Regulatory Bodies in Film, TV and Advertisement
The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) are UK’s independent regulators of media across all platforms – Film, Adverts and TV. It is a non-statutory organisation, however they have a code of advertising practice that reflects a lot of legislation that is already put in place. It is not government ran but paid for by a levy on the advertising industry by The Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Asbof) and the Broadcast Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Basbof). The have specific codes and guidelines drafted and put in place by the Committee of Advertising Practice that they adhere to when considering and reviewing media that will be broadcast. They mainly investigate ads, sales promotions or direct marketing based on public complaints, to make sure they adhere to their guideline and that do not ‘ mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise’.
Once a complaint has been made, the ASA will review it and decide the seriousness of the matter. If it is a minor complaint the issue is resolved fairly quickly, for example they can get an ad changed if it is a minor mistake. If it is a formal breach of their codes they will carry out a formal investigation. The ASA council will rule on the matter if this is the case, and will publish their Adjudication on their website. If there is a situation where there is a substantial flaw or further evidence has arose, there is an Independent Review Procedure in place, where the Independent reviewer of ASA Adjudications can ask the council to reconsider their original decision on the matter. This could be a result of the complainer or advertiser disagreeing with the original review.
The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) is a regulatory body put in place to examine and decide on the age rating for any given film released in the UK. They make this decision by using two examiners to analyse a newly released film, who then write a detailed report and give a recommendation on what ‘category’ it falls under, along with any cuts or other actions that they feel necessary. The examiners decisions are then reviewed for confirmation that it is the right classification. If there is a situation where a classification cannot be agreed upon, other member of the BBFC will review it until a decision is made. Other organisations that are associated with BBFC are The Consultative Council (an advisory forum chaired by the president or vice-presidents of BBFC) The Advisory Panel on Children’s Viewing (APCV) and The Video Review Committee (VPRC)
The examiners look at issues within the content that involve discrimination, drugs, horror, imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, sexual violence, general violence and theme when categorising a film. In addition to the context, theme and the impact (how it makes the audience feel)
Below are the classifications and the criteria that defines them:
U : A U symbol stands for Universal. This means it is suitable for audiences aged 4 and over, however at this lower end it is hard to predict what will upset a particular child but a U is classified by:
. Infrequent use of very mild language ( e.g ‘damn’ and ‘hell’)
. Characters may be seen kissing and cuddling with reference to sexual behaviour, but no overt focus on sexual behaviours, language or innuendo.
. Violence will be very mild. Brief fight scenes or moments where the character is put briefly in danger could be included, but the moments of emotional stress or threat will be quickly resolved making sure the outcome is reassuring.
.Their may be brief scary scenes and moments, but they should be balanced by reassuring elements.
. There will be no emphasis on the use of weapons and the ‘hero’ characters are unlikely to use any sort of weapon outside.
. Potentially Dangerous or anti-social behaviour must be clearly disapproved of as young chidlren may copy it.
. No reference too drugs is permitted, unless it is station an anti-drugs message or if it is in brief passing and is not likely to register with the child.
PG: PG stands for parental guidance. This means it is suitable for general viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children. A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Parents should consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive, children. A PG is classified by:
.A PG film will not contain any theme which is inappropriate for a child. PG works can explore challenging issues such as bullying, bereavement or racism.
. There may be mild bad language dependant on the context and delivery.
. Sex references are unlikely. If a child is unlikely to understand a reference, it may be allowed.
.Violence will usually be mild, showing no detail of violence, only some blood. It is more acceptable in a historical, comedic or fantasy setting.
.Some ‘jump’ moments and frightening sequences may be permitted as long as they are not prolonged or intense.
.In a PG work, potentially dangerous or antisocial behaviour which young children are likely to copy, such as bullying, or playing with electricity, will not be condoned or seen to go unchallenged, especially if it comes across as safe or fun. Realistic or easily accessible weapons, such as knives, will not be glamorised or focused upon in a PG work. Smoking and drinking will not be promoted or glamorised and if child characters are seen smoking or drinking, there should be a clear message that this is bad. If drugs are mentioned or seen, a PG work should either represent them in an innocuous manner or emphasise that they are harmful.
12 or 12A: Films classified 12A and video works classified 12 contain material that is not generally suitable for children aged under 12. No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. Adults planning to take a child under 12 to view a 12A film should consider whether the film is suitable for that child. To help them decide, we recommend that they check the BBFCinsight for that film in advance.
The 12A requires an adult to accompany any child under 12 seeing a 12A film at the cinema. This is enforced by cinema staff and a cinema may lose its license if adult accompaniment is not enforced for children under 12 admitted to a 12A film. Accompanied viewing cannot be enforced in the home, so the 12 certificate remains for DVD/Blu-ray, rather than the 12A. The 12 is also a simpler system for retailers. It means they cannot sell or rent the item unless the customer is over the age of 12. This is classified by:
. The use of strong language may be passed, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using it its frequency and any special contextual justification.
. Any discriminatory language or behaviour will not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive discriminatory language is unlikely to be passed unless it is clearly condemned.
. Sex may be briefly and discreetly portrayed. There may be nudity but in the case of a sexual content should only be brief and discreet.
. Moderate violence is allowed but should not dwell on detail. Occasional gory moments may be permitted if they can be justified by their context.
15: No-one under 15 is allowed to see a 15 film at the cinema or buy/rent a 15 rated video. 15 rated works are not suitable for children under 15 years of age. What you might see use of in a 15 film is:
. strong violence
. frequent strong language (e.g. ‘f***’).
.portrayals of sexual activity
.strong verbal references to sex
.brief scenes of sexual violence or verbal references to sexual violence
.discriminatory language or behaviour
18: Films rated 18 are for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18 film at the cinema or buy / rent an 18 rated video. No 18 rated works are suitable for children. Below are some of the issues you might find in an 18 rated film:
.very strong violence
.frequent strong language (e.g. ‘f***’) and / or very strong language (e.g. ‘c***’)
.strong portrayals of sexual activity
.scenes of sexual violence
.strong blood and gore
.real sex (in some circumstances)
.discriminatory language and behaviour
bbfc. (2010). How does classification work?. Available: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/what-classification/12a-and-12. Last accessed 23rd June 2014.
ASA. (2014). About ASA. Available: http://www.asa.org.uk/About-ASA.aspx. Last accessed 23rd June 2014.
Examine 1 TV Programme, 1 Film and 1 Advert That have been banned by regulatory bodies.
Autopsy: Life and Death
This was a 4 part series based on a series of autopsy demonstrations, conducted by Proffessor Gunthen Von Hagens. The live autopsy, hosted to 500 audience members in November 2002 was due to air on channel 4 shortly after. There was a lot of controversy preceding the broadcast, with people such as Dr Roger Soames, of the British Association of Clinical Anatomists, saying he was appalled at the event, which he described as “sensation seeking”. Channel 4 defended the programme by stating they wanted to confront the ‘ultimate taboo’ that is death. Prof Gunther von Hagens explained that he wanted the autopsy to educate and inform, not shock. The autopsy was conducted on a 33 year old German woman, who died suddenly, although she was a long time sufferer of epilepsy. The professor hoped to provide answers to the deceased’ family. Channel 4 went ahead with the broadcast and ITC even defended the programmes as they felt it border ed the limits of what is allowed according to their programme code but did not exceed the limits. They stated “The ITC does not consider the programme included any images that were more explicit than those already seen on UK television” and “This was not the first autopsy to be shown and several science and medical programmes have included similar anatomically explicit sequences”. In addition to this the first programme did not air until 11.45pm at night, well past watershed and the actually images of the autopsy did not appear until midnight.
I agree with OFCOM’s (in conjunction with ITC) decision to air these programmes, I believe channel 4’s intention was to educate and not to offend. I can see how people would be shocked to see such graphic imagery however there were several public warnings shown just before the programme came on, so anyone that would be disgruntled by such scenes would have a choice to not watch it. I think it was more beneficial to the greater public to watch a programme that explains anatomy in a clear, easy to follow manner. It gives people a wider knowledge of a subject they would otherwise be unaware of and a much as people complained, a number of people were reported to ring up channel 4 and praise the programme and even requested for it to be repeated.
Above is an example of a programme that received complaints and had to be taken into consideration by OFCOM, but no further action was taken. Below is a bulletin report from a children’s programme “Bernard” that was in breach of OFCOMS guidelines.
ITV would have recieved punishment for this breach in the form of a sanction, a fine, or a request to not play the programme again, as it was not except able for the time of day the programme is scheduled to air. I agree with OFCOMS decision that is was in breach. ITV claimed the child was not in actual danger as the girl was stood on the bench and you could not see the knots where she was tied up, however it would be perceived to the viewer (especially a child) that she was hanging, restrained and aged. This is violent content and I feel it could be imitated because a child would think it is an acceptable form of behaviour if they saw it on a children’s programme they are accustomed to watch. I think ITV could have portrayed the same premise but in a less violent way, I don’t think it was necessary to have a child hung up and gagged, for example they could have hidden Nicolette in a cupboard to stop her form attending the tournament.
I cannot find a good quality version on this tango advert that was aired in 1992 but here is a brief description of the advert:
As a youth takes a sip of Tango, an odd, partly-naked man who is completely orange rushes up and slaps him simultaneously on both cheeks. the shock reaction form the youth is meant to illustrate the sharpness of the drink.
Adults could quickly see the dangers of its’ influence on kids. Children could relate to the playfulness of the man running around and hitting the youth, and found it funny. It could even be considered to be promoting bullying, as the slap is a form of violence. That, in conjunction with it being allied with a soft drink, made slapping seem even more of an acceptable behaviour to children. Adults recognised that it was easy imitable and following the airing of the advert, The ITC (The Independent Television Commission) received reports of children copying this in the playground and cases of burst eardrums as a result. The advert was quickly revoked after its release. It was rumoured that it was not banned by any regulatory bodies but pulled by a Tango advertisement executive after a phone call from a surgeon that stead he’d just done an operation on a child’s damaged ear drum as a result of someone carrying out the slapping motion on that child, however, according to the guardian, ‘The Tango ads were banned by the Independent Television Commission in 1992 after the practice was adopted as a playground craze resulting in cases of perforated eardrums.’ – Mark Sweney. (2006). Fanta ‘slap’ ads escape ban. The Guardian. Last Accessed June 23rd 2014.
I agree with ITC’s decision to ban this advert after its release, the funny nature of the advert would give children the impression that it is a fun action and not a violent one, which it is. It was obviously imitated by children, and its it had continued to air, there could have been even more casualties and cases of bullying as a result. The slap was supposed to represent the sharpness of the taste of the drink, which could have been shown in a different manner, which it was in two remakes of the advert. One was the orange man kissing the boy and the other was the victim running away as the orange man approached. These are both acceptable ways to show shock without using violence. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was aimed at an older audience and shown later in the day, but children were already familiar with popular fizzy soft drink and so they became the maine audience for it.
‘Last House on the left’ directed by Wes craven, was banned from 1972 until 30 years later, aside from a home video release in 1982 that was banned by being in breach of the ‘Video Recordings Act 1984’. This is horror story based on two girls, Mari and Phillis, who head to New York to see a band perform, and along the way are confronting by two prison escapees, Krug and Fred, along with their partners. The two girls are kidnapped and butchered by the gang of rapists and murderers. The gang then seek refuge in a nearby house that happens to be the home of Mari. Her mother overhears the criminals talking about the murder of her daughter, and works with her husband to plot a scheme of revenge against the villains.
Mark Kermode describes the film being “about the corruption of violence” and his argument is that it has context to it and that it tries to convey a meaning but in the unimpressed eyes of BBFC, who viewed the film in July 1974, it was a film not suitable for any classification at all. BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy said “Despite your letter, we can find no redeeming merit, in script, in acting, in character development, or in direction, which would lead us to feel that this muddly [sic] film is worth salvaging. Mind you, I wonder whether your editing “to remove some of the gore” (the mind boggles!) has disturbed the continuity. There are passages where we are not at all sure whether we are in fantasy or reality. There are bits where the characters – even under severe stress – don’t really make any sense. There is that discordantly ham sheriff; and the pretty-pretty wood-and-river bit”. A debate continued between the UK distributor and Stephen Murphy until it was clear that the BBFC did not only oppose to certain scenes of the film, but to the film as a whole and so they again rejected the certification indefinitely. 2 years later the distributor decided to take it to the G.L.C (Greater London Council) in hopes that they would grant it a rating much like they did with Chainsaw Massacre, however they sided with the BBFC and The Last House on The Left remained without a licence.
No further action was taken until 1982 when it was distributed for home release and became known for being a ‘video nasty’. A term used in the United Kingdom and given by the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA) to describe films that were distributed on video that contained and were critiqued for their violent content. It was this spree of low budget horror films that led to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which established a stricter code of censorship on videos than was required for cinema release. The British Board of Censorship were pressured by a public debate about censorship that was sparked by the lack of a regulatory system for videos such as Last House on The Left and the claim that “any film could fall into children’s hands” (IMDB), hence they instigated the legislation. No distributor would dare submit the film knowing its history with the BBFC, until 17 years later when another distributor tried there luck to get it released. Within those years Wes Craven had become a better known director and the film had become somewhat of a cult amongst the public, probably because of the stigma attached with the banning of the film in the first place. Its popularity prevented the BBFC from rejecting the film straight away, however the sexual nature of the violence was still a lasting problem for them. In addition to this the film had been convicted under the obscene publications act, by an illegal screening of the film at London’s National Film Theatre in 1988. So in consideration of releasing the film they asked for 3 scenes to be cut totalling 90 second out of the original. These cuts were advised to decrease the more extreme aspects of sexual humiliation and violence directed at the kidnapped girls, however the distributor thought it would loose its commercial value without the extreme me moments, which was what had made it well-known by this point, so he rejected to make cuts, and in 2000 it was the first film in 10 years to be refused a classification outright.
Later on in the year new legislation was made from the BBFC, and the new guidelines placed an emphasis on the clearly expressed public view that adults should be free to make their own viewing choices, along as the material in question was neither illegal nor harmful. In response to this, a new distributor resubmitted the film for release, but this time in DVD format. This time the BBFC offered a reduced amount of cuts, totalling 16 seconds, but the distributor still wasn’t happy, especially as an uncut version had been released in America already- so he challenged the BBFC and took his appeal to the independent Video Appeals Committee. This was unfortunately the wrong way to go for the distributor, because not only did the Appeals Committee agree that cuts were required, they also stated that the BBFC had been too generous with the film. 31 seconds of cuts were insisted on before the film could be classified 18 for DVD release in 2002.
Whilst the battle continued The Last House On The Left had in fact been seized with large batches of unclassified works (pirated videos and foreign imports) with the seller pleading guilty in order to receive a more lenient sentence. This showed there was little or no evidence that a jury today would find the film obscene, putting aside any other issues of offensiveness or possible harm. In light of this, the BBFC were again asked to look at the film in 2008, as part of a 3 disc box set. This time the BBFC could look at it with new eyes and disregard the film’s previous history. Although they still found it disturbing, by this time it had been overrun with gory films such as Hostel, Wolf Creek, etc. In consideration that these films had been classified with an 18 rating and uncut, the deemed The Last House on The Left no more offensive than the others and they finally classified the film with an 18 rating uncut on the 17th March 2008.
I feel that when the film was originally up to be certified, the BBFC made the right choice in banning it. It was the beginning of a genre that people were not accustomed to because of the shocking material it contained. However I feel the chairman of the board was harsh in saying that he did not like the film as a whole, because that may have been the persecutive of him and a few others but had they showed it to a wider public audience they may have received positive feedback about it. Even though it shouldn’t have been distributed it was illegally done but people seemed to enjoy it giving it its ‘cult’ reputation. Having said this, the BBFC did give them a chance to release the film but with cuts, and the distributor rejected. I feel the was a fair comprimise but I guess it wouldn’t have been the same film without certain scenes. But as time progresses people become desensitised to things and I think this was the case for this film, allowing it to be viewed by a public that was ready for it.
‘The Independent Television Commission (ITC) receives significant numbers of complaints from viewers that children and young people might copy or be harmfully influenced by undesirable actions or ideas in television advertising. This relates both to direct emulation, ie the copying of dangerous or antisocial behaviour or actions, and to more general emulation, ie encouraging or condoning negative, self-destructive attitudes.’
– Pam Hanley. (2000). ATTITUDES TO TELEVISION ADVERTISING. Copycat Kids? The Influence of Television Advertising on Children and Teenagers. 1 (8), 34-47.