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Film Boards & Rating Criteria
Germaine de Haan
This outline supplies a brief general overview of current classification systems, rating criteria, considerations and concerns within the various Film Classification Boards in Europe.
Most Classification systems are bound by Legal Acts imposed on them by the Government. They can, however, function independently. In some cases the Law even distinguishes the various areas of media classification such as feature films, trailers, teasers, shorts, commercials, videos, DVDs, videogames and sometimes even the internet. In almost all countries the outcome of the classifications is binding, though in some countries they are only considered as advice on a provincial level. The legal implications are carried out by either the police, the cinema, the classification board, the court or the film distributor. In about half the European countries a distributor is forced to offer his product to the Board. In other countries this is voluntary, though this usually has binding implications for the rating. In about half of the European countries it is possibly for a distributor to contest the outcome of a classification by appealing either to the film board, the court or an independent complaints commission. Apart from two or three countries all classification boards give consumer advice.
Most European Film Boards are funded by the Government, the film industry and/or sponsors. The yearly budgets range from 53.160 to 880.260 Euro. The number of classified media products ranges from about 210 to 7000 a year. The number of staff ranges from 1 to 40. Apart from a director these can include examiners, film advisors or media specialists, projectionists, bookkeepers and secretaries. Some of them are civil servants. In some countries the examiners are employed full-time. They usually have a background in psychology, law, social science, youth protection, teaching, children's organisations, religion, the government or the film industry. In other countries the examiners are a cross-section of society. The examiners usually follow continuous training courses through discussions, seminars, exchange programs, lectures and literature. The topics mainly focus on classification and criteria in general, new media products, free speech, and the development of minors. In most European countries the outcome of the classifications is made public through the press and is advertised in newspapers, at the cinemas, on the products, on publication material and on the internet. About half of the European classification systems consider the products to be artistic expressions. The other half does not, or does not find this relevant. The protection of minors is a responsibility of either the government and/or the parents/educators and about half the European examiners consider themselves to be advisors rather than censors or classifiers.
The following is a collection of traditional criteria in different wordings in random order from various European systems. Although some criteria may seem similar there are interesting differences, which often result in a crucial distinction between two specific rating levels.
Although there are regional differences (Northern vs. Southern Europe) the largest area of concern for the film boards at this moment is violence.
Use of drugs and alcohol
AREAS OF CONCERN
The following issues could lead to (potential) distress, fear and/or confusion in the life of a young child. It may in some cases even be potentially harmful to their psychological, emotional, intellectual and cognitive development.
This is a broad but interesting set of topics ranging from public indecency to criminal behaviour. They include issues that are of considerable concern to parents.
Identification and imitation
This has over the last few years become a very important issue as more and more academic research has been done on the impact of media on children.
The following is a collection of concerns which are usually not included in one of the standard criteria, but which are considered separate and important rating criteria.
For all these criteria goes there is always an exception possible when justified in the public interest or where there are considerations of context, for instance in some countries Saving Private Ryan had a lower rating because they considered it to be factual/historical although it was extremely violent. On the other hand, countries will consider science-fiction violence to be rated lower because of its non-factual content (Starship Troopers) or because of its literary background (Romeo and Juliet).
In the discussion of examiners some positive effects can determine the outcome of a rating, often to a lower rating.
Genre, content, style and theme
Within and between the various boards there have always been discussions on categorisation. This is mostly reflected in the different distinctions between genres, content, styles and themes. The following is a sample collection example of terms which could belong to various categories (Drama, Tragedy, Comedy, Action/adventure, Science-fiction, Children/family, Non-fiction, Sex, Horror, Adventure, Western, War, Disasters, Martial arts, Alien, Musical, Cartoon/animation, Fairy tale/fable, Music, Documentary, Erotica, Porn, Cult, Romantic, Realistic, Historical, Direct, Satire, Thriller/crime).
In some European systems the classification form will furthermore ask what, according to the examiner, is the target group of the product (i.e. Family, Children, Youngsters, Adults). Although it is not essential for the actual rating it is a helpful device when comparing it to the proposed target group of the distributor.
The wordings used to convey the outcome vary in the different countries. It is an important aspect as it gives the public a positive or negative advice.