exacerbates the situation. For example the DVDs Alien
Vs Predator, Matrix Revolutions, Bad Boys II, Constantine, The
Chronicles of Riddick and Nightwatch are all subject
to statutory regulation under the VRA, carry a BBFC 15 rating,
and legally cannot be sold to any child under the age of 15. The
games based on those films all claim exemption from statutory
classification, are rated 16+ by PEGI and can legally be sold
to a child of any age. A parent contrasting the two situations
can be forgiven for assuming that the state is giving them a very
clear indication of the relative risks of harm associated with
the two mediums and for concluding that society is less concerned
about video games than it is about DVDs. The BBFC is not convinced
that it is safe to assume that video games are inherently less
harmful than DVDs.
59. The presence of competing category symbols
on games sitting side by side on retailers shelves and in the
home cannot help to give parents confidence in asserting control
over their children's game playing choices. It can only serve
to confuse the issue of suitability and a confused parent is surely
less likely to exercise appropriate control. This problem is exacerbated
by the confusion over what is actually being indicated by the
PEGI symbols (3+, 7+, 12+, 16+ and 18+); many parents appear to
believe that these symbols are ability ratings rather than
suitability ratings and so purchase a 16+ game for a 10-year-old
on the grounds that the child is really good at video games.
60. The games industry's own 2005 research
suggested that public knowledge of the PEGI age ratings was very
low especially with regard to the ratings below 18. For example
only 9% could name the 16+ rating and only 2% the 7+ rating. Given
such low recognition of its system it was not surprising that
the researchers suggested that "PEGI has not been established
as a brand".
61. The problems inherent in the PEGI system
have been borne out in very recent research commissioned by the
The small scale research consisted of four focus groups of parents
(eight parents per group), split by class, gender, age of child,
and location. The fieldwork was carried out on 8 and 9 January
2008. The groups were shown sample games in all BBFC and PEGI
categories. Respondents were then split into pairs to discuss:
the information they would use to evaluate the games, how would
they reach decisions about child's ability to play game, how would
they reach decisions about game suitability for child. After spontaneous
reactions had been recorded, respondents were asked specifically
about the two different sets of classification symbols, and the
two different types of additional content advice (PEGI pictograms
and BBFC consumer advice).
62. The responses revealed that, at present,
the PEGI category symbols are understood as referring to suitability
in its broadest sense. When probed, it was clear that many
respondents were confused as to whether suitability was defined
by content or player ability with many concluding that it was
the latter. Only a minority of respondents understood the specific
reference to content. The majority applied toys and clothing "age
rules" to the system and interpreted the age reference quite
literally"a game that a child that age or above would
be able to play".
63. Not surprisingly this had led to a number
of respondents to make a disappointing games purchase; for example
buying a game with a 3+ rating that proved to impossible for young
children to either fully comprehend or to complete. Indeed a few
parents in the groups were confused enough to boast about their
child's gaming prowess, maintaining that he or she could play
games for an older age group and that they were buying games for
an "older" ability rating as a result.
64. By contrast, the BBFC classification
system is unequivocally understood as referring to content. Respondents
apply film classification "rules" to computer games
and immediately grasp that the classification is referring to
key issues such as violence, sexual references and language, often
using BBFC consumer advice "language" to describe what
they meanmild, strong, gory violence etc. The BBFC system
was thought to be familiar, accessible and quick to convey key
information. Put simply, a number maintained that they did not
have to work too hard or think too deeply to understand it. This
is an important point given how consumers use classifications
at point of purchase. It is very much a quick review, often working
synergistically with game genre and pack imagery rather then a
detailed analysis in store.
65. Seeing a variety of different game packs
in the groups was often the point at which respondents recognised
that there were two different systems operating within the games
market. This often worked to PEGI's detriment and compounded the
confusion around this system. Even respondents who had previously
thought that PEGI was referring to content became less sure and
questioned whether they had got it right. The fact that BBFC is
seen to "own" content, led many to conclude that the
PEGI system referred to ability by age, almost by default.
66. This confusion is not confined to children
and parents but is shared by the UK's leading video games retailer,
GAME, whose website contained the following information under
the heading Questions About Products until the BBFC highlighted
the error in its submission to the Byron Review. I have highlighted
the key passage in bold.
"6. Are some of your products age
Any product with a BBFC (British Board of film
Classification) rating will be clearly described as such on the
product page for that item. For further information on BBFC ratings,
see the Video Standards Council Website or the Ask About Games
Additionally, we also display PEGI ratings. PEGI
stands for Pan-European Games Information and is the new standard
throughout Europe. PEGI age ratings are a guide and simply indicate
what age you're likely to have to be to understand how to play
the game (so a game like Civilisation
for example, which is probably suitable content-wise for anyone,
wouldn't be recommended for a 7-year-old simply because of the
depth of the game) ".
If the UK's leading games retailer doesn't understand
the meaning of a PEGI rating, what chance do parents have?
67. The Board accepts the unsatisfactory
nature of the "media effects" research with regard to
video games and "behavioural" harm, but we nevertheless
believe that, in some cases, such harm may well be caused
to a significant proportion of vulnerable viewers. The overall
risk of a range of possible harms in relation to children and
vulnerable adults is, we submit, real and substantial.
68. The Board does not suggest that all
children or vulnerable adults are likely to be harmed, or that
all forms of harm are likely to be behavioural. Its main concern
is the effect of the game on those with aggressive personality
types and low levels of empathy. The concern is that, particularly
in children and vulnerable adults, aggressive and anti-social
attitudes will be stimulated and reinforced, that desensitisation
will occur with respect to real world violence, that a view of
violence as acceptable will be encouraged, and that understanding
of right and wrong will become distorted.
69. This concern takes into account the
possible "drip drip effect" of playing not just one
game but also a whole range of violent games over a long period
of time. It also has regard to the certainty that many gamers
spend many hours playing such games.
70. Ethical and practical considerations
make it impossible accurately to research the extent or degree
of harm that might be caused to an individual (especially with
regard to children), still less the degree of harm that might
be caused to society though the behaviour of viewers after viewing.
Therefore policy decisions on the harm that violent video games
may cause cannot safely be made purely or even primarily on the
basis of the existing "media effects" research.
71. Of course, researchers have nevertheless
tried to establish the nature and extent of any "media effects",
including those that might be ascribed to video games, over many
years. Some research attempts to demonstrate a causative link
through experiments which involve exposing subjects to a violent
video game under controlled conditions and assessing immediate
changes in measures of aggression or attitude. Others have investigated
possible correlations between real life game playing and real
life crime or violence.
72. In the view of the Board, the body of
research taken as a whole does not provide conclusive answers.
Those studies which purport to demonstrate harmful effects are
hotly disputed by researchers who challenge the methodological
validity of the research. The only point on which researchers
are agreed is that more research in this area is needed.
73. Of course, lack of conclusive evidence
of harm is not the same as conclusive evidence of lack of harm.
The VRA is based on the proposition that some video works (including
some video games) are harmful and that in some cases the degree
of harm will be sufficient to justify rejecting a work. The regulator
must make a reasoned assessment of the risk of harm and then make
a judgement as to whether that risk can be managed through the
classification system or whether it is so great that the work
must be refused a certificate. Many studies do suggest harm, and
others suggest that the only rational conclusion is that the effects
of violent video games are uncertain at present. A selection of
relevant recent findings is recorded below.
74. Kevin Browne and Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis
of the University of Birmingham reviewed five meta-analytic reviews
and one quasi-systematic review for the Lancet (Lancet
2005:365: 702-10) and found:
"There is consistent evidence that violent
imagery in television, film and video, and computer games has
substantial short term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions,
increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour in
younger children, especially in boys" [page 1]
"[...] other authors believe the evidence
shows that violent video games are related to later aggressive
behaviour and delinquency in older children and teenagers, especially
in boys and young men and in those individuals who were characteristically
aggressive" [page 3]
And went on to suggest that:
"Personality factors such as temperament
also appear to have a mediating role, with some research suggesting
that high-trait aggressive men are most affected" [page 4]
And cited evidence suggesting that:
"Notably, even those parents who monitor
their child watching videos or DVDs are less likely to monitor
the child using video and computer games" [page 6]
75. In work commissioned by the Department
of Culture Media and Sport, Raymond Boyle and Matthew Hibberd
of the Stirling Media Research Institute reviewed evidence of
a link between playing violent video games and real world violence
in young people. They concluded that the available evidence was
contradictory, and that research on adults was sparse, but acknowledged:
"a body of evidence that playing violent
video games increases arousal and the possibility of violence
in some players" [page 4]
They note research by Jeanne Funk exploring
the impact of violent games on "high risk" players,
ie those who have pre-existing adjustment problems (including
bullies, victims, and children with emotional problems) and summarise
her study as concluding that:
"some children may be especially vulnerable
to exposure to violent video games" [page 28]
76. Also worth noting is the 2000 finding
of the US Federal Trade Commission, as reported by Boyle and Hibberd,
which found that:
"US video game companies routinely marketed
to children the very products that had the industries' own parental
warnings or ratings with age restrictions due to its violent content.
Furthermore, for many of the products, the FTC found evidence
of marketing and media plans which specifically targeted children
under 17 ... Specifically, of the 118 games with a Mature (over
17) rating, the FTC selected 83 for its study and found that 60
were targeted to children under 17". [page 28]
The Board notes the evidence of a culture of
underage viewing in relation to video games, at least in the US.
77. Boyle and Hibberd conclude not that
video games are harmless but that more research is required. In
particular they suggest that the following proposition is tested:
"Are there combinations of types of games,
types of personalities and situations which might have the potential
to have adverse affectsin other words, are there types
of games which might cause damage to certain types of (children
and young) people in certain circumstances?" [page 35]
In the view of the Board it is not safe to assume
that the answer to this question is categorically "no".
78. In their recent, comprehensive review
of Harm and Offence in Media Content, Andrea Millwood Hargrave
and Sonia Livingstone cite US studies showing:
"a correlation between real life violent
video game playing (eg Mortal Combat) and aggressive behaviour
(eg threatening to hit/attacking someone/using force)" [page
"those [schoolchildren] who played more
violent video games were more hostile, reported getting into more
arguments and fights, and were doing less well in school. The
authors conclude that those who play more become more hostile
in general and, therefore, more aggressive when faced with difficult
situations" [page 137]
"Research on learning suggests active
participation may be more influential than passive observation:
ie game playing may be more harmful than television viewing because
it involves attention, enactment, repetition, reinforcement ..."
79. Dr Guy Cumberbatch of the Communications
Research Group, in his report for the Video Standards Council
("Video ViolenceVillain or Victim") is critical
of the methodology employed by many studies but concedes that:
"There is no doubt that the majority
of reviews of the research literature on media effects conclude
that exposure to violence in movies, on television and in video
games makes people more aggressive" [page 9]
"the absence of convincing research evidence
that media violence causes harm does not mean that we should necessarily
then celebrate it and encourage more. There may be moral, aesthetic,
philosophical, religious or humanistic grounds on which we might
consider that excessive representations of violence are a matter
of some public interest" [pages 35-36]
80. The Board's view is that it would be
irresponsible to conclude that no video game, however violent,
gruesome or sadistic, could possibly cause a magnitude of harm
which would justify banning it from sale in the UK. Our considered
view is that the research on video game effects, while far from
conclusive, raises justifiable concerns about the effects of violent
games on children and on adults with a pre-disposition to aggression.
81. The BBFC's own recent contribution to
the debate was the research report Video Games: Research to
improve understanding of what players enjoy about video games,
and to explain their preferences for particular games (see
paragraph 52). This research reports the view of gamer respondents
that the process of interacting with the game has the effect of
reminding them that they are, indeed, only playing a game. But
this is not a conclusion of an empirical or scientific investigation
of the issue of the effects of game playing. It is simple self-reporting
by a small sample of gamers in what was essentially a modified
focus group exercise designed to provide insight into the reasons
gamers choose to play the games that they play, and the pleasures
they get from them.
82. The issue of "interactivity"
and the role it plays in relation to the experience and effect
of playing a violent video game is clearly very complex, and won't
be resolved through a single, small scale piece of research. Certainly,
a number of gamers in the BBFC research describe a sense of emotional
detachment as a result of the need to keep consciously interacting
(ie keep working the controls) to prevent the game from stopping.
But others describe interactivity as creating a deep sense of
involvement which surpasses that achieved by film or book (see
pages 54-56). In particular, one games reviewer describes her
experience of playing the game Shadow of the Colossus:
"There is a point at the end of the game
[...] where [...] the horse is killed in a rock fall. It's just
devastating [...] the impact it has on you. This has been your
only friend and companion who has helped you and protected you
[...] nothing else can do that. There are countless extraordinary
books that are extraordinarily moving, but they can't do that.
Films and books can't make you lose anything. You can read about
someone else's loss, you can empathise in a book, but a book can't
ever take anything from you. But that game took my horse. He was
my horse. He was my friend by that stage" [page 55]
83. The research confirms the Board's view
that there is significant public concern about the possible harmful
effects of violent video games. Although most gamers reject the
simplistic view that playing games makes a person violent, others
cite specific personal experiences of increased aggression resulting
from game playing:
"I would say that your emotional mood
definitely changes when you play a violent game. If you're not
winning you can get quite aggressive" (male gamer aged 26-30)
"I don't like (violent games) because
my brother plays them and it makes him really aggressive"
(female gamer aged 12-13) [page 78]
"When you are playing one of those (violent)
games you're so controlled that you think it's like real ... when
I stop playing it it's all weird and you feel like punching someone"
(female gamer aged 12-13) [page 78]
This concern is shared by some industry
"One of the things I find very difficult
is ... the level of violence that is now commonplace. The depravity
of it and the unflinching enthusiasm with which it's displayed,
consistently, astonishes me ... There're an awful lot of people
whose taste in games means their number one hobby is pretending
to be a murderer. They go home at night at spend four hours pretending
to kill people. The stories provide you with endless rationales
about why it's alright to be killing people ... We don't talk,
as an industry, about why that is, why people enjoy it [pretending
to kill] so much, and if it's a problem that they do enjoy it
so much" (games reviewer) [page 80]
And the researchers note that:
"Degree of concern about violence appears
to be affected by a number of factorshow gory and realistic
it looks ... the degree of detail depicted in close up, and how
it is related to game play, especially the extent to which it
seems to be a focus of attention in itself as opposed to a means
of progressing towards a larger objective in the game" [page
84. Some of the key elements noted by the
researchers can only properly be taken into account by a regulatory
process, like that of the BBFC, which places extensive gameplay
at the heart of its process of determination.
85. The Board submits that research evidence
of harm in relation to violent video games, or in relation to
a particular violent video game, is, for very good reasons, likely
to remain inconclusive. In such circumstances it is necessary
to rely on common sense and professional judgement. There may
be a limit to conclusive knowledge but that should not stop us
using our knowledge of children and human nature and coming to
the conclusion that such material may, in certain circumstances,
cause harm, or pose unacceptable risks of harm.
86. Such concerns are, if anything, amplified
by the increasing use of the Internet in relation to video games.
It is increasingly common for interactive discs submitted to the
BBFC to include weblinks, reflecting the fact that the PCs and
consoles on which such discs are played are routinely linked to
the Internet by ever faster broadband connections. Although the
material on the disc is "fixed", the weblink directs
the user to a space on the Internet and this space can be filled
with any manner of material, the nature of which can change from
day to day. Although many weblinks are obvious to the user, allowing
a conscious choice to be made to enter the unregulated world of
the Internet, others are "seamless" and it is easy for
even an experienced user to be unaware that what is on screen
is unregulated Internet content. The result is that an interactive
disc rated "12" or "PG" may lead directly
to online material which is wholly inappropriate for children,
material which may not have existed when the disc itself was classified.
It is likely that many parents are completely unaware of the possibilities
created by weblinks.
87. Games played on modern consoles, with
Internet connections, also commonly allow the player to play against
another player online. Gamers can play against a complete stranger,
based anywhere in the world, with whom, in many cases, they can
communicate in real time through a microphone and headphones or
through a keyboard producing onscreen text messages. It is not
uncommon for gamers to be exposed to racial, homophobic, or other
forms of verbal abuse, or to experience a form of cyberbullying
in which other gamers gang up to prevent a gamer progressing in
the game. Recent BBFC evidence, as yet unpublished (but available
to the Committee on request) suggests that many parents of gamers
are unaware of this aspect of modern video games.
88. Video game players are now commonly
offered, via the Internet, downloadable "patches" or
enhancements which are free from regulation and which significantly
alter aspects of the regulated, retail version of the game. A
parent may buy their child a video game classified "12"
on the basis that the violence is bloodless, only for the child
to download a "patch" which adds blood every time a
violent act is depicted. The changes brought about by the "patch"
may take it beyond the limits of the classification category awarded
to the original disc. The existence of such "patches"
was widely reported in relation to the game Grand Theft Auto:
San Andreas, the fastest selling video game of all time (1
million copies sold in nine days). In this case a "patch"
downloaded from the Internet allowed the player to see a sex scene
which was written into the code of the classified retail disc
but which was otherwise impossible to access (and which had therefore
necessarily been invisible to BBFC examiners at the time of classification).
"Patches" may be provided online by the games developers
or by "amateurs" with no links to the makers of the
89. Even more significantly, whole games
are being offered for supply via download as an alternative to
the traditional method of supplying a disc. The download supply
is not caught by the VRA and therefore escapes regulation in cyberspace,
even if it would require classification in the "physical"
world. There are clear advantages to supplying games via download
("bugs" can be fixed, updates and extra levels offered,
disc production costs saved) and this is likely to become a significant
method of distribution to home games consoles in the future. Without
a change in the law, such supply will remain outside statutory
regulation but there is no reason why a mainstream industry, with
a desire to act responsibly, could not be encouraged to ensure
that games offered in this manner are classified in the same manner
as games supplied on a disc. The options for presenting the public
with a single set of symbols for games (see paragraphs 100 to
110) could both be made to work in relation to downloaded version
of games (but without the criminal law sanctions). Download game
services also sit neatly within the range of services that the
BBFC.online scheme has been designed to regulate (see paragraphs
151 to 160).
90. A number of games (or commonly, "virtual
worlds") exist wholly within cyberspace (eg World of Warcraft)
and are constantly evolving and developing. The experience of
participating in such words is highly dependant on the actions
of other gamers, of whom there may be millions. Some of these
games are structured in a way that places significant limits on
what the player can do but others, like Second Life, have a very
loose structure which allows the players to develop the "world"
and to interact with others within it according to their own preferences.
Forms of bullying and other types of anti-social behaviour have
been exhibited in such worlds and the games deal with such harms
in a variety of different ways. Options include restricting access
to a particular age group (eg adults only), or monitoring the
gameplay like cyber police and taking action against anti-social
Improving Media Literacy
91. Because video games are a relatively
recent development, and because they appeal primarily to the young,
the traditional parent-child knowledge and competency relationship
is reversed: when it come to video games, children are skilled
practitioners familiar with a wide range of content, while parents
are blissful innocents largely unaware of the bloody carnage around
92. As a parent, familiarising oneself with
the content of a video game to ensure that it is suitable for
a child is not as simple as pre-viewing a DVD. Many parents simply
cannot progress far enough in a game to gain access to the key
elements and, even if they have the game playing competence, few
parents have the time to play through a complex modern game (which
can contain 40 hours of gameplay).
93. If they are to exercise effective control
over their children's viewing, most parents must therefore rely
on the classification system and on independent content advice
which gives them the information they need. If parents are to
make effective use of information, it must be presented to them
in a form they readily understand and trust. The BBFC's symbols
are almost universally recognised and understood, especially among
current parents of school age children, not least because of the
familiarity built up over many years in respect to film, video
and DVD classification (see paragraphs 19 and 29). Above all,
they are recognised as an indication of suitability (and
are not misunderstood as an ability rating).
94. BBFC classifications are accompanied
by a line of "Consumer Advice" which appears on the
back of the packaging, alongside the symbol. This gives, in simple
English, a brief indication of the content of the particular game,
for example "Contains strong, bloody violence". Each
piece of Consumer Advice is written especially for the particular
game by an examiner who has played the game. We believe that a
short sentence is the clearest and most flexible way of communicating
this type of information and our basic terminology has been refined
through both use and research. The beauty of language is that
it can communicate subtle differences, such as the difference
between a game which features "moderate fantasy violence"
and one that features "strong bloody violence". The
Board understands that the PEGI system must use "pictograms"
in order to communicate across all the languages barriers of Europe
but the drawbacks in terms of effective communication are obvious.
95. Because BBFC symbols and Consumer Advice
appear on the packaging, and are familiar (not least through their
use on films and DVDs) there is no lack of awareness and understanding.
The Board does not believe that the same can be said for the PEGI
symbols and pictograms. The research referred to in paragraphs
61 to 65 confirmed this view.
96. PEGI pictograms were generally disliked.
Firstly, the concept of pictograms was felt to be too simplistic
and very much at odds with parents' need for more detailed information.
The references, when understood, led to more questions than answers.
Violencewhat type of violence? Prolonged/sustained? Fantasy
or gory? and so on. The pictogram designs compounded this problem
and were often ridiculed in the groups. Violence, drugs and bad
language were more or less understood, but the pictograms for
horror, sex and racial discrimination were often misinterpreted
with many being very wide of the mark; eg claustrophobia or multiplayer
(racial discrimination), contains spiders (for horror) and a game
for boys and girls (for sex).
97. By contrast, the BBFC consumer advice
was described as being "spot on". Respondents preferred
the more detailed approach, using clear and accessible language.
The familiar style, reminiscent of film and DVD consumer advice,
also worked well and the benefits of this were two fold; it reinforced
the content message and added credibility to the overall communication
98. The BBFC recognises that for many parents,
the "headline" offered by the symbol and the Consumer
Advice is insufficient and so provides, for all new video games,
detailed content advice (Extended Classification Information/Extended
Consumer Advice) which it publishes on its main website and on
its dedicated "media literacy" website, Parents BBFC
(see paragraph 32). The BBFC provides this information as part
of its holistic approach to protecting children from harm and
funds its well set out media literacy websites for children (cBBFC)
and students/teachers (sBBFC) from the fees it charges for classifying
works. The reach of these initiatives, and their contribution
to helping parents make informed choices on behalf of their children,
could be greatly increased with the sort of funding that is beyond
the means of a cost-conscious media regulator.
99. Above all, if parents are to play an
active part in ensuring that their children are not playing age
inappropriate video games, there must be a significant increase
in public awareness of the graphic and bloodily violent nature
of many modern video games, of their increasing photo-realism,
and of the concerns that such games may not be entirely harmless
or healthy, especially for younger children. They must also be
made aware of the fact that many games consoles and many video
game discs are designed to allow the gamer to play against, and
communicate with, unknown people online. The very fact of this
enquiry is an indication that video games are beginning to become
a live issue for many people and such concerns are not limited
to the UK.
A Single Set of Classification Symbols
100. As noted earlier, the presence of two,
competing classification systems for video games in the UK can
be seen as a contributory factor to some of the problems identified.
The BBFC note that the two systems have achieved a working relationship
and method of operation which at least ensures that the most violent
games receive a statutory classification (by agreement, all games
which receive a PEGI 18+ rating are automatically submitted to
the BBFC for consideration under the VRA, even if they could,
arguably, claim exemption). It is possible to argue that the status
quo, while imperfect, is not actually broken and does not require
101. On the other hand, it is also clearly
possible to argue that the removal of the confusion caused by
having two sets of symbols for games (one statutory, one non-statutory)
would be a significant contribution to helping parents take control
of their children's exposure to unsuitable games. This was certainly
the conclusion of the BBFC commissioned research referred to in
paragraphs 61-65, 95-97 and 105-106. Respondents were clear that
there should be only one classification system for games and that
having two was misleading. (The more cynical felt that the games'
industry was deliberately playing to parents' confusion in order
to sell more games.) All recognised that clarifying the classification
system would without doubt be helpful. In the view of the BBFC,
two main options flow from such a conclusion.
102. The first option would be to ensure
that the BBFC is taken out of the equation and have all games
classified under the PEGI system. This would have the advantage
of placing the UK's regulation of games on the same basis as most
of the rest of the EU (the largest EU member, Germany, is not
part of the PEGI scheme). As PEGI has no facility to reject a
game it would also mean that any game, however violent or potentially
harmful, could legally be sold in the UK. Moreover, because PEGI
ratings have no legal force, even the most violent game with the
highest PEGI rating could legally be sold to a child of any age.
Ratings would primarily be determined by a self assessment questionnaire
rather than by extensive gameplay by independent professionals.
Parents would have just one set of symbols to deal with for games
but would need substantial and ongoing education as to the meaning
of those symbols (which are commonly mistaken for "ability"
ratings) and the accompanying pictograms (which, even if understood,
would still fail to convey the strength or nature of the issue
being identified). Parents would lose the clear Consumer Advice
and Extended Classification Information provided by the BBFC for
games, but would still face competing sets of symbols when judging
the suitability of a PEGI rated video game against the suitability
of the BBFC rated DVD on which the game is based.
103. The research referred to in paragraphs
61-65, 95-97 and 105-107 also suggested that this option would
have to overcome a wider credibility issue with regard to PEGI.
The researchers concluded that there is no awareness of PEGI as
an organisation. When this was probed in the groups, respondents
felt that the organisation lacked the heritage of the BBFC and
was thought to be a "newcomer". More cynical respondents
questioned its impartiality and wondered whether the organisation
was being funded by the computer game industry. Again, this contrasted
with the BBFC which was perceived to have a visible, trusted and
104. The second option would be to place
video games on exactly the same footing as DVDs. This could be
done by simply repealing section 2 (1) (c) of the VRA (the section
which provides a general exemption from classification for video
games). If this section was repealed, an individual game could
still claim exemption but only on the same grounds as a DVD, ie
if it was designed to "inform, educate or instruct",
or if it was "concerned with sport, religion or music".
Sports video games and karaoke games, for example, could therefore
be sold without any classification provided they did not lose
exemption through the depiction of "gross violence",
"human sexual activity", etc. This option would mean
that all classified video games would be rated on the basis of
extensive gameplay by independent professionals, that they would
carry the BBFC symbols and Consumer Advice recognised and understood
by nearly all parents in the UK (and would have Extended Classification
Information/ Extended Consumer Advice available on BBFC websites),
that potentially harmful games could be banned from sale in the
UK, that games with an age restricted classification could not
legally be sold to persons under that age, and that there would
be no confusion between ratings for DVD films and for games based
on those films.
105. This second option would have public
support, according to the qualitative research referred to above.
Moving forward with the BBFC requires little or no further investment
in public awareness or understanding. The framework for games
classification communication is already in place; BBFC ratings
are known to be about content and the brand has heritage and credibility.
The consumer advice system is working well and the idea of the
BBFC classifying websites or on line games was met with universal
interest and approval.
106. When research respondents were asked
which system they would adopt if they were responsible for the
decision every group reached the same conclusionthat the
BBFC system effectively communicated classification by content
and did so in a straightforward, accessible and familiar way.
107. The BBFC has reason to believe that
some in the video game industry would also welcome wholesale BBFC
classification, not least because the lack of contextual consideration
in the PEGI process can result in anomalous decisions (including
what many perceive to be the over-classification of the mildest
fantasy violence). No doubt others would object but protests on
grounds of delay would be unfounded: turnaround times for BBFC
classifications are comparable to those achieved by PEGI. In terms
of cost, the fact that a BBFC classification is derived from extensive
gameplay by independent examiners rather than a self-assessment
questionnaire is reflected in higher fees than are charged by
PEGI. The actual fee depends upon the complexity and scale of
the game but for a large game is commonly £2,100, a small
sum when set against the costs of developing, manufacturing, distributing
and marketing a multi million pound product which typically retails
at two or three times the cost of a DVD.
108. In June 2007, PEGI launched PEGI Online
in an attempt to provide a framework for encouraging safe gameplay
online, and information for parents on the risks and possibilities
of online gaming. It is too early to gauge the success of the
PEGI Online scheme in meeting its objectives. The BBFC is also
in discussion with major online gaming companies who would like
to see BBFC classifications as the cornerstone of their child
protection measures in relation to all forms of online gaming
and the BBFC.online scheme described in detail in paragraphs 151
to 160 is in part designed to provide a means of carrying over
into the world of online gaming the benefits associated with the
recognition, trust and understanding that have been built into
the BBFC brand over many years in the UK. BBFC.online will enable
the presentation of a single set of classification symbols across
films, DVDs, video game discs and online games with obvious and
significant benefits for parents.
109. PEGI online already recognises BBFC
and (German) USK ratings (but not those of the US games regulator,
ESRB) and it is worth noting that, at present, some online games
sold in the UK carry PEGI online ratings, some carry BBFC ratings,
and some are unrated. If it was decided to remove confusion through
the use of BBFC symbols only, the UK Government could, in the
short term, make clear that it expects all online games sold in
the UK to carry BBFC ratings. If that did not produce a satisfactory
result, the UK Government could legislate to require all online
games sold in the UK to carry BBFC ratings.
110. The UK would not be alone in the EU
in concluding that the protection of children in relation to games
(including online games) was best served by a national regulator
rather than a pan-European system. This is already the position
in German, the largest EU state. It is also significant that the
market for games is much higher in the UK than in other EU countries
(the UK accounts for at least 30% of retail sales of video games
in the EU) so the need for effective regulation is perhaps more
pressing. Given the power of online games, the relatively low
levels of parental understanding, the heightened possibility of
unduly lengthy playing sessions, and the risks posed by upgrades,
user-generated content and, above all, inter-gamer bullying or
other abuse, it is not sufficient just to leave them to be supervised
by technological tools, notification procedures and pure self
regulation by games publishers. And it is not safe simply to rely
on PEGI Online in the UK, given: its currently limited coverage;
its novelty and fragility; the increased risks to gamers and parents
posed by online play; and the current uncertainties about how
PEGI online is dealing with upgrades and inter-player abuse.
111. It should be noted that a number of
games consoles are fitted with "parental control" systems
which allow a parent to bar access to games whose classification
(whether PEGI or BBFC) indicates a lack of suitability for their
age group. Indeed the BBFC entered into a no-fee licensing agreement
with Microsoft to allow its symbols to be used on the Xbox 360
console. The BBFC applauds such facilities but doubts that they
are actually used by many parents. As we have noted earlier, the
child is far more likely to be the master of the games console
technology than the parent (just as, in the 1980s, it was common
for the 12-year-old to be the only household member who could
set the timer on the video). 2005 research by Ofcom into the efficacy
of PIN protection systems with regard to TV broadcast services
("Research into the Effectiveness of PIN Protection Systems
in the UK :A report of the key findings of research among schoolchildren
aged 11-17, and a separate study of parents") summarises
its findings as follows:
"The research among secondary school
children revealed that, of those minors who were aware that their
household employed security PINs to limit access to rated programmes,
around a half knew their parents'/guardian's number" [page
112. Clearly there is a limit to the extent
to which tighter controls on content can or should be used as
a substitute for parental responsibility. If technological controls
are to become a key part of the child protection strategy in relation
to video games then the awareness and competence of parents in
relation to that technology needs to be substantially increased.
Much of the necessary effort needs to come from the industry.
But, to the extent that the regulator can also play a part, the
BBFC is better equipped than PEGI to provide the necessary educative
material through its websites.
113. Media regulation in the UK is governed
by legislation that is medium specific and there is currently
no statutory regulation of the Internet. Control of harmful material
on the Internet in relation to children is therefore currently
left to the criminal law (especially the Protection of Children
Act 1978, which outlaws indecent images of children; and the Obscene
Publications Act, which outlaws material which would "deprave
and corrupt"), voluntary self regulation, and the vigilance
of parents. Given the scale of the Internet, its operation across
international borders, the narrow range of material caught by
the criminal law, and a relative lack of media literacy, the potential
for harmful material to be accessed by children and vulnerable
adults is very substantial indeed.
114. The fact that Internet video content
can be accessed by means of many modern mobile phones, a common
personal possession for the modern child, and one that can be
used out of reach of parental supervision, amplifies concerns
about such content. If videos showing extreme violence or pornography
is harmful to children, and we believe it is, then ever increasing
numbers of children are likely to come into contact with it as
the means of accessing the Internet without parental supervision
multiply. Today's parents remember childhood experiences of viewing
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, today's children may well be watching
Shitty Shitty Bang Bang, a hardcore US porn work which, according
to its publicity material, features "deep sloppy blowjobs,
anal pumps, remorseless ass pounding action and double penetrations".
Today's parents associate "Off with his head" with the
Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, today's
children may well be watching real footage of hostages in Iraq
Pornography and Extreme Reality Videos
115. Unregulated pornography is widely available
on the Internet and can often be accessed without any warning,
payment or age verification. The range of sites is simply vast,
with a number mimicking the style of sites popular with children,
especially You Tube. For example hardcoreporntube.com and www.yourporntube
both over large numbers of free, short, explicit, unregulated
pornographic sex videos without even the pretence of an attempt
to prevent access by under 18s. Many pornographers also make use
of "pop up" technology and junk mail to impose explicit
images on Internet users who are not actively searching for them,
displaying a wanton disregard for the fact that many of their
unsuspecting victims will be children.
116. The sex industry, which often leads
in finding profitable business models in new media, is already
offering a vast range of video on demand (VOD) services and many
in the industry are privately predicting that, given the restrictions
that apply to the sale of "R18" videos and DVDs, the
UK adult video industry will soon be a predominantly online industry,
free from regulation under the VRA. Already those intent on accessing
the most worrying types of pornography can use VOD to do so. For
example, a consumer, wishing to view the uncut version of an "R18"
DVD, from which the BBFC has ordered the removal of scenes of
abusive and violent sexual activity, can log onto the US production
company's website, from where the original, uncut version of the
work is available electronically. The customer has the choice
to : "stream" the video (watch it on a high speed connection
as it is downloaded); save the whole video to his hard drive and
watch until he deletes it, or its digital licence expires; or
burn the file to a DVD. Unless the individual was intending to
publish the material (thus bringing possession within the scope
of the OPA) or underage participants were involved (engaging the
Protection of Children Act), no offence would be committed. The
unregulated market in Internet pornography offers material which
goes way beyond that permitted in BBFC classified "R18"
works, and routinely features scenes in which women are made to
gag repeatedly as they perform deep throat fellatio, are depicted
as underage children, or are subjected to violence or other forms
of abuse. In the view of the BBFC such material is likely to risk
harm to children both through direct exposure and through the
behaviour of others who have viewed it. Much of this harmful pornography
is unlikely to fall foul of the OPA given the very high threshold
set by the "deprave and corrupt" test.
117. A BBFC consultation
supports the view that "abusive" pornography, even though
unlikely to contravene either the Protection of Children Act or
the Obscene Publications Act, is likely to encourage abusive behaviour
among those viewers with a predisposition to sexually aggressive
or sexually abusive behaviour. Nine experts were asked to watch
a DVD made up of clips from works submitted for "R18"
classification. The five male and four female panel members included
forensic psychiatrists, forensic psychologists, criminal defence
barristers and sociologists. Of these, three had an expertise
in pornography or sexual behaviour, four had taken part in a previous
BBFC study into visual and verbal references to children in "R18"
pornography and three were regularly consulted by the BBFC on
individual works. The respondents viewed a selection of material
submitted to the BBFC for classification at "R18" where
performers who have consented to both sex and filming are subjected
to very rough, violent or abusive treatment during sex which exceeds
what could be described as "rough housing". This included
repeated, forceful slapping; choking during fellatio with breath
restriction; choking at the neck; standing on the head during
penetration; and strong verbal abuse and humiliation. Some clips
raised concerns for virtually all viewers, including, in some
cases, "normal" "well adjusted" viewers, but
particular concern was expressed over the impact of many of the
clips on underage viewers (respondents were asked to consider,
in particular, 16-17-year-old viewers) and on those with pre-disposition
to aggressive or illegal sexual behaviour.
118. Parliament is currently considering
a bill (The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill) which will
make unlawful possession of certain types of extreme pornography.
The proposal recognises the unique expertise of the BBFC in this
area and excludes material classified by the BBFC from the offence.
It should be noted however, that the material outlawed in this
legislation is very tightly defined and, like the OPA, would not
capture the majority of the pornographic representations which
the BBFC, and the experts it has consulted, have identified as
119. Given the prevalence of the content
and the lack of regulation, it is not surprising that many children
have been exposed to pornography online. In their recent and comprehensive
review of Harm and Offence in Media Content, Millwood Hargrave
and Livingstone cite a number of UK and European studies indicating
the scale of exposure. Among the findings of the various studies
57% of 9-19 years olds had come into
contact with pornography online, mostly unintentionally through
pop-ups (38%) or junk mail (25%).
5% of 8-11-year-old have accessed
porn sites often, 22% sometimes.
20% of 13-16-year-olds have accidentally
ended up on a porn site.
120. The issue of harm that might arise
from the exposure of children to "hardcore" sex works
has been considered at length by the independent Video Appeals
Committee (VAC). As noted during several appeals, ethical considerations
make it difficult if not impossible to accurately research the
extent or degree of harm that might be caused to an individual
child from underage viewing of pornographic works. The problem
arises from the fact that no research could be considered authoritative
unless it involved the controlled exposure of children to "hardcore"
sex material, a methodology no responsible researcher would employ.
This difficulty has been widely acknowledged and explains the
lack of empirical research studies which might establish causal
121. Given the severe ethical constraints
on research in this area, the absence of empirical evidence of
harm provides no reassurance that children would not, in reality,
be harmed through exposure to "hardcore" material. Lack
of evidence of harm is not the same as evidence of lack of harm.
In the absence of authoritative scientific data the BBFC takes
the prudently cautious view that it is likely that such works
may be harmful to children, vulnerable adults and society. The
view that children need special protection from this material
is shared by others who have had cause to consider the issue from
a regulatory or professional point of view.
122. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code includes
an absolute prohibition on "BBFC R18-rated films or their
equivalent" being broadcast on UK television [Ofcom Broadcasting
Code, section 1.25, page 15]. In doing so, the television regulator
has cited the need to protect children from exposure to this type
of material and has taken the view that the protection offered
by subscription, credit card payments, PIN code protected access
in the home and scheduling between certain specified (night-time)
hours, is currently insufficient to adequately protect under 18s.
123. In its consideration of the issues
in Appeals 15 & 16, the VAC noted:
"R18 material is on sale only in sex
shops to adults; sex shops are subject to the control of the local
authority and [...] the local authority would not hesitate to
close the shop if videos were sold to under 18s. Because the material
is for the purpose of stimulating sex it is axiomatic that the
material is unsuitable for children" [p25-26]
124. In its decision on Appeals 15 &16
the VAC was unequivocal:
"It is the view of us all that R18 material
in the hands of childrenand perhaps also the maladjustedcan
be harmful" [p28]
and went on to note:
"Parliament established sex shops to
make available material that was not suitable for children. As
recently as 1994, when videos were already almost universally
available to children, legislation was enacted which assumed it
would be possible for children to be adequately protected by the
restrictiveness with which such material would be available"
125. The importance of the special restrictions
of an R18 classification in preventing harm to children were also
underlined in the concluding remarks of the majority decision
in those appeals:
"The majority believe that all the video
works and the trailer under appeal are suitable for sale uncut
solely to adults in sex shops, and that the risk of any so sold
being viewed by and causing harm to children or young persons
is, on present evidence, insignificant but we do emphasise that
the sale is limited to adults who visit sex shops" [p31]
126. The utility of the special restrictions
on the supply of pornographic R18 DVDs is supported by the Interfact/Pabo
High Court judgement of 23 May 2005 which confirmed that R18 works
could not be sold by mail order:
"In our judgement, the requirement that
the event of supply is to be confined to a licensed sex shop gives
heightened protection, reducing the opportunity for the material
to be viewed by children". [paragraph 20]
127. As recently as 2000, the Home Office
"Consultation Paper on the Regulation of R18 Videos"
clearly set out the Government's view with regard to the potential
harm that might be caused by such material:
"... there is widespread public concern
about the possibility of children viewing sexually explicit material
which is clearly unsuitable for them and the Government takes
the common sense view that exposure to such material at an early
age may be harmful to children. There is, therefore, a need to
ensure that controls on the distribution and viewing of these
videos is as stringent as possible". [Risk Assessment section,
128. Although ethical considerations effectively
rule out empirical research, the BBFC has nevertheless attempted
to establish the state of expert opinion in this area. In August
2000 the Board published the results of a research study commissioned
to address the question "Are `experts' in a position to
say that children are harmed if they view `R18' videos?".
The study was based on 28 in depth interviews and one group discussion.
The interview sample comprised: 10 child psychiatrists (including
three Professors), nine clinical psychologists, three family or
child psychotherapists, four social workers, two head teachers,
one special needs teacher and one paediatrician. The group discussion
comprised eight people: four psychologists and four social workers.
The experts acknowledged that there was no reliable scientific
evidence available to resolve the issue and believed ethical problems
would make it impossible to conduct an authoritative study.
129. Despite the lack of scientific evidence,
a majority thought that viewing pornography was harmful to children.
The majority argued that children were shocked by it. They were
unable to deal with the shock because they did not understand
what they had seen; they were unable to "process" it,
or relate it to what they already knew. Moreover, they might well
have a strong sense that they should not have seen it, and this
would inhibit them from talking about it. What they had seen would
make a strong impression on them emotionally, but they would not
know how to express or deal with these emotions. If the pornography
excited them, they would not be able to find an acceptable outlet
for their feelings. [see "summary of main findings",
130. The sort of harm envisaged fell into
three overlapping categories: the immediate shock and trauma;
sexualisation and possible re-enactment; and broader effects to
do with perceptions of sexuality and relationships. The symptoms
of trauma might include sleeplessness, bad dreams, eating disorders,
bed wetting and general unhappiness. Many respondents believed
that inappropriate sexualisation, manifested by re-enactment or
mimicking of sexual relations, regularly resulted when children
had been exposed to pornography. Some children would be emotionally
or physically aroused and would try and give their feelings some
expression. Evidence of precocious sexualisation was a source
of immediate and grave concern in schools because it typically
involved other pupils. Pornography was also believed capable of
having pernicious effects on children's ability to form caring,
loving relationships later in life. It was thought likely to convey
distorted and unhelpful notions of how sexual relations were negotiated
and conducted. [see "summary of main findings", p5-6]
131. Given such widespread consensus that,
despite a lack of empirical evidence, hardcore pornography is
likely to harm children who view it, it is perhaps surprising
that, while DVDs containing the material can only be supplied
to adults who visit in person a specially licensed sex shop (and
cannot be broadcast even on encrypted adult TV channels), the
same material (and much, much worse) can be supplied via streaming
or download on the Internet to anyone, including a child, who
can click a computer mouse. Given the evidence that very significant
numbers of children are indeed accessing or being exposed to pornography
online, the lack of effective regulation in this area becomes
very difficult to defend especially when, as we will show in paragraphs
161 to 173, there are ways of defining and controlling such materialgiven
132. Like pornography, gruesome, extreme
reality footage is also easily accessible to children on line,
with a number of easily found, simple YouTube-style sites offering
footage of real hostage beheadings, executions, beatings, and
bomb blasts with no attempts to limit access by children. Examples
can be found at www.bigducky.com. These sites offer the most shocking
footage in the same manner as the video work Terrorists Killers
& Other Wackos described at paragraph 36. There is no thesis,
no attempt to understand or to empathise, no contextualisation,
no justification at all other than the most ghoulish form of "entertainment"a
modern day equivalent of a public execution. Many such sites have
hyperlinks to, and adverts for, Internet sex sites offering explicit,
"hardcore" sexual content, a combination of real violence
and real sex that raises still further the level of concern about
the effect the material might have on viewers.
133. Like pornography, such material does
not lend itself to the sort of research that would prove harmful
effects on vulnerable adults or society, let alone on children,
but the BBFC is in no doubt that such material has a shock value
appeal to adolescents and teenagers which makes it likely that
many will come into contact with it. In the view of the BBFC,
viewing such material "for fun" and in the absence of
any ameliorating context (such as might be provided by a considered
documentary) is likely to cause harm to a child or vulnerable
adult by desensitising that person to the effects of violence,
by degrading that person's sense of empathy, by encouraging a
dehumanised view of others, by suppressing pro-social attitudes,
by encouraging anti-social attitudes, by re-inforcing unhealthy
fantasies, by eroding the sense of moral responsibility, by retarding
social and moral development, by distorting an individual's sense
of right and wrong, and by limiting their capacity for compassion.
Mainstream video material
134. Away from the very extremes, mainstream
Internet video on demand (VOD) services allow video material which
is subject to statutory regulation by means of BBFC classification
when released on DVD, to be sold without any classification and
without any age restrictions via streaming and download over the
Internet. This applies not only to material passed "U"
or "PG" for DVD release but also to "18" rated
horror films such as "Hostel" and "Saw". Selling
a DVD of "Hostel" to a 10-year-old child is, quite rightly,
a serious criminal offence under the VRA; selling a download of
the same film to the same child is not.
135. Long heralded as the new media application
that would kill video tape and DVD, this form of delivery is set
to take off as major content providers begin licensing premium
content for distribution in this way. The major obstacles to its
uptake as a commonplace means of accessing film content and similar
are likely to decrease in size in the near future. The ability
to download the material in a high quality format, in short time
periods, and without technical hitches improves almost daily.
In the long term, it is possible that VOD might replace DVD altogether.
136. Internet based VOD services are not
covered by the existing regulatory regime and could quickly become
a mainstream means of accessing the full range of moving image
material currently classified under the VRA. With UK TV broadcasters
already offering Internet VOD "catch up" services for
popular TV programmes, public interest in using this facility,
and commercial interest in providing content in this way, may
rise dramatically in a short space of time.
137. The BBFC's research has revealed a
great deal of concern about films being offered for download without
independent content advice and has identified an overwhelming
desire to see the BBFC classification system, so familiar from
the world of cinema and DVD, carried over into the world of Internet
VOD services (91% of parents would like to see this).
Without such an easy, reliable and trustworthy guide to film content,
parents are likely to struggle to exercise effective control over
their children's viewing, risking exactly the sort of harm that
the VRA was designed to prevent in the medium of video and DVD.
138. To take a simple example, the films
The Cave and The Descent are both horror films made
in 2005, set underground, with largely unknown casts, and using
similarly dark and vague artwork in their promotion (see below).
The Internet Movie Database describes the former
as "Bloodthirsty creatures await a pack of divers who
become trapped in an underwater cave network" and the
latter as "A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as
the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange
breed of predators". A parent faced with deciding which,
if any, of these might be suitable for their 12-year-old to view
is seriously handicapped in the absence of a BBFC classification
symbol and associated Consumer Advice, which in this case are:
139. Even in the mainstream industry, there
are many examples of material whose distribution in cinemas or
on DVDs may have had serious harmful consequence for children
if not for the intervention of the BBFC. Over recent years, the
BBFC's many interventions on child protection grounds have included
a scene in film from a company specialising in family entertainment
which encouraged young children to play in a tumble drier, an
advert from an anorexia awareness campaign which had the unintended
consequence of giving vulnerable adolescents advice on how to
"succeed" at being anorexic, and a number of examples
giving practical advice on particularly effective suicide techniques
and drug manufacture. None of companies involved in the distribution
of these works had identified a potential "harm issue".
In an unregulated Internet VOD world, without prior scrutiny by
the BBFC, all this material, and many similar examples, would
have been distributed to under 18s.
140. In the view of the BBFC, regulation
of the moving image has demonstrated its social usefulness over
many decades, especially in relation to protecting children, vulnerable
adults and society in general. Effective regulation gives the
public information that empowers them to make appropriate viewing
decisions for those in their care, and helps to protect vulnerable
viewers and society from the effects of viewing potentially harmful
or unsuitable content while respecting adult freedom of choice.
Far from being a burden upon industry, the best regulation provides
media industries with security, confidence and public trust, and
helps to protect providers of moving image content from inadvertent
breaches of UK law.
141. The rapid development of video streaming
and download services online, and the fact that content provision
on those platforms has often been global or regional in nature,
has meant that effective national regulation has been largely
absent. Although many new media companies operate their own content
standards and means of control, it is not clear that these are
understood or used effectively, especially by those with responsibility
for children. Indeed, in many cases where technological solutions
are offered, children appear to be more capable of controlling
the viewing of parents than vice versa. After researching the
effectiveness of PIN protection systems with regard to subscription
TV services, Ofcom concluded that the currently available systems
were not sufficiently effective in preventing underage access
to allow "R18" equivalent material to be broadcast under
142. Of course, there are legal controls,
including offences relating to the distribution and possession
of indecent images of children, and to the distribution of obscene
material, but beyond these very serious areas of concern, existing
legislation struggles to make an impact, either because the means
of distribution falls outside the legal definitions of regulated
media such as television, video/DVD and film; or because the material,
while harmful, fails to meet the high thresholds set by the OPA
and by the POCA; or, in relation to material which does meet those
high thresholds, because the source of the material is outside
the UK. The result is something of a free-for-all, in which the
best efforts of self-regulation are undermined by both the lack
of a consistent form of regulation and the vast amount of unregulated
material available. This leaves the public poorly equipped to
make informed choices about the viewing of those in their care.
It also leaves children open to exposure to material that is clearly
unsuitable for them, with consequent risks to their well being
and to the well being of society in general.
143. The EU Audiovisual Media Services directive,
which the UK Government will be obliged to implement by the end
of 2009, does require certain minimum standard regulation for
certain VOD services. In particular, it requires the UK Government
to take appropriate measures to ensure that VOD services provided
by media service providers under their jurisdiction which might
seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of
minors are only made available in such a way that ensures that
minors will not normally hear or see them. Unfortunately the directive
only places an obligations on the UK to ensure effective regulation
of services which are both "TV like" and based in the
144. Clearly, this will leave many (indeed
most) Internet VOD services free to continue to supply video material
which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development
of minors in such a way that minors are almost certain to come
across it. Although some VOD services, like the BBC iplayer, are
extensions of TV viewing, and therefore arguably "TV like",
others are extensions of the DVD rental and retail markets (eg
Vizumi, Apple's iTunes), and still more are wholly new types of
service (eg YouTube).
145. Of course, arguments will be put forward
in favour of models of pure self-regulation for services which
fall outside the narrow scope of the EU directive. Such regulatory
frameworks have advantages in certain circumstances but often
struggle to attain necessary standards of understanding, trust,
effectiveness, accountability, independence and respect for freedom
of expression. A major European Commission funded study of existing
modes of media regulation [Self Regulation of Digital Media
Converging on the Internet: Industry Codes of Conduct in Sectoral
Analysisby the Programme in Comparative Media Law &
Policy, Oxford University Centre of Socio-Legal Studies, PCMLP-IAPCODE]
looked in depth at the various regulatory frameworks used in regulating
broadcasting, Internet content, computer games, films, and mobile
phone services, particularly across the EU. It identified significant
weaknesses in many current models of self regulation, especially
in relation to Internet content.
146. The existing use of "trust marks"
(logos indicating that a website has been certified by a self-regulatory
body) is rendered rather ineffective by very low levels of knowledge
and trust, with just 10% of EU citizens aware of trustmarks in
2003. In addition to low brand awareness, monitoring of compliance
is rarely proactive, and sites are very rarely removed from a
trust mark scheme. Without government intervention, or the threat
of government intervention, and without independent oversight
or assistance from an established regulator, it is doubtful whether
the industry will of its own accord devise and fund a trust mark
system which is both commonly used by content providers and widely
recognised, understood and trusted by the public.
147. The PCMLP-IAPCODE study also set out
in detail how the particular legal framework within which Internet
service providers and Internet search engines operate has led
to negative consequences arising from the operation of self-regulation
through "Notice and Take Down" procedures. This is the
system whereby service and content providers remove or block access
to illegal material when it is brought to their attention. There
is no doubt that, especially in the UK, this mechanism has led
to the removal of a great deal of harmful material, indeed, in
2003, the Internet Watch Foundation recorded over 25,000 incident
reports. However, such successes mask inherent weaknesses.
148. In general, service providers and search
engines are not legally liable for the content of material accessed
using their services. They are treated as a mere "conduit"
(in the same way as a telephone operator is not held responsible
for the content of a phone call). However, when a service provider
or search engine obtains actual knowledge of illegal content then
they are usually legally obliged to remove it or to prevent consumer
access to it. Legally speaking (we make no comment on the actual
policy intentions of individual players), it is therefore in the
interests of service providers and search engines to be as ignorant
as possible of the content being accessed using their services,
because if they do not know then they cannot be held liable (this
is known as the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"
149. "Notice and Take Down" schemes
depend upon reports of illegal content from Internet users, via
dedicated "hotlines". Even the most successful are hampered
by a lack of public awareness, with a European Commission "Eurobarometer"
survey of 17,000 citizens revealing that, in 2003, just 5% were
aware that illegal or harmful material could be reported to a
hotline, with just an additional 8% aware that it could be reported
direct to the Internet service provider. A "notice and take
down" scheme for harmful VOD content would need to be backed
by substantial public awareness initiatives to be effective.
150. "Notice and Take Down" systems
can also have negative consequences for the right to freedom of
expression if undertaken on a purely self-regulatory basis, as
they encourage Internet service providers to block access to material
when notified by a third party without carrying out any independent
assessment of whether the material is, indeed, in breach of the
law. This amounts to censorship without transparency, without
accountability and without any means of appeal or redress (except
through the courts). "Notice and take down" systems
are likely to be most effective when mediated by an independent
and trusted third party with experience of the material being
Voluntary Co-regulation: BBFC.online
151. For much Internet content, co-regulation
is likely to emerge as an attractive alternative to pure self-regulation.
Such schemes combine the advantages of self-regulation with the
trust, accountability, effectiveness and concern for civil liberties
that comes with independent regulation. Although there is much
ground to be made up, the BBFC is convinced that an effective
co-regulation model can work for mainstream Internet video content.
152. To that end, the BBFC has been working
with leading video content providers and aggregators, including
Disney, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Tartan,
Arts Alliance Media, Entertainment UK, BT Vision, Tesco and others
to develop a voluntary scheme, overseen by the BBFC, which will
transfer all the benefits of DVD classification to the online
world of video on demand.
153. The scheme is called "BBFC.online"
and operates on a membership basis, with the annual membership
fee set at a maximum of £900. Members can request from the
BBFC "online classification certificates" for video
material they are intending to sell via streaming or download.
If the work has already been classified under the VRA, or is being
classified under the VRA, the additional cost is minimal. New
works submitted by a scheme member for classification under the
VRA are eligible to receive an online classification free of charge.
Online classifications can also be provided for works previously
classified under the VRA for a fee of just £45 per title.
On classification, the member is sent an "electronic black
card" which they are obliged to place at the front of the
content file so that when the consumer plays the video, the first
thing they see is the BBFC black card, just as they do in the
cinema (see Appendix 3). Members are also obliged to ensure that
appropriate gate keeping mechanisms are in place to ensure that
age restricted material (eg that classified "12", "15",
"18") is not sold to persons below that age. Members
who are aggregators (ie the website operators) are also obliged
to display category and consumer advice information in a manner
prescribed by the scheme, and using materials provided by the
BBFC. In most cases this will involve display of the appropriate
BBFC symbol next to the title of the work being offered. Moving
the computer mouse over the symbol brings up a hover box "white
card" certificate (see Appendix 2) certifying that the work
has been classified by the BBFC for supply via download, streaming
or similar, displaying the symbol with its definition, displaying
the unique consumer advice for that work, and featuring a live
link to the relevant classification record on the BBFC's own website.
154. Compliance with the scheme rules is
monitored by the BBFC (funded by the membership and classification
fees). Failure to comply with the scheme rules could ultimately
lead to expulsion from the scheme and the loss of the right to
display the BBFC's intellectual property (classification symbols,
white card design, black card on content file).
155. The scheme was developed in response
to both industry concerns about the possible consequences of stepping
outside the well regulated world of DVD, and public concerns about
unregulated content being offered on video on demand websites.
As noted earlier, the BBFC commissioned quantitative research
from leading market researcher TNS
who investigated public concerns and requirements through a panel
of over 4000 adults in the UK. 74% of parents were concerned about
downloading a film or programme without independent guidance on
its content or suitability for a particular age group and 91%
of parents wanted to see BBFC symbols on films or programmes offered
156. The particular design of the BBFC.online
scheme has been subjected to qualitative research within the last
few months. Focus groups across the various demographic groups
were invited to look at a mock website with the BBFC.online "white
card" and "black card" elements in place, to compare
it with live video on demand websites in the UK and the USA and
to discuss their informational and gatekeeping needs with regard
to such services. The results were uniformly (and almost embarrassingly)
positive. Whether young or old, whether in manual work or professional
employment, whether male or female, whether a parent or free young
and single, respondents expressed extraordinary support for the
BBFC.online scheme. Respondents were dismayed at the idea of downloadable
films being offered without a BBFC classification; liked the way
in which the scheme presented content information through use
of familiar symbols, iconography and consumer advice; and trusted
the BBFC as a source of such information. Asked whether they were
more likely to use a site which was a member of the BBFC.online
scheme there was a clear affirmative response. It was also clear
that there was some incredulity at the fact that the law allowed
the sale of films via download without any requirement for classification
or effective gatekeepingmany assumed that the companies
involved would have to follow the same procedure as for DVD.
157. Given clear public support for the
scheme, the BBFC believes that responsible distributors of video
content online will embrace BBFC.online as a voluntary co-regulation
system which allows them to present their video content to the
UK public complete with the symbols, consumer advice and effective
gatekeeping that they have grown to recognise, understand and
trust from the world of cinema and DVD. Both qualitative and quantitative
research, and the positive reactions of major content providers
and aggregators underpins the BBFC's confidence that BBFC.online
will be a success in providing a safe space in which responsible
companies can offer well regulated video products to families
who want to buy in a well regulated market place.
158. The BBFC.online scheme has been designed
to include video games as well as linear video material. Video
games which are offered via download, or which are played online,
can also apply for online certificates. As with games being supplied
on discs, the BBFC will classify the game on the basis of extensive
gameplay by independent examiners, and publishers will be obliged
to display BBFC classification information and content advice
in the prescribed manner and to limit access in accordance with
any age restrictions set by the classification.
159. The BBFC.online scheme is also attracting
support from responsible purveyors of adult material classified
"R18". Many such companies are aware that the legislation
currently before Parliament will make it a criminal offence to
possess certain types of extreme pornography and that, crucially,
a video work classified by the BBFC is excluded from the scope
of the offence. Joining the scheme, and having their videos classified,
therefore provides a guarantee that neither they, nor their customers,
will find themselves in jail for up to three years. The BBFC.online
scheme has strict rules regarding "R18" content and
these mimic, as far as is practicable in the online world, the
"behind closed doors" sales environment of the licensed
sex shop in which "R18" DVDs must be sold.
160. The BBFC.online scheme is currently
being trialled with major content providers and aggregators. The
BBFC's internal procedures and software have been redesigned to
allow the scheme to operate smoothly and in a manner which takes
into account the needs of both scheme members and the public.
Consultation on the scheme design nears its conclusion and the
BBFC hopes to officially launch the scheme in the summer of 2008.
161. While the BBFC is confident about the
take up for its voluntary co-regulation scheme among responsible
and mainstream video and video game distributors and publishers,
it is equally confident that many websites offering video material
which is likely to harm children, vulnerable adults and society
(especially: pornography and extreme reality material) will not
voluntarily submit to regulation either because the material they
offer would not be approved for sale by a responsible regulator,
or because they will choose not to bear the costs that are inevitably
associated with any form of regulation.
162. Of course, parents should be encouraged
to make use of Internet filters and both children and parents
should be educated on the importance of, and techniques for, using
the Internet safely. But even with the best will in the world,
filters are not perfect, parents will not always be able to use
them properly, and children will not always follow best practice
for safe surfing. It is likely that as long as material harmful
to children is accessible from the UK without effective gatekeeping
measures in place, UK children will access it.
163. Even if children could be prevented
from accessing the material, the concern remains that harm may
be caused to children through the behaviour of adults who have
viewed the material. A significant number of adults actively seek
out the most worrying and harmful material and their exposure
to such material will not be prevented by "parental controls"
systems or labelling. This is a particular concern in relation
to pornography which presents child-like characters being abused.
Such material escapes prosecution under the Protection of Children
Act by using performers who are at least 18 years old. But by
casting adults with underdeveloped physiques and youthful faces,
dressing them in childish clothes, and encouraging them to act
in a childish fashion in a scenario which mimics child abuse,
such videos provide powerful validation and stimulation to viewers
already predisposed towards abusive behaviour. Such pornography
is not rare and the demand for it within the UK is not insubstantial.
The provision of filtering tools and effective labelling, and
all the media education in the world, will not prevent this material
from being accessed by adults in the UK with consequent harmful
outcomes for the children who are unlucky enough to come into
contact with them.
164. In the view of the BBFC, it is possible
to define particular sets of video material which are likely to
cause particular harm. Pornography is an obvious example and will
have a statutory definition ("An image is `pornographic'
if it appears to have been produced solely or principally for
the purpose of sexual arousal") when the Criminal Justice
and Immigration Bill becomes law. It would be quite possible to
make it unlawful to distribute within the UK via the Internet
pornographic video material which had not been classified "R18",
and which did not display the appropriate classification symbols,
and which did not have effective gatekeeping measures in place.
165. Any such scheme would obviously face
serious issues around enforcement, particularly due to the extra-territoriality
of the Internet (UK authorities cannot prosecute if the publisher
is, and remains, outside the UK). The BBFC believes that such
issues can be overcome but even if they cannot, there is surely
value in ensuring that the UK does not host Internet services
which offer video material of a nature, or in a manner, which
is likely to seriously harm children. This is exactly the line
that the UK has taken over child pornography. At the European
level, the EU directive discussed at paragraphs 143 to 144, requires
member states to adopt regulatory measures even though the measures
will not apply to services outside the EU. There is merit in putting
our own house in order even if others do not immediately follow
166. As indicated, the BBFC does not share
the view that the cross border nature of the Internet makes it
impossible to deal with material hosted abroad. Given the political
will, controls can be imposed by utilising the pinch points at
which the services do interact with entities with a UK presence.
167. The first of these is the Internet
Service Provider (ISP). If given the appropriate information the
ISP can remove the content from its server or otherwise block
access to it. This system already operates with respect to child
pornography (a useful chart sets out the process in the Ofcom
publication "Online Protection: A survey of consumer,
industry and regulatory mechanisms and systems" (page
73)) although the ISP is not obliged to act in respect of material
hosted outside the UK. A well funded "notice and take down"
procedure with statutory authority could be a highly effective
tool against harmful Internet content other than child pornography.
168. It would be quite possible for a designated
body to perform, in relation to pornography or other harmful material,
the function currently performed by the Internet Watch Foundation
in relation to child abuse images. Such a body would identify
sites offering unclassified pornography, or offering classified
pornography without effective gatekeeping controls in place, and
would maintain and update a database of such sites which ISPs
could remove from their servers or block access to. It could be
made mandatory for ISPs to act within a specified period of time.
169. The second pinch point is the banking
system. Although some sites are free to use, almost all sites
offering video material are funded by advertising or by direct
charges using a credit or debit card or other form of non-cash
payment. For example, the USA has used the commercial nature of
online gambling sites as a means of preventing the sites from
being used for gambling from within the USA. This measure has
been very effective and almost completely removed online gambling
from the USA overnight.
170. In basic outline, the US legislation
(the Safe Ports Act) works as follows: it defines certain financial
transactions as "restricted transactions" and makes
receipt of payment by way of a restricted transaction an offence.
Restricted transactions are those involving online gambling. Those
involved in receiving payments can only be prosecuted if they
landed on US soil (as some have been foolish enough to do) but
the establishment of "restricted payments" enables enforcement
to be carried out via the banking system. This is the key to effective
enforcement and works on the basis that a commercial transaction
involving customer funds held within the US banking system can
be blocked by US financial institutions. The US legislation simply
requires the banks to identify the restricted services and block
the transactions that involve them.
171. Although such a measure which would
be deeply unpopular with the banking system, this could clearly
be adapted in the UK as a means of blocking the commercial supply
of unregulated pornography (or other sets of harmful content),
especially if advertising on such sites was also outlawed (a measure
which has precedent in the UK in relation to TV broadcasters based
outside the UK). To ease the burden on banks, UK payment systems
could simply be required to block "restricted transactions",
placing the responsibility for identifying services offering such
transactions on a designated authority. Under this model, the
designated authority would maintain a "proscribed list"
of services offering restricted transactions and the payment systems
would be obliged to block payments to such services.
172. Given the range of possible enforcement
mechanisms available, the BBFC also believes that a VRA style
approach, so successful in relation to videos and DVDs, can be
made to work in respect of video material on the Internet. Indeed,
we have already worked up an outline of the legislative changes
required to achieve such an outcome.
173. The BBFC believes that statutory force,
or at least the threat of statutory force, may be required if
children are to be adequately protected from harmful video material
on the Internet, both in relation to extreme material and in relation
to the marketing of age-inappropriate mainstream material to children
(a natural tendency in a market based on attracting the widest
possible audience). Co-regulation models are far more likely to
succeed if failure is bound to result in a statutory alternative.
If Government is minded to legislate in the short term then reserve
powers could be taken, if not then an intention to do so in future
should be clearly indicated.
174. Looking back at the history of media
regulation, it is clear that the precise form of the regulation
has been dictated by the nature of the medium and the mode of
delivery. With no spectrum limit on the number of providers of
content, and with private citizens able both to pay for and consume
the media content in private, the Internet poses a unique challenge
as the normal points of control in a public space simply do not
exist. There is no doubt that the Internet provides great opportunities
for innovation, commerce, art, research, etc, but with those advantages
come disadvantages. These include easy access to material which
is illegal, harmful or otherwise unsuitable, including by children
and by disturbed adults who are likely to be affected in ways
which are contrary to the welfare of children or society. As the
uptake of broadband grows rapidly, access to inappropriate content
by children and vulnerable adults is bound to increase. Proper
regulation would help to minimise the risks without compromising
the real and substantial benefits that the technology provides.
Indeed, regulation which enhances trust in the Internet as a safe
place may act as an incentive to consumers considering engaging
in social, cultural, political and commercial transactions online.
175. What is required is a coordinated and
systematic approach, drawing on the different areas of expertise
to be found in a number of regulators and other bodies, in which
the major new media industry players and the regulators come together
to devise a coherent set of solutions. Through the development
of the BBFC.online scheme the BBFC has already moved to create
an effective solution for those providers of video content who
see a commercial advantage in presenting consumers which video
content which is regulated, classified and labelled according
to a system they already recognise, understand and trust from
the world of cinema and DVD; and in which age restricted material
is subject to effective gatekeeping.
176. With regard to Internet video services
which are unlikely to voluntarily submit to effective regulation,
truly effective child protection systems are unlikely to develop
unless driven by Government, the only agency that has an overview
across all aspects of new media, technology and the public policy
concerns that underlie all types of media regulation.
177. The BBFC believes that its long experience
of regulating moving image content in a non-linear environment
and, in particular, its unique experience in regulating explicit,
hardcore pornography and other extreme material, gives it a skillset
that may be of significant use when considering a set of solutions
for regulating the new media. Should the Committee decide to recommend
the establishment of a forum drawing together the key stakeholders
in an effort to find the best regulatory solutions, the BBFC would
very much like to be involved. The BBFC would also welcome any
other opportunities to provide further assistance to the review
and to be involved in any future developments.
EXTENDED CLASSIFICATION INFORMATION/EXTENDED
CONSUMER ADVICE EXAMPLES AS PRESENTED ON PARENTS BBFC (www.pbbfc.co.uk)
Charlotte's Web (2007) Classification: "U"
Film released: February 2007
DVD released: 2007
Run time: 96 mins 51 secs
Director: Gary Winick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts
Consumer Advice: Contains
very mild language
Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts (voice) star
in this adaptation of the popular children's book.
Extended Consumer Advice
Based on the classic children's tale, this features
part live-action, part CGI-animation, and tells the story of how
friends on a farm, including a spider called Charlotte, help save
Wilbur the pig from being butchered and cured for Christmas. It
is classified U. THIS PARENTS INFORMATION INCLUDES A PLOT SPOILER!
The defining issues for the film include the
use of mild language, threat and the death of a character.
The mild language refers to one use of
"bloody" heard within the first 15 minutes. However,
this is neither aggressive nor directed at anyone in particular.
Elsewhere, language gets no stronger than a few utterances of
The mild sense of threat and dread that
comes from the plan to see Wilbur turned into lunch is handled
sensitively enough for younger children, with comedy helping to
dilute the tension. Reference is made to Wilbur becoming "Christmas
dinner with an apple in his mouth" and is reminiscent in
tone of similar themes in the film, Babe. The food chain theme
is highlighted further by a scene that shows the spider grabbing
and wrapping up a fly in its web and commenting: "I eat their
blood", but this scene lacks any gory detail.
Sensitivity is also used when dealing with the
death of Charlotte towards the end of the film and is explained
by the spider herself as being "part of the natural cycle".
Her actual death is free of disturbing imagery. There is later
evidence of life turning full circle with the birth of new spiders
which ensure a positive and uplifting ending for the film.
"U" stands for Universal, which means
that we think the film is suitable for audiences aged four or
Stardust (2007) Classification: "PG"
Film released: October 2007
Run time: 126 mins 07 secs
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes
Consumer Advice: Contains
moderate fantasy violence and scary moments
In a countryside town bordering on a magical
land, a young man makes a promise to his beloved that he will
retrieve a fallen star by venturing into a magical kingdom.
Extended Consumer Advice
"Stardust" is a fantasy adventure
about a young man who ventures into the magical world of Stormhold
to find a fallen star. The film contains moderate fantasy violence
and scary moments. It also contains one use of very
mild language and very mild sex references.
The combination of fairy tale and adventure
story in this film means that the battle between good and evil
often results in violence and occasionally death. However, the
film's fantastical nature prevents either the violence (which
is mostly sword to sword duelling) or the deaths from being graphic
or realistic. The impacts between weapon and body are generally
hidden by clothing or furniture and the "bad" characters
are either killed off-screen or the fatal moments are brief and
free of blood.
The film's scary moments include some scenes
where the main heroes are threatened by the bad witches or the
evil Princes. However, these scenes are fantastical as well as
brief and quickly resolved, leaving the good characters safe and
sound until the next stage of their adventure.
The very mild language consists of one use of
The sex references include a rejuvenated witch
admiring her own bottom in a mirror and a joke from a jovial pirate
about "not wearing a wench out".
"PG" stands for Parental Guidance.
A "PG" film should not disturb a child aged around eight
or older. However, parents are advised to consider whether the
content may upset younger or more sensitive children.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Film released: July 2007
Run time: 138 mins 03 secs
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Consumer Advice: Contains
moderate fantasy violence and horror
Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the Wizard
authorities as an authoritarian bureaucrat seizes power at Hogwarts.
Extended Consumer Advice
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
is the fifth film based on the popular character created by J
K Rowling. The film contains moderate fantasy violence and horror.
In addition, it contains some mild language.
The violence is mostly undetailed and fantastical,
with powerful magical spells being exchanged throughout. This
sort of action will be familiar to fans of the previous films
in the series. For example, one scene features Harry and his gang
casting spells to combat Malfoy and the Death Eatersthis
involves dramatic music and special effects, but there is no emphasis
on blood or injuries.
The film also contains some moderate horror
imagery, with some potentially frightening fantasy creatures.
Good examples are the Dementors and the noseless Voldemort. It
was felt that many of the creatures would be familiar to the large
fan-base and the horror is balanced by lighter moments.
The mild language includes uses of "tosspot",
"bloody" and "bugger".
No-one younger than 12 may see a "12A"
film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. No-one younger
than 12 may rent or buy a "12" rated video or DVD.
Spongebob's Atlantis Squarepantis (2007) Classification:
Released: November 2007
Consoles: Nintendo DS/Nintendo Game Boy/Nintendo
Consumer Advice: Contains
very mild cartoon violence
SpongeBob and his friends leave Bikini Bottom
and journey to Atlantis in search of hidden treasure. When they
get there, things go wrong and the friends must flee or they will
be destroyed by Plankton.
Extended Consumer Advice
Spongebob's Atlantis Squarepantis is an action-adventure
game featuring characters from the animated TV series. Characters
must avoid obstacles and attack enemies in order to win the game.
The game contains very mild cartoon violence.
The violence consists of the characters firing
ice-cream guns/hamburger patties/ping pong balls at their enemies.
All of this action takes place within a non-threatening cartoon
"U} stands for Universal, which means that
we think the game is suitable for those aged four or older.
Assassin's Creed (2007) Classification: "15"
Released: November 2007
Consoles: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Consumer Advice: Contains
strong bloody violence
The game takes place during the Third Crusade,
in the year 1191. The player assumes the role of Altr, a member
of the Hashshashin sect, whose objective is to slay nine historical
figures who are exploiting the hostilities created by the Crusades.
Extended Consumer Advice
"Assassin's Creed" is a third-person
perspective action-adventure game in which the player takes on
the role of a Crusades-era Assassin. The game contains strong
bloody violence. It also contains mild language.
The violence occurs throughout the game and
includes sight of gushing blood when characters are attacked by
a variety of hand-held weapons including swords, daggers and throwing
knives. However, this violence does not extend to body dismemberment
or other similarly gory images. The player-character is also shown
stabbing some enemies in cold blood or slitting their throats,
although the sight of the latter is obscured by the camera angle.
Some non-interactive scenes in the game also
show violence perpetrated between characters, such as stabbing
or public execution. The visual representation of these events
is graphically similar to the game itself, with sight of spurting
blood during the murders.
The language includes "bastard" and
No-one younger than 15 may rent or buy a "15"
50 Cent: Bullet Proof (2005) Classification: "18"
Released: November 2005
Consoles: PlayStation 2/PlayStation Portable/Xbox
Consumer Advice: Contains
frequent strong bloody violence
Shoot-'em-up game, in which the gamer plays
the role of rapper 50 Cent who, having been shot and left for
dead, gets a gang together to fight criminal gangs and uncover
an international conspiracy involving terrorists and drug smugglers.
Extended Consumer Advice
"50 Cent: Bullet Proof" is a third
person perspective shoot-'em-up, where the gamer plays as rapper
50 Cent as he fights rival gangs and criminals in New York. The
game contains frequent strong bloody violence. It also contains
strong language and hard drug references.
Strong bloody violence is the key issue in this
game. Armed with a number of modern weapons, the player fights
large numbers of enemies. Bullet impacts cause large bloodspurts.
The player may also take, interrogate and execute hostages. A
key feature of the game is the player's ability to watch himself
killing his enemies in bloody slow motion with guns, knives, boots
and fists while swivelling the camera around the kill to get the
best possible view. The lethal violenceincluding shooting
and stabbing game characters in the face, stamping on characters'
heads and eviscerating characters with a knifedwells on
detail and the player is rewarded for these killings.
As well as strong violence, the game contains
strong language ("f**k") and drug references.
"18" means suitable for adults only.
No-one younger than 18 may rent or buy an "18" rated
BBFC.online "WHITE CARD"
BBFC.online "BLACK CARD"
134 Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A
Contextual Investigation by the Fuse Group, September 2005. Back
Harm and Offence in Media Content: A review of the evidence by
Andrea Millwood Hargrave and Sonia Livingstone, January 2006. Back
Awareness and Perceived Authority of Age Ratings on Video Games-Modulum
Classifying Games: Qualitative Research Findings-Slesenger Research/GoldstonePerl
Research (2008) http://www.bbfc.co.uk/downloads/index.php Back
Violence And Abuse In "R18" Level Pornography-BBFC Expert
Consultation 2007 (http://www.bbfc.co.uk/downloads/index.php) Back
Downloading Classification Study, TNS Worldpanel 2007 (http://www.bbfc.co.uk/downloads/index.php) Back
Downloading classification study-TNS Worldpanel 2007 (http://www.bbfc.co.uk/downloads/index.php) Back