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Q&A with Lucy Brett, Head of Education, British Board of Film ClassificationCreated by Charlotte in Age: At School, Being a Granny-carer, Q&A's
The British Board of Film Classification is an independent, non-governmental body which has classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984.
We thought it would be useful, ahead of half term and summer holiday trips to the cinema with grandchildren, to do a Q&A with their Head of Education, Lucy Brett. Thank you to the Grannynetters who submitted questions.
I should like to see a much tighter classification. PG is all very well, but there are far too many adults who think it’s funny or it doesn’t matter to allow children to view unsuitable images and scenes.
The BBFC is careful to base its Classification Guidelines and age ratings on large scale public consultation which typically involves around 10,000 people from across the UK and takes place every 4-5 years. This helps the BBFC stay in step with what the broad public find acceptable at each age ratings.
PG stands for Parental Guidance and PG rated films should not upset most children of eight or over. However, not all PG rated films are made with a young audience in mind. A recent example of a film mostly enjoyed by grown ups but passed PG would be The Artist.
We are committed to being accountable to the public and to empowering parents to make their own decisions about what is suitable for their child. We provide detailed information for every film we classify called BBFCinsight, which explains exactly why the film was given a particular age rating and the key classification issues in the film. Parents, grandparents, or anyone with responsibility for children can access this information on the BBFC website or the free BBFC App for iPhone and Android devices, to help them decide if a film is suitable for their child. At the advisory categories of U, PG and 12A (which is only advisory at the cinema and a child under 12 must be accompanied by an adult) parents are encouraged to consult the BBFCinsight for the film before taking their child to see it at the cinema or before buying the DVD or streaming the film on demand (12A only applies to the cinema, a DVD rated 12 should not be sold to a child under 12 since there is no enforcement for accompanied viewing in the home, as there is in the cinema). At the beginning of 2013 we ran a trailer before films rated U, PG and 12A to help remind parents and grandparents about BBFCinsight.
For stronger material we have the mandatory ratings 15 and 18, which preclude younger viewers from going to see a work.
The BBFC App is available for free at the iTunes App store
There seems to be a much more rigorous exclusion of sexual scenes than of violence. In my view violence is totally unacceptable for children, whilst many ‘mild’ sexual scenes are pretty harmless and will only make children giggle anyway. I’m wondering why this distinction is there in the mindset of those who decide the classification.
Both sex and violence are important issues when rating films and when examiners recommend a rating they take great care to think carefully about the acceptable strength of issues at any given category, and the context of issues like sex or violence. There are several factors which may affect how an audience, young or old, respond to a particular issue – comedy, for example, may mitigate against the strength of mild innuendo, where a more serious scene or context may make it feel less appropriate for younger audiences.
As I mentioned earlier, we test how acceptable the public finds levels of violence and scenes of sex at each age category when we review the Classification Guidelines, every 4-5 years. The research is thorough, using both focus groups where participants are asked to look at a variety of recently classified films, as well as online and telephone surveys. We ask in detail what they find most problematic about scenes of sex and violence. For example, the public tell us they’re more concerned when violence could be copied (if it uses common place objects as weapons) or if it is glamorised, or made to look fun. However, they are less concerned about violence in films where there is a very fantastical context, which distances it from real world violence that might be more upsetting, or more likely to be copied than fantasy violence.
The public has become more accepting of scenes of consensual sex in films. However they are more concerned than ever about scenes of sexual violence and we recently carried out new research into this.
It’s important to remember that at the 18 age category adults are free to choose what they watch as long as it is within the law and does not pose a harm risk. At the lower categories the Guidelines reflect public acceptability of both sex and violence at each of the different age ratings.
I’d like to see an age recommendation for films, possibly related to school phases. For example KS 1. That would be helpful for parents and carers.
The Government recently consulted on the Video Recordings Act, regarding videos which are currently exempt from classification, which includes videos designed to educate, such as sex education videos used in schools.
On Friday 24 May the Government published the response to the consultation and the Video Recordings Act will now be changed, so that any videos that were previously exempt but are unsuitable for younger children, will have to carry the familiar 12, 15 and 18 BBFC age ratings. The changes are expected to come into force in 2014.
I’d like to ask you how you got into this role, and if the classifications reflects the hegemony of the cognoscenti or do you listen to and incorporate the views of various pressure groups and individuals.
My role is Head of Education and I coordinate the BBFC’s education programme including education visits, which involves going into schools and colleges and talking about our work; online resources, such as case studies on famous or controversial age rating decisions; and in-house seminars, where students attend a lecture at our head office.
I joined the BBFC as an Examiner in 2004 and became Education Officer in 2010, before being appointed Head of Education in 2012. Prior to joining the BBFC, I was a journalist for trade and consumer home entertainment magazines including Timecode, Total DVD and Home Entertainment Week and was also a media studies teacher.
As Head of Education I represent the BBFC at events like the Hay Literary Festival, the Cinemagic young people’s film festival in Belfast and the Cambridgeshire Young People’s Film Festival. These events, in addition to our own BBFC education events, offer an extremely effective litmus test as to how younger people respond to film ratings, and what issues are important to them. Issues they regularly discuss with me include racist language in films and the need to protect children from potentially harmful material.
As I said previously, our Classification Guidelines are based on large scale consultation and are regularly reviewed. But I also carried out a pilot survey amongst teenagers during 2012, to explore their attitudes to age ratings, and to offer them the chance to give their views on the BBFC’s work. The survey found that 91% of the teenagers felt the BBFC was effective in its role, and almost half of the respondents aged 15-17 (48%) regularly checked the age rating of a film before watching it. Of the 24 films in the survey, over 90% agreed the BBFC rating was ‘about right’.
This was really positive feedback and we plan to carry out further research with students to help the BBFC stay informed about what young people think about BBFC age ratings and what their concerns are.
Children have always watched some violence (I remember Flash Gordon at the cinema when I was little!) but now they have unlimited access via film, tv, video games etc and the level of violence that’s acceptable seems to escalate. Is this just my perception?
As you say there has always been content that contains violence, but how available it is to children is changing as a result of the internet.
It’s fantastic that film is so readily available to enjoy but it’s also important for families to have a trusted guide to which online films and videos are appropriate for them, whether they watch content on computers, tablets, game consoles and mobile phones. The BBFC and the home entertainment industry have been working together in 2008 to ensure that BBFC age ratings can be shown for film content that is streamed or downloaded, even though it’s not a legal requirement. All films given a rating on DVD automatically get a rating for use with the download or streaming version of that film and many video on demand platforms subscribe to use BBFC age ratings for content, even if it is only made for viewing online. There is a list of these video on demand platforms on our website, it includes the likes of BT Vision, Netflix, Sainsbury’s Entertainment and iTunes. Many of these also calibrate their parental controls in line with BBFC age ratings, so families can choose if they want to restrict anything rated PG, 12, 15 or 18.
Whether violence is becoming more prevalent is difficult to measure since the volume of film and game media of all kinds is rising rapidly and there’s little research into what percentage of this is violent content. Where we can help is by providing as much information as possible about the issues in a film, so families can make an informed decision about what they and particularly their children will find suitable to watch.
by Lucy Brett