BBFC publishes new classification guidelines


he British Board of Film Classification today (10/2/2005) published new classification guidelines which increase protection for children from harm, while retaining the right of adults to choose their own viewing.  The Guidelines reflect the views of over 11,000 people from across the UK, 7,000 more that contributed to the 2000 Guidelines survey, as well as advice from a variety of experts consulted by the BBFC.


President of the BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, said: ‘Our classification Guidelines are at the heart of our contract with the public and therefore have to reflect their views as accurately as possible.  As well as the quantitative research, we used focus groups to look specifically at violence, bad language, drugs and the ‘12A’ cinema category.  The clear outcome of all of the research was that the Guidelines are still, on the whole, in line with public attitudes and concerns.  However, drawing on both the public’s responses and expert advice, we have added, or given weight to, a number of key concerns.  These include suicide techniques, self-harming and incitement to racial hatred or violence.  The protection of children remains at the heart of the Guidelines.


David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said: ‘Some might say that because we have not made major changes to the Guidelines the whole exercise has been a waste of time.  On the contrary, it enables the Board to re-affirm its public accountability in the thoroughly researched knowledge that, since the 2000 Guidelines were published, public opinion has become neither markedly more censorious nor more liberal.  The Guidelines ensure that people going to the cinema or renting or buying a DVD can be confident about what to expect from the work.  In support of this approach, the Board now provides informative Consumer Advice on every work we classify.  We rely on the industry for the display of this advice in publicity and on packaging, and we greatly value their co-operation in making this information available.  It can also be found on the BBFC’s website.


‘It is impossible to reach a classification decision which will be agreed upon by the whole population.  Indeed, as a member of one of the focus groups said “We can’t agree here, so how are 56 million people going to agree?”  What did receive overwhelming support was the proposition that the BBFC’s role is to protect children from both harmful and unsuitable material, with over 90 per cent of respondents agreeing.  The proposition that adults should be able to choose for themselves what they watch, within the law, was disputed by fewer than 20 per cent of respondents.


‘We are acutely aware that there will be works which we pass, at whatever classification, which may shock or offend some sections of the population, just as we sometimes outrage libertarian views when we intervene to cut, or even refuse a certificate to, a work.  What the research shows, and the Guidelines reflect, is that for the majority of the public we get it right for most of the time.’


The most important classification issues for the public were (rating it very important):


·        Drugs and drug taking – 75 per cent

·        Violence – 65 per cent

·        Sexual activity – 56 per cent

·        Swearing and string language – 49 per cent

·        Racial references – 46 per cent

·        Religious references – 34 per cent


Issues which have been added to the range of classification concerns, or which have increased in emphasis:


·        Incitement to racial hatred or violence

·        Expletives with racial association

·        Language that offends vulnerable minorities

·        Suicide and self-harm

·        Emphasis on easily accessible weapons

·        Sexual violence and rape

·        Promotion or glamorisation of smoking, alcohol abuse or substance abuse


BBFC news release 10/2/2005


New film guidelines



ead-butts and ear-smacks are in, but glamorous smokers and racist abuse are not, according to new guidelines issued yesterday by the British Board if Film Classification.  The censor has released new rules after a survey of 11,000 people showed that the nation’s biggest concerns about films are racial abuse, sexual violence and the glamorisation of drugs.  The new rules will clamp down on violence in racial or sexual contexts, but will no longer identify acts such as head butting or ear clipping as taboo.  The depiction of weapons such a knives and customised implements such as sharpened files also cause concern and footage of a flick knife would be censored.  Language rules will be relaxed in non-aggressive contexts.  Self-harm has also been highlighted for the first time.  The board fears that teenagers might copy techniques that are shown in films.


The Times 10/2/2005


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Draft BBFC Classification Guidelines 1999/2000

Comments from mediawatch-uk to Mr Robin Duval, BBFC Director


hank you for your letter of the 28 October, enclosing a copy of the BBFC's draft Guidelines. It was good of you to give us the opportunity to comment on these.

In general mediawatch-uk welcomes the Board's new openness that has been apparent in the last year or so. The various meetings that have been arranged in different parts of the country demonstrate a willingness to hear from the public about the classification decisions made by the Board. It is a pity that some of these meetings have been so poorly attended. This must be due in part to the relatively short notice given, the inadequate advanced publicity and to the fact that consultation has never been part of the BBFC's activities in the past.

There can be no doubt that film is a very important medium that has a real influence on cultural, ethical and moral standards. As was acknowledged by your President, at the recent meeting in London, films form a substantial part of television scheduling and so film has a far wider influence than merely on cinema-goers. For this reason standards adopted by the Board assume a real significance well beyond cinema audiences. It is therefore essential that the classification policy and the Board's Guidelines are placed in a much broader context than assessing films simply on their own merits. Moreover, standards adopted by the Board soon become standards for television programme makers who tend to follow the cinematic styles of production. This is true especially as television companies around the world have a growing involvement in film making as demand for films increases to take up available transmission time on generally available TV channels as well as dedicated subscription and other specialist film channels.

This Association welcomes the Board's attempt to define its classification policy, and make it public, although we have grave reservations about the very broad latitude that the draft guidelines allow.

The Board in its Annual Report for 1997/98 quoted Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 guarantees the right to freedom of expression but it states,

"The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society…for the protection of health or morals…"

It is our contention that the BBFC, currently and in the past, has paid too little attention to these aspects of the Convention.

The Board was originally set up by the film industry and is funded by the industry through the fees paid to classify films and videos works. This leads to a perception that the Board is less than objective in its decisions than it really ought to be given the great influence of the medium. Such arrangements give rise to the justifiable criticism that the BBFC is not accountable to the public but is merely an executive arm of the film industry.

The BBFC's recent public pledge to be accountable to Parliament effectively changes nothing. The Board, so far as the outside observer can judge, remains closed to any real Parliamentary or public scrutiny of its classification decisions whether for films shown at cinemas or for video works deemed suitable for viewing at home. This Association believes that the operational relationship the Board enjoys with the film industry is too close and in the interests of probity some distance should be apparent.

Testing public attitudes to film content at the end of the twentieth century takes no account of the influence of the medium itself to develop and shape those attitudes, which have been formed over many years. Evolving Guidelines also do nothing to discourage film makers who seem to have an insatiable desire to overthrow all constraints on their "creativity". These desires should always be subject to a process of evaluation in which the public good should feature prominently. It is noteworthy that the Guidelines under consideration here are dated "1999-2000" which implies that they are temporary in nature. What is surely needed is a good measure of stability so that the rather artificially delineated classification categories have some permanent meaning for the viewing public. By producing such guidelines the Board itself contributes to the degenerative process.

The overall social environment in which films are exhibited should also feature. We note that the BBFC, in its Annual Report for 1996/97, warned about "the drip drip effect of films which teach violence, glorify it and celebrate the rewards it brings". "Violence", the Report says, "has also become far more pervasive, since it occurs in a much larger proportion of films, particularly those targeted at a young audience"... "America has the highest crime rates in the developed world and produces the most violent entertainment."

Since the Board clearly acknowledges a connection between viewing violence and subsequent anti-social and criminal behaviour why does the Board continue to classify films which include violence and all manner of brutal behaviour? And why legitimise such imagery in Guidelines by trying to categorise and codify it?

This Association accepts that classifying films is no easy task and it is not made easier by some elements of the film industry itself which constantly seeks to depict ever more extreme sexual and/or violent material accompanied by obscene and/or profane language.

We believe it to be of paramount importance that Parliament enacts well defined legislation and that the BBFC's classification policy conforms with the law rather than the other way round. We believe that the Obscene Publications Act 1959/1964 should be clarified and strengthened with a new more restrictive definition of "obscene" and that the Protection of Children Act 1978 be clarified and strengthened with a new more restrictive definition of "indecent". With these terms properly defined less latitude and equivocation would be permitted by law. Without effective law judgements about film content and classification policy are quite arbitrary and seem calculated to accommodate trends set by film makers.

This Association, true to form, proposes a general tightening up of standards across all categories and the straightforward abolition of the 'R18' category. Material currently deemed suitable for this category should simply be beyond classification.

We would also propose, in the interests of generally improving educational standards and communications skills, that no film be classified which includes Bad Language described in the draft Guidelines as "STONG" and/or "VERY STRONG". Such words and expressions should not be scripted and presented as acceptable in any civilised society. All Bad Language, whether obscene or profane, causes offence especially when it is transmitted directly into people's homes. Respect for audience sensibilities should assume a far higher priority in classification decisions. Moreover, it is clearly perverse and provocative to include God in "very mild" Bad Language and Jesus and Christ in "mild" Bad Language. To include the Holy Names in a schedule of Bad Language is offensive in the extreme.

I trust that these remarks will be helpful and I look forward to seeing a copy of the final Guidelines in due course.

13 December 1999


e are dismayed by the statement, finding in favour of the pornography industry, issued yesterday by the BBFC, concerning the Video Appeals Committee.  That they have done so indicates a disproportionate commitment to the industry and an approach that is less than objective.

This unelected and unrepresentative committee, of which only five took part in the decision process, have reached a conclusion, apparently without recourse to the Courts or the Crown Prosecution Service, which is bound to have far wider repercussions for our society generally than for the devotees of hard-core pornography.

Because of their compliance with the demands of the pornography industry, we believe that all members of the Video Appeals Committee should have their appointments terminated forthwith.

We believe that the assessment of the situation, given by the BBFC's own counsel, that the floodgates could be opened, is now a real prospect. We trust that the BBFC will reject the Video Appeals Committee judgement and quickly issue another statement that will reassure the public.

18 August 1999

Censor's betrayal as he passes 'sick' rape movie


ilm censors provoked outrage last night after ruling that a film featuring a nine-minute rape scene may be shown uncut in British cinemas. John Beyer, of the pressure group mediawatch-uk, last night attacked the censors for failing to act to restrain levels of gratuitous sex and violence in films. He said: 'I had high hopes for Sir Quentin Thomas so it is very disappointing to find he is no different from those he replaced. 'I think it is a very wrong move to turn rape into a form of entertainment'. 'This is especially hard to stomach when you read the board's own rules on sex and films and the robust approach to censorship they plan to adopt - evidently a case of saying one thing and doing another. The problem is that these censors on the board are funded ultimately by the commercial film industry and for that reason it is time the Government intervened to stop this appalling material from slipping through the net. There is a growing problem with sex offenders and violence - surely this is not going to help that and I would encourage local authorities to invoke their powers the stop this being shown at their local cinemas'. Officials at the BBFC defended their decision not to cut the obscene material from the film, in which the rape victim is played by Italian actress Monica Bellucci, saying they had first 'taken advice from a clinical psychiatrist'.

The Daily Mail 22/10/2002

Censorship is not our role, says film board


iewers want guidance not censorship, the body responsible for classifying films said yesterday after passing uncut a movie featuring a nine-minute rape scene.  The British Board of Film Classification is used to controversy - its decisions often provoking more outrage than the films themselves.  It has done so once again with Irreversible a French film that also features a scene in which a man's skull is battered to a pulp with a fire extinguisher.  The violence provoked a mass walkout by supposedly hardened viewers at the Cannes Film Festival. But, said Sue Clark, the board's director of communications, the decision on Irreversible perfectly illustrates its current thinking - that while children must be protected, adults should be left to themselves to watch what they wanted.  Such a philosophy, which has led to a steady reduction in the amount of cuts demanded by the board and an easing of what is deemed acceptable to be shown, was moulded by extensive public consultation two years ago.  This research resulted in the board for the first time publishing a set of classification principles.  There are three - that adults should be free to choose what they see, providing that it remains within the law and is not potentially harmful to society; that works should be allowed to reach the widest audience that is "appropriate for their theme"; and, finally, that the context in which something - for example, sex or violence - is presented is crucial to whether or not it is acceptable.  However, the research also showed the public wanted more safeguards for younger viewers, particularly over "extreme and imitable" violence.  "We're not in the business of just chopping bits out because people might find them offensive - that's not what we're here to do" said Ms Clark. "We're here to provide people with sufficient information to make decisions about whether they want to go and see a film". So far this year, the board has made cuts on just 15 of the 423 films it has classified. Of those cuts, 10 were for PG films aimed primarily at children. By contrast, in 1992, 371 films were classified, of which 28 had to be cut.  Most of those cuts related to adult films.  Videos, however, are more strictly policed, largely because they are more accessible to children.  There have been 259 cuts on the 6,522 videos classified this year, though almost half related to sex films in the R (restricted) 18 category.

The Daily Telegraph 23/11/2002

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Censor who passed Lolita dies at 72


ames Ferman, the former chief film censor who was often in conflict with "decency" campaigners, has died at the age of 72, his wife said yesterday. As Director of the British Board of Film Classification from 1974-98 Mr Ferman passed films such as Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ the "sex-and-wrecks" film Crash and a film version of Nabokov's Lolita.  Daily Telegraph 26/12/2002

Tougher censoring of screen violence examined


sweeping review of Britain's censorship laws is being launched by the Government's adviser on youth crime amid growing concerns about the influence of violent films, games and rap music on young people. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph Lord Warner, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, said there had been a coarsening of attitudes towards violence caused by screen images which have a negative impact on teenagers. "It's very hard to escape the concern that violent videos, violent films, violent music, violent games do influence some of the more impressionable minds", he said. "I think there's a case for reviewing whether we should regulate more rigorously. "There's certainly a coarsening of attitudes. We are at risk of a gradual acceptance of a more violent culture in which we take it as given that a proportion of people will behave like that".  Daily Telegraph 14/1/2003

Video nasties



s an examiner for the British Board of Film Classification from 1984 to 1993 and principal examiner from 1993 to 2000, I'm very disturbed to learn that the BBFC has just passed, uncut, the film 'Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer', which included a horrific rape sequence.  This section was previously cut from the film.  Such scenes are commonly watched on video by rapists for their delectation.  The BBFC has also passed, uncut on video, the film 'Irreversible', which has a nine-minute rape sequence.  Does the BBFC not have a sexual violence policy any more?  Michael Bor


Letter to the Daily Mail 31/3/2003

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Director of explicit film is booed and cheered


ne of the most shocking films shown at Cannes was defended by its writer-director yesterday.  Speaking at a press conference at which he was booed and cheered, Vincent Gallo, who also starred in the film, said that the scenes of rape and oral sex in The Brown Bunny were an inseparable part of an emotional story.  The film, picked for the festival's official competition, has provoked controversy by telling the story of a professional motorcycle racer who watches his wife being raped without intervening to stop it.  One critic described The Brown Bunny as more shocking than Irreversible, Gaspar Noe's 2002 film about murder, rape and sadomasochism.  Giovanni Bogani, the film critic for La Natione, said: "It has a ten minute hardcore sequence which is really shocking.  It's wrong for it to be in the main festival.  The whole film is not even worth being entered into the competition.  The pornography is not justified by the story."

The Times 22/5/2003

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Hollywood rejects 'poor' Cannes films


he quality of films at this years' Cannes Film Festival has been so poor that the first deal by a Hollywood studio has been made only three days before the end.  In previous years studios have picked up as much as half their total slate of films for the year at Cannes.  The fear is that Cannes' clout has been eclipsed by other festivals, such as Sundance, Berlin and Toronto.  The Brown Bunny, a Vincent Gallo film, has become the worst rated film in the Cannes competition.

The Times 23/5/2003

Massacre film wins top prize at Cannes


film about a US school massacre has won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  The Palme d'Or went to Elephant which depicts events in 1999 at Columbine High School, Colorado, where two boys gunned down 12 fellow students and a teacher.  Critics said this year's entries were the worst for years.

Daily Mail 26/5/2003


'Snuff' movie gets a new life, 30 years on



 'Video nasty', which would have TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse spinning in her grave, has been unleashed on the British public.  Snuff, which supposedly shows a film crew-member being killed, has been granted permission to be released on video nearly 30 years after it was made.  The British Board of Film Classification gave it an 18 certificate after deciding it would no longer offend the delicate sensibilities of the video-watching public.


Metro 7/7/2003


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Quentin misses the point



uentin Tarrantino’s fourth and worst film is a 112-minute gorefest: the first half of what threatens to be the most pornographically violent movie in history.  For those who just can’t giggle enough at murder and mutilation, Volume 2 follows in February.  Uma Thurman plays a professional killer understandably annoyed when five former colleagues spoil her wedding day by murdering her groom, the guests and (she assumed) the baby she was carrying.  Five years later, she wakes up from a coma and embarks on killing spree.  This culminates in a finale where she butchers about 90 people.  Tarrantino has tried to excuse the violence in Kill Bill by arguing that it is deliberately stylised, unrealistic, cartoonish.  When dozens of characters have limbs amputated, they spurt blood … which comes across as cold, inhuman, even psychotic.  Tarrantino is no fool, and he knows how to make young juices flow.  He senses that the US is in the mood for revenge, that it is prepared to kill those who have hurt it … Kill Bill is a post 9/11 movie, and the nastiest, most cynical and exploitative one yet.


Extract from Review by Christopher Tookey


Daily Mail 10/10/2003



Hollywood accused over sex and violence alerts parents can’t see



ritish censors have criticised some of Hollywood’s largest film distributors, including some owned by Walt Disney, for failing to warn parents of the sexual and violent content of films approved for children.  Under a change to the classification system introduced last year, films given the new 12A rating can be viewed by children only if they are accompanied by an adult.  A clearly visible warning of the content of the film should be carried on material advertising the films, however.  The British Board of Film Classification has uncovered many cases in which the warnings have been non-existent or so small that they are hardly visible.  The Board has contacted several of the offending companies warning them that they must comply with the rules in future.  The 12A rating is highly prized by the film industry because it means that children can go to see films previously regarded as unsuitable for them.  It has been granted to more than 100 films already generating millions of pounds in extra box office revenue.  David Turtle, of mediawatch-uk, a viewers’ campaign group, said: “I think some of the distributors are acting in a very irresponsible manner.  People can only make proper choice if they are given adequate information.  Far too often parents have to rely on what they read in a particular film review and that is an unacceptable situation.”


Sunday Telegraph 19/10/2003



Today’s PG film is yesterday’s 18



ovies with a PG – parental guidance – certificate for children now contain as much sex and violence as adult rated films did ten years ago, says a report.  An American study of scenes in 1,269 films released over the past decade found youngsters are regularly being exposed to graphic sex, violence and profanity which as recently as the early Nineties would have rated 18 certificate in Britain.  The Harvard School of Health report is published in the journal Medscape General Medicine. Researcher Kinberly Thompson said parents ‘need to get recalibrated’ to keep up with movies’ ratings and content.


Daily Mail 15/7/2004


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Censor passes film with real sex scenes



he most sexually explicit film in the history of mainstream British cinema has been passed without any cuts for an adult audience, the censors announced yesterday.  The Michael Winterbottom film 9 Songs, which features sex scenes including felatio, ejaculation and cunnilingus, some in close up, did not contravene any of the current guidelines, the British Board of Film Classification ruled.  The BBFC said that sex occurred in the context of the development of the relationship between two people and did not raise issues of harm or sexual violence.  The board has concluded in this case that adults should be free to choose whether or not to see the film.


The Independent 19/10/2004


Other reports said that posters for 9 Songs must make it clear that the films contains frequent, strong, real sex.


Speaking today John Beyer, director of mediawatch-uk said: “This is hardcore pornography being normalised and allowed into high street cinemas without any parliamentary or public discussion or change in the law.  My understanding of BBFC Classification Guidelines is that this sort of imagery should be given an R18 classification and marketed only in licensed sex establishments.  Given an 18 certificate also means that it could be shown on mainstream television within months.


Click here for Time to strengthen the law against pornography



Q. When is an 18 certificate film suitable for children?

A. When it includes scenes of explicit sex or graphic violence



ilms depicting explicit sex and violence which were shown at cinemas with an 18 certificate are being sold on DVD as suitable for schoolchildren.  Among the films that have been given a 15 certificate on DVD, instead of the 18 classification they received for their cinema release, are The Last Temptation of Christ, The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now.  The British Board of Film Classification, which is awarding lower age certificates despite some DVD versions containing material removed for the cinema release, claims public attitudes have changed.  John Beyer, director of mediawatch-uk said, however, that the Board had a duty top protect children.  “Too many of the Board’s decisions are being made on a whim.  It has no right to reclassify films just because it thinks times have changed,” he said.  “I do not believe people want these sort of films being made legally available to children.  Our problem as there is no public scrutiny of what the Board actually does.”


Sunday Telegraph 31/10/2004