Published: 23rd June 2009

New Classification Guidelines Published by the BBFC

The views of over 8,700 people across the UK from the age of 16 upwards have formed the basis for the latest set of classification Guidelines published today by the BBFC.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:

"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.

"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. A number of specific concerns which emerged from the extensive consultation exercise, involving over 8,700 people, as well as the members of our Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing and other experts, have been incorporated in the Guidelines published today. 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. has been developed over the last 18 months, in close partnership with the video and new media industries and the British Video Association. There are already some 700 videos with 'online certificates' and this is likely to rise to about 1000 by the end of the month.

"We know from a number of recent surveys that the work of the BBFC is well known and understood by the UK public and this latest research shows that the BBFC's decisions are in line with the vast majority of the public's expectations. This consultation exercise took particular notice of the views of people who had recently watched a range of films or DVDs and when asked, 82 per cent thought that the BBFC was an effective regulator. The same people agreed with the ratings given to the films they had watched in 99 per cent of all cases.

"We have always said that film classification is not a science and that it is impossible to satisfy everyone. 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. The BBFC classifies thousands of works a year and even slight changes to the Guidelines will have an impact on new and old works coming in for classification. 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. These new Guidelines, reflecting, as they do, current public concerns and sensitivities, will ensure that our classification decisions continue to command public confidence and support for what we do."


  • 82 per cent of recent film and DVD viewers thought the BBFC was an effective regulator
  • The same people agreed with 99 per cent of the classification decisions for the films they had watched
  • round 80 per cent of people surveyed found the BBFC's Consumer Advice useful, with this figure rising to 85 per cent of parents with primary school aged children
  • 85 per cent of people who responded to the web based questionnaire found the Board's website for parents - - useful
  • 74 per cent or respondents understood that the '12A' category means that the film is not generally suitable for under 12s.


  • Clearer and more detailed information about what the Board takes into account when classifying works (pages 4-7) and when interventions will be made and on what grounds (32-33)
  • A clearer definition of 'harm', which results from the High Court ruling on the video game Manhunt 2 (page 4)
  • The introduction of 'discrimination' as a key classification issue in each of the categories covering race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality (page 12)
  • 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 (page 11)
  • At 'U', the relaxation of the Guideline on references to drugs to allow for references which are both infrequent and innocuous (page 21). 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 (page 25). 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 (page 25). 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 (page 27). This is in response, not only to public concern, but expert opinion
  • Trailers and advertisements which are on the borderline between two categories be given the more restrictive rating because of the fact that the public has not chosen which trailers and advertisements to watch (pages 16-17) and because the BBFC has no control over which trailers or advertisements are shown before a particular film (eg a horror trailer before a 'rom-com'). The exception will be public information films and charity advertisements where stronger material is acceptable to the public when there is a 'public good' justification.
  • 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.

David Cooke said:

"There may be criticism from some quarters that these changes are not more drastic or restrictive, but they are significant and will have an impact on our classification decisions. They also represent the views of the majority of the public. The BBFC is committed to ensuring that works are placed in the most appropriate category for them, in line with public expectations, and we will back up these decisions with the sort of information the public needs to make informed choices about what they and their families watch. Our Consumer Advice, which appears on film advertising and DVD packaging, is well recognised and appreciated and for people who want more detailed information there is the Extended Classification Information for all films, which appears on our main website, and the specifically tailored information for parents which appears on"

Notes to Editors

  1. The research was carried out by well established independent research companies.
  2. The new Guidelines are available to download on the BBFC website and hard copies are available from the Press Office at the BBFC. The research document which accompanies the new Guidelines is also available to download at
  3. The BBFC is also publishing the Annual Report for 2008 today, which is available to download and hard copies are available from the BBFC Press Office.