In Section B of the exam concerning media regulation, they will always relate to one or more of the following prompts:

  • What is the nature of contemporary media regulation compared with previous practices?
  • What are the arguments for and against specific forms of contemporary media regulation?
  • How effective are regulatory practices?
  • What are the wider social issues relating to media regulation?


This blog will discuss the things above in relation to the BBFC; The British Board of Film Classification.

Who are the BBFC?

The BBFC are a independent non-governmental body that is funded through fees charged to those who submit films and video works for classification. They classify the following:

  • films, trailers and advertisements on behalf of the local authorities who license cinemas
  • video works under the Video Recordings Act in 1984
  • video works which are distributed over the internet

The Guidelines in which the BBFC classify by follow extensive public consultation, as well as other research, expert advice and their accumulated experience over many years. The BBFC has stated their guidelines are to:

  • to protect children and vulnerable adults from potentially harmful or otherwise unsuitable media content
  • to empower consumers, particularly parents and those with responsibility for children, to make informed viewing decisions

The History of The BBFC

  • The British Board of Film Censors was established in 1912 by the film industry when local authorities started to impose their own censorship on films. The arouse to form a body whose judgements would be accepted nationally. By the mid-1920s it had become general practise for local authorities t accept the decisions of the BBFC.
  • The BBFC’s origins initially addressed Health and Safety as early film stock and limelight were both fire hazards.
  • In the past, the BBFC did not have any written rules or codes of practise like the Motion Picture Production Code introduced in 1930.
  • Since 2000, the BBFC has operated under a series of published Guidelines, which are flexible and stress the importance of taking into consideration the context of each individual work.

Between the Wars

  • The kind of material that caused concern included the horror and gangster films, as well as those that dealt with aspects of sexuality. The London County Council (LCC) and the Manchester County Council (MCC) banned children from Frankenstein (1931), although a sequence in which the monster drowns a small girl had already been cut. In response to this, the category H (for horror) was agreed in 1932, to indicate the potential unsuitability for children of the horror theme.
  • An ‘adults only’ category was increasingly seen as desirable, not only to protect children, but as an extension of the freedom of filmmakers to treat adult subjects in an adult fashion.

The 1950s

  • Controversial subjects on film were accommodated in the UK under the new X category, introduced in 1951 and incorporating the former advisory H category given to horror films. The X category excluded children under 16  but was considered sufficent to categorise many titles.
  • Laslo Benedek’s 1954 film The Wild One,was banned by the BBFC upon its release here and remained so (except for screenings in film societies where local councils overturned the BBFC’s decision) until 1967 when it was released with an X certificate (suitable for 16 year olds and above).

“The initial ban was prompted mostly by a fear that the very real problem of burgeoning juvenile delinquency, and a seemingly increasing lack of respect for authority, could only be aggravated by young people seeing this film.”

For more information about the BBFC’S history read booklets; examples older than 5 years ago are less relevant and significant in the exam that recent works.

‘Video Nasties’

The development of the video recorder created new anxieties about the home viewing of feature films. They become popular in the 80’s and legally, there was no requirement that videos should be rated, which meant that films that had not been approved by the BBFC or which were suitable for adults only, were falling into the hands of children.

The video recorder also enabled viewers to watch scenes out of context such as scenes of rape and killing. This led to the Video Recordings Act 1984 makes it offence for the video work to be supplied if it has not been rated, or to supply a rated work to a person under the age specified in the certificate. A notorious example is The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi.

How is a film or DVD is rated?

  • The Examiner’s daily programme consists of a combination of film and DVD material.
  • Examiners normally view DVD submissions on their own – called solo viewing. A large proportion of works suitable for solo viewing include episodes from TV series.
  • Films for cinema release are rated in teams of two.

Examiners with linguistic skills are programmed to view these works.

  • general context – plot, characters, outline of individual scenes
  • timings of key moments, including camera angles, type of shots, on- and off-screen moments
  • bad language, sex and drug references and so on

Most decisions are straightforward and are based on the BBFC’s published Guidelines, which is revised every five years; last in 2014.

The distributor can request a specific age rating, which the solo Examiner or team will take into consideration, but such a request does not determine the final decision.

Cuts may be suggested to meet the category request, and the decision will be ultimately made by the distributor.

‘The BBFC Guidelines are the basis for all ratings decisions.”

The Guidelines outline, for the public and for the industry, how we work and what our decision rationales would be.


  • Is the material in conflict with the law, or has been through the commission of a criminal offence.
  • The BBFC determines the given work whether it may harm at the age rating concerned. This includes harm towards the behaviour of potential viewers and “moral harm” by the effects of violence, degrading a potential viewer’s sense of empathy, encouraging a dehumanised view of others etc. etc. etc.






“Adults are free to choose their own entertainment.”





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s