Development In Censorship In The United Kingdom Media Essay

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The production of this report is to provide a greater understanding on how the United Kingdoms censors and rate films. How the certificates have changed and developed over time looking at why the changes where made and the effects the changes have had on the audience.


Firstly, look into the organization in charge of the censorship for the United Kingdom.

Research into the development dates, when did the changes occur in the censorship laws & the changes made.

Thirdly look into the changes and why changes where made and effects they had on the United Kingdom

The British Board of Film Classification

"A highly expert and experienced regulator of the moving image (especially film, video/DVD and video games), and also a service provider for new and developing media." [1]

Began classifying cinema films from 1913 and began censoring video in 1985. The BBFC was originally set up by the film industry to "bring a degree of uniformity to the classification of films nationally." [1] Interestingly the boards classification of films can be overruled buy the local councils. They have the power to pass films the board rejected, reject films which where passed, change waiving cuts & institute new ones or alter the categories for the films exhibited under the own licensing jurisdiction.

As time passed they gained the power to classify video production in 1984 when parliament passed the video recordings Act 1984 (c.39) When this act was brought into the UK video industry the boards named changed to British Board of Film Classification to show the board had a larger influence on censorship.

As they are independent and not a government body they are self-regulators and after beginning moderation films from 1913 they have became a well-established and trusted method of censorship and classification. The British Board of Film Classification are a constantly developing body that respect the public's freedom of expression but always consider the cultural diversity of the UK.

The official site for the board show they constantly look into the future and the development of the board and show some factors on which change their classification and censorship methods. They mention how they will:

"Embrace technological change and opportunities in new media" [2]. This is a key element to how censorship has developed as we are continually developing new multimedia technology from standard definition, high definition and now 3D technology. Each development will open a wide range of problems for the censorship rules and regulations as some images may become more unacceptable as the audience will experience them in different ways.

"Respond to changing social attitudes"[2]. As time changes political and social views change a simple example would be punishment in schools. Currently it is unacceptable for a teacher to physically discipline a child in school so video footage of this situation would be greatly frond upon. However if the law reverted to the old law on capital punishment then footage would be shown in films as its socially acceptable.

There following points of development are more intrinsic factors for the board:

"Enhance our standing as a centre of excellence in regulation"[2]. This element of there development is a standard improvement the BBFC would want however only there handling of the other UK's changing factors would change how they would be looked at professionally.

"Actively promote the BBFC as a valuable social resource"[2].

"Lead and innovate in media education and research"[2].

"Develop new partnerships"[2].

Censorship & classification

Current Classification [3]

U :


No discriminatory language or behaviour unless clearly disapproved of.


No references to illegal drugs or drug misuse unless they are infrequent and innocuous, or there is a clear educational purpose or anti-drug message suitable for young children.


Scary sequences should be mild, brief and unlikely to cause undue anxiety to young children. The outcome should be reassuring.

Imitable behaviour

No potentially dangerous behaviour which young children are likely to copy. No emphasis on realistic or easily accessible weapons.


Infrequent use only of very mild bad language.


Occasional natural nudity, with no sexual context.


Mild sexual behaviour (for example, kissing) and references only (for example, to 'making love').


While problematic themes may be present, their treatment must be sensitive and appropriate for young children.


Mild violence only. Occasional mild threat or menace only.



Discriminatory language or behaviour is unlikely to be acceptable unless clearly disapproved of or in an educational or historical context. Discrimination by a character with which children can readily identify is unlikely to be acceptable.


References to illegal drugs or drug misuse must be innocuous or carry a suitable anti-drug message.


Frightening sequences should not be prolonged or intense. Fantasy settings may be a mitigating factor.

Imitable behaviour

No detail of potentially dangerous behaviour which young children are likely to copy. No glamorisation of realistic or easily accessible weapons.


Mild bad language only.


Natural nudity, with no sexual context.


Sexual activity may be implied, but should be discreet and infrequent. Mild sex references and innuendo only.


Where more serious issues are featured (for example, domestic violence) nothing in their treatment should condone unacceptable behaviour.


Moderate violence, without detail, may be allowed, if justified by its context (for example, history, comedy or fantasy).

12 / 12A:


Discriminatory language or behaviour must not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive discriminatory language or behaviour is unlikely to be acceptable unless clearly condemned.


Any misuse of drugs must be infrequent and should not be glamorised or give instructional detail.


Moderate physical and psychological threat may be permitted, provided disturbing sequences are not frequent or sustained.

Imitable behaviour

Dangerous behaviour (for example, hanging, suicide and self-harming) should not dwell on detail which could be copied, or appear pain or harm free. Easily accessible weapons should not be glamorised.


Moderate language is allowed. The use of strong language (for example, 'fuck') must be infrequent.


Nudity is allowed, but in a sexual context must be brief and discreet.


Sexual activity may be briefly and discreetly portrayed. Sex references should not go beyond what is suitable for young teenagers. Frequent crude references are unlikely to be acceptable.


Mature themes are acceptable, but their treatment must be suitable for young teenagers.


Moderate violence is allowed but should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood, but occasional gory moments may be permitted if justified by the context. Sexual violence may only be implied or briefly and discreetly indicated, and must have a strong contextual justification.



The work as a whole must not endorse discriminatory language or behaviour.


Drug taking may be shown but the film as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse. The misuse of easily accessible and highly dangerous substances (for example, aerosols or solvents) is unlikely to be acceptable.


Strong threat and menace are permitted unless sadistic or sexualised.

Imitable behaviour

Dangerous behaviour (for example, hanging, suicide and self-harming) should not dwell on detail which could be copied. Easily accessible weapons should not be glamorised.


There may be frequent use of strong language (for example, 'fuck'). The strongest terms (for example, 'cunt') may be acceptable if justified by the context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be acceptable.


Nudity may be allowed in a sexual context but without strong detail. There are no constraints on nudity in a non-sexual or educational context.


Sexual activity may be portrayed without strong detail. There may be strong verbal references to sexual behaviour, but the strongest references are unlikely to be acceptable unless justified by context. Works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation are unlikely to be acceptable.


No theme is prohibited, provided the treatment is appropriate for 15 year olds.


Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury. The strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable. Strong sadistic or sexualised violence is also unlikely to be acceptable.

There may be detailed verbal references to sexual violence but any portrayal of sexual violence must be discreet and have a strong contextual justification.


In line with the consistent findings of the BBFC's public consultations and The Human Rights Act 1998, at '18' the BBFC's guideline concerns will not normally override the principle that adults should be free to choose their own entertainment. Exceptions are most likely in the following areas:

• where the material is in breach of the criminal law, or has been created through the commission of a criminal offence

• where material or treatment appears to the BBFC to risk harm to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society - for example, any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts, or of illegal drug use, which may cause harm to public health or morals. This may include portrayals of sexual or sexualised violence which might, for example, eroticise or endorse sexual assault

• where there are more explicit images of sexual activity which cannot be justified by context. Such images may be appropriate in 'R18' works, and in 'sex works' (see below) would normally be confined to that category.

In the case of video works (including video games), which may be more accessible to younger viewers, intervention may be more frequent than for cinema films.

Sex education at '18'

Where sex material genuinely seeks to inform and educate in matters such as human sexuality, safer sex and health, explicit images of sexual activity may be permitted.

Sex works at '18'

Sex works are works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation. Sex works containing only material which may be simulated are generally passed '18'. Sex works containing clear images of real sex, strong fetish material, sexually explicit animated images, or other

very strong sexual images will be confined to the 'R18' category. Material which is unacceptable in a sex work at 'R18' is also unacceptable in a sex work at '18'.

Key Changes in UK film industry

Below is a brief outline of some key events that affected the United kingdoms film industry:


The Cinematograph Act 1909. This act was designed to regulate public screenings of films and to ensure that cinemas were in a suitable physical state to screen films safely. The Act was created mainly because of several serious fires relating to unstable nitrate film stock. However the act didn't contain any regulations on the content of films so local authorities began establishing individual guidelines. This generating the problem of some regions showing one films and another censored the film. This act it what led to the forming of the British Board of Film Censors now known as the British Board of Film Classification however councils could still influence showings.


Director of the BBFC listed 43 grounds for deletion based on sexual, drug and violent related scenes. For example 'unnecessary exhibition of under clothing'.


The British Board of Film Censors introduced the certificate 'H'. This was so the audience would know the films is of the horror genre and is not suitable for children. This certificate was mainly known for the British film Dark Eyes of London, 1940. Walter Summers.

that was released in 1940 7years after the certificate was introduced.


Changes where made to the cinematograph act & the 'X' certificate was introduced. This certificate meant that no person under the age of 16 was allowed to see the film. This was the first age-restricted certificate. The Yellow Balloon, 1953. J. Lee Thompson. was the first X certificated film, however exhibitors complained that the X certificate was losing them the family audience. Justine Ashby argued that "The reason that the censor slapped an "X" certificate on The Yellow Balloon was because he felt that the scenes in the Underground in the final reel, where the murderer was chasing the 12 years old boy with intent to kill him were so powerful that he was concerned about it and wanted to prevent it disturbing children."[4]


Lolita,1962. Stanley Kurbick. Passed 'X' this was done without any cuts made however the BBFC made changes to the script. Also Victim, 1961. Basil Dearden. suffered some minor cuts and was the first British film to deal with themes of homosexuality, this film was classified as 'X' after the cuts where done.


The first sex education film Helga, 1968. Erich F .Bender. Was produced and was classified 'A' after cuts where made.


'X' certificate is raised from the age of 16 to 18. Also the 'U' & 'A' certificates are introduced along with the 'AA' certificate that was for 14 year olds and over.


Flesh, 1971.Andy Warhol. Was shown on British cinema screens and was the first film to show a male erection and was given a 'X' classification. Also that year WR-Mysteries, 1971. Dusan Makavejev. Containing real sex and contains sight of erections this passed 'X' without cuts.


Obscene Publications Act 1959 adapted 1977 (c.45) is changed so now the entire film is judged not just the single scenes that would conflict the classifications. With this changed the BBFC waives its original cut of Last Tango in Paris,1972. Bernardo Bertolucci. 5 years previously 10 seconds where cut from the film due to the content being inappropriate for the audience.


Introduction of new certificates 'PG','15',18',R18'. The first film rated PG was Return of the soldier,1982. Alan Bridges. Introduction of the R18 classification allowed more explicit sex films to be shown in members only cinema clubs.


'12' certificate introduced and Batman,1989. Tim Burton . Gets this certificate first. Children over 12 can only see films with this certificate.


Crash, 1997. David Cronenberg. Which was given an '18' certificate but was sonly banned by Westminster Council and other local authorities due to the elements of fetishistic sexual activity which is generated through controversy.


Brief explicit images of penetration are shown in the '18' rated films for example The Idiots,1999. Lars von Trier (writer). Also the ban on martial arts weaponry is lifted and the BBFC wrote guidelines to disallow to extreme levels of realism when in use.


Introduction of the '12A' certificate. The Bourne Identity,2002. Doug Liman. was originally rated a 12 certificate and was changed to a 12A after the new rating was introduced to the UK film industry.


Sexually explicit language begins to be introduced into the younger target audience shown through the film Closer, 2005. Mike Nichols. That is classified '15'.


The Dark Knight,2008. Christopher Nolan. Given classification of a 12A however a large amount of complaints where given due to the films violent relationship with knives.

Outcomes of Changes

After viewing the above time line summary of the British Board of Film Classification there are a number of reoccurring factors that keep being affected and are developing the classification standards. In comparison to the 1916 listed bans too the current classification standards provided earlier in this documentation there is a clear contrast on how different the moderating standards have become. As time has passed the younger audience have witnessed a large range of historical events such as frequent terrorist attacks, Wars, murders etc.. It has become a more common thing for the current teen generation and is less offensive to the audience to see films dealing with certain themes in the United Kingdom. This has led to the changes in the moderating standards, violence is now becoming shown in '12A 'classified films and more graphic films are classified as '18' when they previously would have been band. This is not just happening with violence but also with other themes within films. For example Closer, 2005. Mike Nichols. of a '15' certificate which deals with sexually explicit language for a target audience who shouldn't be viewing this level of material. Another example is on drug use in both Adulthood,2008. Noel Clarke. & Kidulthood, 2006. Menhaj Huda. In these films both make it appear acceptable on drug use, bad language, sex & violence and shows corruption within society and can influence young views making it seem acceptable, cool or normal to act in such a fashion. This leads to copycat violence and crimes that the films show as a normal activity in everyday life. These are both extreme examples however they're both films that would not have been shown to 15 year olds previously.

Another outcome from the changes of the Classification standard is the way previously banned scenes and films are now being re-moderated and released even though they previously failed to meet the standard. One well known example would be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1975.Marcus Nispel. In 1975 this was a easy rejection for the BBFC and was even called "the pornography of terror." However 24 years later in 1999 it was re-released as and '18' certificate. This is a prime example of how the view on the horror genre has developed over time and how graphic violence is becoming more and more common in our society in films. However this is not just because of the audiences' opinion to violence in the cinema but it relates to technology developing. As better technology is rapidly developing for capturing audio and video but also displaying it, it makes past violent scenes look less offensive as more graphic violence can be produced now. Another previous film that had a similar impact on the previous audience in the United Kingdom was A Clockwork Orange.1972. Stanley Kubrick. It passed the 1972 BBFC standard and was classified as a 'X' 18 years and older, however in 1973 due to alleged copycat violence and threats made to Stanley Kubrick director and his family he withdrew the film being shown in the UK. However in year 2000 the film was re-released in the United Kingdom and available to be viewed by the public. This is a good example how audiences react to films. Even though the violence was alleged not completely related or proven it still had a possibility to effect audiences. Another film which suffered ban but wasn't an official ban in the UK Crash, 1997. David Cronenberg. the BBFC allowed it to play in the UK cinemas however the Westminster Council banned it for the inappropriate sexually related content. It shows how the Local Councils can influence showings of films even though the BBFC is a well established and highly looked at classification board.

Looking into the future from how the classification standards have developed the standards will dramatically change as technology develops as it has previously. The main changes will occur when 3D technology is used on regular bases. From looking over the previous events that affected the UK's film industry, there has been a slow change in the standards that have allowed violence sex and drugs to become viewable to the younger age group. As technology develops into the third dimension the guidelines will take a step back as they say and the standards will slowly progress from there. The problem the British Board of Film Classification has is technology is constantly developing more and more rapidly and makes it impossible for them to set a standard of guidelines for the classification method and sticking to them because of the constantly changing industry.

The other factor that has been affected and will affect the future of the United Kingdoms film industry is the audience themselves. It is becoming more and more impossible to do anything within the media industry without having complaints of discrimination or content being to strong for children. One of the latest examples of this was The Dark Knight,2008. Christopher Nolan film, it was given the certificate of a 12A as most comic book interpretations are given that rating as the comic readers are commonly around that age. The problem was the film contained strong use of knife violence throughout the film. Sue Clark, a BBFC spokesman, admitted that the film was a "borderline 15" certificate, but insisted that its violence was acceptable because of its comic book-style context. However a large number of MP's where interviewed over this incident with the film. Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative party, criticised the film after seeing it with his 15-year-old daughter "Unlike past Batman films, where the villains were somewhat surreal and comical figures, Heath Ledger's Joker is a brilliantly acted but very credible psychopathic killer, who extols the use of knives to kill and disfigure his victims during a reign of urban terrorism laced with torture."[5]


After completing this report there has been a combination of extra knowledge on how the UK's film industry is censored and how the moderating standards have developed over time due to technology advancements, films pushing boundaries and making more extreme content slowly become acceptable in Britons society. Also how society's opinion on film content has changed due to past a present film productions, historical events which the current audiences have witnessed making themes relating to drugs, sex & violence less shocking on the big screen and from politics influencing the film medium more than it did in the past.