Published: 4th May 2012

BBFC wins 2012 BVA Special Award

The BBFC has been awarded the 2012 British Video Association (BVA) Special Award. BVA Director General Lavinia Carey explains why the BBFC should be recognised on its 100th anniversary.

In 1984, when the BBFC was 72 years old and the BVA was just four, it made a significant change to its name, replacing "Film Censors" with "Film Classification", that indicated the beginning of the end of a peculiarly British tendency to want to protect people from themselves by strictly controlling their entertainment and ensuring films screened in cinemas were sufficiently wholesome for public viewing.

This name change took place during the long "reign" of James Ferman as Director, while Lord Harlech was the BBFC's President, succeeded the year after by the Earl of Harewood.

By the time I joined the BVA in 1993, the video industry had gone through a tumultuous period of adjusting to the introduction of statutory regulation through the BBFC with the passing of the 1984 Video Recordings Act, which must have seemed at the time like a step backwards after an apparent era of enlightenment.  Yet this was a cloud with a silver lining.  It heralded the development of the most strictly regulated video industry in the free world but one which provided a defence against future storms to come.

The moral panic whipped up by the media in 1994 and the hand-wringing within our sector, having been accused of stimulating violence among young people, required the BVA and BBFC, and supported by the Video Standards Council, to work more closely to explain to politicians, journalists and the public that our business could hardly be more severely regulated without banning many popular and acclaimed titles.

Amendments were made to the Video Recordings Act later in 1994 expressly to give the BBFC ultimate power to cut scenes or reject works entirely where they are found to fail the test of suitability for home viewing.  This modification was far less harsh than the draconian amendments proposed by the then Liberal MP David Alton.  It was accompanied by a collaborative solution to make BBFC classification decisions clearer to adults through the introduction of consumer advice on theme, language, sex and violence within the content printed on BVA members' new releases.  This pilot was later rolled out on a voluntary basis across the entire video industry and remains in place today as an example of best practice in packaged media.

James Ferman ruled the roost.  Despite his zeal for authoritarian adherence to the spirit as well as the letter of the law, which intimidated some film and video distributors of the day, he had the wisdom to reach out to the public in a series of road-shows to consult with audiences and critics alike, resulting in more relaxed interpretation of the law that allowed the over 18s greater freedom to decide what they watched, while tightening up on the lower age ratings to give adults greater confidence in the classification system when making decisions about the suitability of titles they were buying and renting for children's viewing.

With successive Directors, up to the present day with David Cooke at the helm, the BBFC has greatly increased its collaboration with the BVA and its members.  We enjoy unparalleled cooperation, with the BBFC-BVA working party, first set up in 1998, as a valuable sounding board for both sides to air ideas, concerns, solutions, news and views.  This has resulted over recent years in a much faster and more flexible classification process, plus many innovations, ranging from directors' cuts, the distributors' extranet for online submissions, the launch of the unique BBFC.Online system for voluntary classification of content as well as internet retailers and aggregators who make our content available to users, up-dated fee structures for its voluntary online classification scheme, 3D BD and for previously viewed works, to the findings of its 2011 customer survey which sought ways to improve its service to industry still further.

These initiatives, many proposed by the BBFC itself, have contributed to a sense of working in partnership - eons away from the rigid and remote regulator-versus-regulated relationship that existed 15 years ago.  Distributors trust the BBFC and the majority acknowledge that self-regulation in this country would not achieve the same public confidence that exists in our classification regime today.  Furthermore, industry recognises the value of the BBFC's efforts to keep in touch with public opinion.  In recent years, it has developed tailored user-facing websites for children, students and parents, with educational resources and extended consumer advice which provides more detailed information about the content of age-restricted works and the explanation for the category given to individual titles.

The BBFC has employed an "outward-facing and commercially focused" approach to achieve the status of a modern, responsive organisation.  Its aim to stay ahead of the curve in our rapidly evolving industry by keeping up to date with the latest technology and through a positive working relationship with all its customers is applauded by BVA Members in the year of the BBFC's 100th anniversary.

Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association (BVA)