Who controls film censorship in the UK - and what can't be shown

00:00 Mon 25th Mar 2002 The AnswerBank

A.� Local borough and county councils have, for the most part, the power to allow any cinema to show any film. In practice, the councils almost always follow the ratings given by the British Board of Film Classification - formerly the British Board of Film Censorship.

Q.� Are there any exceptions
A.� There have been. In 1996,
Westminster Council refused a
licence for David Cronenberg's
notorious Crash, although the
film was shown elsewhere in
the country. In 1998 Camden
�����Censorship of any
�����form sparks lively
�����debate - as a thread
�����in our music section
�����shows! Why not air
�����your own views

Council granted a lience to show Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was later classified as 18 by the BBFC.

Q.� What are the rules on what can and can't be shown

A.� The Obscene Publications Act prohibits material which 'tends to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely to read, see or hear it', and other laws apply specifically to video releases.

Though very vague, the law is generally held to apply to anything which might encourage criminal activity by those watching, especially if it encourages violence or sexual violence.

The BBFC last year consulted the police as to whether the car theft scenes in Gone in�60 Seconds were likely to assist would-be car thieves. The police thought not.

A lot of people stil think there is - or should be - a ban on images of erect penises and sexual penetration. But the BBFC has recently classified two films�-�Romance (starring Catherine Ducey, pictured on our home page) and Intimacy (starring Kerry Fox) -�which feature precisely those images.

Q.� How does the BBFC work

A.� It's technically an industry body, which charges film distributors for the service it provides in classifying films.

It was set up in 1912 as a self-regulatory body in an attempt to head off government interference. With a few exceptions, local councils gradually accepted its classifications as standard, establishing the BBFC as the UK's semi-official censor.

SInce then, its relationship with the government has been a bit of a gentlemen's agreement: the BBFC keeps its classifications within the bounds deemed acceptable to the government of the day.

Q.� When does it cut films

A. The board cuts films suprisingly rarely and very openly: the website lists the length of any cut and reasons for it (www.bbfc.co.uk). Most cuts are made at the request of the distributor, to squeeze films into a lower age classification (generally speaking, lower age classifications mean better takings at the box office). Films classified 18 are rarely cut, and generally only to avoid prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.

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by Katharine MacColl

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