The BBFC has issued a new set of film classification guidelines, following the Manhunt 2 videogame saga back in 2007, leading the regulator to a clearer definition of 'harm', following the High Court ruling on Rockstar's controversial game.

Manhunt 2, as you may remember, was initially refused an 18-rating classification by the BBFC.

The BBFC has taken into account the views of over 8,700 people across the UK from the age of 16 upwards in formulating its latest set of classification guidelines.

Public consultation

"The BBFC is committed to consulting the public every four years to ensure that the Guidelines we use to classify all works which are submitted to us not only take account of relevant UK legislation, but accurately reflect public attitudes and concerns," said David Cooke, Director of the BBFC.

"You would not expect there to be a massive shift in attitudes since the 2005 Guidelines, and there is sometimes an assumption that public attitudes are becoming more relaxed as time goes on, but that is not always the case," added Cooke.

"The BBFC is an open and accountable organisation and in order to bring about even greater transparency we have, in this new version of the Guidelines, gone into greater detail on how, why and when we do what we do."

Liberal or restrictive?

"There will always be people who think that we are either too restrictive or too liberal, but it is clear that as far as the vast majority of the UK public is concerned the BBFC is getting it right...Works which were clearly 'U', or '15', or 'PG' or '12A' under the old Guidelines would still be in the same category under the new Guidelines, but works which fell on the borderline between two categories previously could now find themselves being pushed into a different category."

The main changes to the BBFC's guidelines on film and DVD/Blu-ray classification are as follows:

  • Clearer and more detailed information about what the Board takes into account when classifying works and when interventions will be made and on what grounds.
  • A clearer definition of 'harm', which results from the High Court ruling on the video game Manhunt 2
  • The introduction of 'discrimination' as a key classification issue in each of the categories covering race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality.
  • Clearer and more detailed information about how the tone and impact of a film is taken into account, as opposed to simply considering what is actually shown on screen.
  • At 'U', the relaxation of the Guideline on references to drugs to allow for references which are both infrequent and innocuous. Under the old Guidelines a documentary which mentioned the Opium Wars between Britain and China had to be passed at 'PG' for this single reference alone.
  • At the '12A'/'12' category a tightening of the horror criteria. This is in line with the introduction of tone and impact and would mean that some films, like The Others, would be likely to be given a higher classification.
  • At '12A'/'12' there will be a presumption against the passing of frequent crude sexual references. This is in response to concerns expressed by the public about films such as Date Movie, Meet the Spartans and Norbit.
  • At '15', solvent abuse is now specifically mentioned as a classification issue and depictions are unlikely to be passed. This is in response, not only to public concern, but expert opinion
  • At '18' the Board will continue to maintain the right of adults to choose their own entertainment unless material is in breach of the criminal law; or the treatment appears to the BBFC to risk harm to individuals or through their behaviour, to society; or where there are more explicit images of sexual activity which cannot be justified by context. As part of the research, respondents were specifically asked about explicit images of real sex in main stream films like 9 Songs and the clear message was that these images were acceptable at '18' because of the context in which they appeared.

You can see the full BBFC guidelines online via bbfc.co.uk (pdf link).

The BBFC was recently dropped by the UK Government from rating videogames, a job which is now solely in the hands of the games-industry-sponsored Pan European Game Information (PEGI) body.