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What isn't classified: What parents need to know

This article was first published by The Parentzone, a website designed to make life easier for parents. By working together with parents and companies, the site provides information and resources parents need to help them make informed choices.

Date 19/12/2012

When you buy or rent a video for you and your family, most of the time you’ll find a BBFC age rating on the box, alongside BBFCinsight- content advice which tells you in a few words what you can expect to find on the DVD in terms of issues such as sex, violence, bad language, horror, drug misuse and discrimination.

For example: a DVD classified 12 might come with the advice ‘Contains infrequent moderate language and violence’.

But some DVDs do not carry and age rating. If a DVD is designed to “educate, inform or instruct” or is a video about music, sport, or religion, the law exempts it from the requirement to be age rated unless it contains certain extreme material. For example, a music video containing violence is exempt from being age rated unless the violence consists of “horrific, brutal or repulsive depictions of death, injury, dismemberment or torture and other methods of bringing sever pain or injury to the recipient. The images will be ‘disgusting’ or ‘stomach churning’ and have a capacity to sicken. They will usually be associated with large amounts of blood or gore”. This is the test which the video industry uses to determine whether or not that exemption from age rating is lost in relation to violence. Strong, even real, violence falling short of that very high test is not age rated and the DVD containing it may legally be sold to children. The DVD itself will carry an E for exempt symbol or no symbol at all.

There is no standard design for an E symbol. Some look like the familiar BBFC U symbol, but they bear no relation to the U symbol and indeed, the BBFC will not have examined an exempt DVD.

Most exempt DVDs are perfectly safe for children. But some are not. Responsible distributors of exempt content which may be harmful or otherwise unsuitable for children get the BBFC to age rate that content on a voluntary basis. But others do not. This adds to consumer confusion because parents assume that, for example, a cage fighting DVD with an E label is harmless or has been significantly toned down, whereas one with a 15 or 18 classification is not. In fact content on the DVD marked E is, as often as not, on par with content in the age rated DVD.

There has been considerable concern among parents, in the media and in Parliament about a minority of exempt DVDs. Some of them contain depictions of drug misuse, racism, real life violence and injury, self harm, sexual content, and even a “how to” guide demonstrating the best way to kill another person with a knife. In 2011, Mumsnet carried out research among its members which found that 8 out of 10 Mumsnetters felt that such unsuitable content should be age rated to keep it away from the impressionable and vulnerable children, rising to nearly 9 out of 10 for the most harmful content such as violence against humans.

As a result of this concern, the Government carried out a consultation over the summer of 2012 to find out more about what the public feels about content in exempt videos. At the time of writing, we await the outcome of this consultation.

The BBFC has joined together with the home entertainment and music industries, with retailers and with law enforcements and other regulators to put forward a proposal to Government which would change the law to ensure that any content which is potentially harmful to children would be age rated by the BBFC to keep children safe and to give parents the information they need when they make choices about what they and their families watch.

We hope that Government will agree to make this change which will significantly improve child protection and consumer empowerment without putting an undue burden on the industry.

Meanwhile, please do take care when buying or renting for children a DVD marked E for exempt. It might not be approriate for them.

David Austin, Assitant Director, Head of Policy, BBFC
November 2012

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