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U.K. Movie Ratings Board Tightens Horror Rules

Emphasis placed on context for judging bad language

LONDON — The British Board of Film Classification, which manages the U.K.’s movie ratings system, is tightening up its guidelines on horror pics and bad language.

The BBFC publishes its new “Classification Guidelines” Monday, alongside the results of the large-scale public consultation that underpins them. The new guidelines will come into force on Feb. 24.

The BBFC spoke to more than 10,000 members of the public, which it said highlighted public trust in the film classification system. The most complained about film of the past four years, “The Woman in Black,” received 89% support for its 12A rating. Only 11% thought it should have received a higher rating. (12A means that anyone aged 12 or over can go and see the film unaccompanied, and children younger than 12 may see the film if they are accompanied by an adult.)

Some 95% of parents with children under 15 say they check the BBFC classification before watching a film and 89% of film viewers consider classification as important. 92% of film viewers agreed with the classification of films and videos they had seen recently.

The changes to the guidelines include:

• Greater weight will be given to the theme and tone of a film or video, particularly around the 12A/12 and 15 level;
• Particular attention will be given to the psychological impact of horror, as well as strong visual detail such as gore;
• Regarding language, the public wants the BBFC to be stricter with the language allowed at U (suitable for everyone), and more flexible about allowing very strong language at 15. Context, not just frequency, is the most important factor in how language in films is perceived by the public.

A specific issue highlighted by the consultation is in relation to sexual content, where the public is particularly concerned about the sexualization of girls, and pornography. The content of music videos and the ease of accessibility of online porn are special worries.

Parents are also concerned about risks to vulnerable adolescents including self-harm, suicide, drug misuse and premature access to sexual content, including what some describe as the “normalization” in films and videos of behaviors that parents consider inappropriate.

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