Section B: Contemporary Media Issues

Contemporary Media Regulation And arguments for and against specific regulation.

• What is the nature of contemporary media regulation compared with previous practices? • What are the arguments for and against specific forms of contemporary media regulation?

Guess the film/game rating

• What do you know about the BBFC? • Do you agree with film ratings?
• The British Board of Film Classification is an independent, non-governmental body which has classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/ DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984.

• Cinema • The British Board of Film Censors was set up in 1912 by the film industry as an independent body to bring a degree of uniformity to the classification of film nationally. • Statutory powers on film remain with the local councils, which may overrule any of the BBFC’s decisions, passing films we reject, banning films we have passed, and even waiving cuts, instituting new ones, or altering categories for films exhibited under their own licensing jurisdiction.

In 1973 Stanley Kubrick decided to take A Clockwork Orange out of circulation in the UK; even though the BBFC deemed the film acceptable at an ‘X’ rating. This was due to allegedly ‘copycat’ killings surrounding the film.

The film was re-released in 2000 after Kubrick’s death by his family. The video release was given an 18 rating to replace it’s old ‘X’ rating.

The BBFC’s guidelines ensure that films do not promote or glamorise violence or drugs. The film ‘Adulthood’ featured a scene where a character is burned with an iron, the character is in obvious pain but you cannot see the full detail of the assault.

BBFC also regulates film ratings. In the case of Canes Canem Edit the game was given a ‘15’ certificate rather than an ‘18’ certificate. This was due to the games nature….the game player had the opportunity to be as violent or non-violent as they chose. Just like GTA, the frequency of the violence is dependant on how the player chooses to play the game. If they want to be violent, the opportunity is there to do that.

For example, immediately after the opening scene, Jimmy is taunted by school bullies; he can retaliate by getting involved in a fight or he can ignore them and go to the Principal's office. Being violent also has its consequences: if the player starts a fight, a meter builds up in the corner of the screen and, if it builds up too far, the school prefects immediately appear to take Jimmy away. While they can sometimes be dodged, it is extremely difficult to do - this mechanic serves as a strong in-game deterrent against being too violent because it makes progress through the game more difficult.

The game's title was changed from Bully to Canis Canem Edit in the United Kingdom, although an update - Bully: Scholarship Edition - was subsequently released.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979) This film was released and further went on to be released onto video in 1982; without BBFC certification. At the time it was not a formal obligation for films to go through the BBFC and often the film distributors would release the now called ‘video nasties’ with their own cuts. This meant children could view them. It did not take long before the Press launched a campaign to ban unclassified horror cassettes, which were now being termed 'video nasties'. In response, the Director of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of videos that he believed were obscene under the terms of the Obscene Publications Act; Cannibal Hollocaust being deemed the worst. Cannibal Holocaust was not formally submitted to the BBFC until 2001, largely because its reputation as a 'video nasty' and its long history of prosecutions for obscenity seemed to preclude the issuing of a BBFC certificate. When it was submitted for video and DVD release the BBFC examined the film very carefully in terms of its own published Guidelines. The film has now been released as an ‘18’ on to DVD with 5 minutes and 44 second cuts.

The BBFC and homosexuality
• The BBFC has passed gay kissing and gay relationships at all categories. The BBFC guidelines treat heterosexual activity and homosexuality equally, just as the law in the UK demands, stating: • The portrayal of human sexual activity can range from kissing and references to ‘making love’ to detail of real sex. This is reflected in the classification system, in which progressively stronger portrayal is allowed as the categories rise. The BBFC Guidelines apply the same standards to homosexual as to heterosexual activity. It would be illegal under the Human Rights Act 1998 for the BBFC discriminate between depictions of heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

• Rockstar’s Manhunt was released on the Playstation 2 console format in November 2003. It was later passed for both Xbox and PC in 2004. It has been the focus of much controversial reporting in the National Press and other media since it was discussed and linked to a British murder case in 2004. • The game is TPP (third person prospective) and tracks a convicted man hunted by vicious street gangs and forced to go on a killing and fighting spree. • When evaluating the game, BBFC examiners took into account several factors, including that it has a very well defined mission structure: any attempt to stray off the mission results in the player’s likely death, and a frustrating return to the beginning of the level. This keeps the player constantly aware that they are acting within the confines of a game, and the stop-start effect helps to distance them from the intense action on the game console.

In 2004 the game was mentioned as a factor in the murder of a 14 year-old in Leicestershire. The murderer was said to be ‘obsessed’ with the game in a series of speculations as to his motives. In the resultant media coverage some papers called for the game to be banned and Dixons and Game withdrew copies from their shelves. Other retailers such as HMV reported an increase in sales.

Rockstar issued a statement which extended sympathy to the murder victim’s family but rejected any suggestion or association between the crime and the sale of the game, adding: There is a clear certification structure in place and Manhunt was clearly classified as ‘18’ by the British Board of Film Classification and should not be in the possession of a juvenile. Rockstar Games is a leading publisher of interactive entertainment geared towards mature audiences and markets its games responsibly, targeting advertising and marketing only to adult consumers ages 18 and older. Rockstar Games submits every game for certification to the British Board of Film Certification and clearly marks the game with the BBFC-approved rating.

At the beginning of August 2004, the police reported that the murder was a robbery rather than being related to the game and confirmed that a copy of the game was found in the victim’s bedroom rather than in the murderer’s possession.

Spider-man was the first film to be awarded the 12a certificate after complaints that the original ‘12’ certificate was deemed too mild. 12a however, does not apply to video releases thus causing debate over media regulations and censorship in the home.


‘Videos are more easily accessible in the home by young children who could be considered to be impressionable. In 1994 the Video Recordings Act adapted to include the ‘Harm Test’ after it was said that the murderers of Jamie Bulger in 1993 watched a horror film (Childs Play3) and ‘copied’ parts. Whether this is true or not, one must consider whether we can in factbe ‘harmed’ by something we watch, or are we sensible enough to make a distinctionbetween fiction and reality’

• The Bobo Doll Experiment was performed in 1961 by Albert Bandura, to try and add credence to his belief that all human behaviour was learned, through social imitation and copying, rather than inherited through genetic factors Read more:


Reference group theory and delinquency by Robert E. Clark. (1972)
Is the theory that individuals look to groups for reference on how to behave socially.

• Do you think that audiences are passive when watching films? • Do you think that audiences imitate and look at media as a reference and can have an impact on how we behave?

Media effects theory
• Effects theory was developed in the 1920′s, and looks at how media texts influence those who consume them, particularly (in recent decades) how negative messages, i.e. sexual and violent content, can affect the most vulnerable of audience groups. You will have come across the ‘Hypodermic Needle’ model (or ‘Silver Bullet’ approach), where the audience is seen as passive – “empty vessels” who play no role in interacting with the media texts concerned. The theory states that these texts function in a one-directional communication process. • In recent decades theorists have noted many problems with Effects theory (a discussion of “Ten Things Wrong with the Effects Model” is available on the website: Many feel it is out of date and that it vastly underestimates the audiences, and this has led to the development of more complex theories about active audience participation in the reading of media texts.

Arguments for and against regulation
• • • • • • When talking about BBFC and arguments for and against regulation it boils down to the following: BBFC is a statutory body with legal duties like Ofcom, however the BBFC is self regulating but Ofcom is regulated by government, so there is an inconsistency. Whether you agree with self regulation or state regulation comes down to the following two debates. Hyperdermic needle vs. uses and gratification and how you view audience consumption. The effects debate- whether you think on-screen violence has any effect, which would mean you want consistent regulation through a government agency. If you disagree with the need for more regulation you would use David Gauntletts arguments for what is wrong with the effects model. More importantly you need to mention the criticisms with the media effects debate, that this debate is as old as television and film, and one of the problems is it focuses on the effects of television and not any other media. The effects on children and on individuals rather than groups, cultures or institutions. One of the main problems is the research is based on the media’s perceived influence of children and not the general population.

Problems against hypodermic needle and in favour of two step flow model
• Lazarsfeld disproved the "Hypodermic Needle Model Theory" through elections studies in "The People's Choice" (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, Gaudet 1944/1968). Lazarsfeld and colleagues studied voting behaviour and found the majority of the public remained unfazed by propaganda surrounding Roosevelt's campaign. Instead, interpersonal outlets proved more influential than the media. Therefore, Lazarsfeld concluded that the effects of the campaign were not all powerful to the point where they completely persuaded which was against hypodermic theory of injecting ideas.

Lazarsfeld introduced the two step flow model and other communication theories suggest that the media does not directly have an influence on viewers anymore. Instead, interpersonal connections and even selective exposure play a larger role in influencing the public in the modern age (Severin, Tankard 1979).

Problems with Media Effects.
• In Moving Experiences (2005) • David Gauntlett argues:
– The effects model tackles social problems backwards. – The effects model treats children as inadequate. – Assumptions within the effects model are characterised by barely-concealed conservative ideology.

Problems arguments against
– The effects model inadequately defines its own objects of study. – The effects model is often based on artificial elements and assumptions within studies. – The effects model is often based on studies with misapplied methodology.

– The effects model is selective in its criticisms of media depictions of violence.

– The effects model assumes superiority to the masses. – The effects model makes no attempt to understand meanings of the media. – The effects model is not grounded in theory.
• Gauntlett, D., 2005. Moving Experiences. Eastleigh: John Libbey. pp 143-151.

• Censors often act in self-serving ways – political. • Effects model easy to demolish.
– i.e easy to see conservative ideology, highlighted by David Gauntlett.

• The popular media can start a news spiral that creates a ‘folk devil.’
– i.e Child’s Play 3, Crash, etc.

• Films, and increasingly videogames, are still being blamed for violence in society:
– Virginia Tech shootings – April 16th 2007. – Student Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 fellow students, and himself.

– He sent a video and photographs of himself threatening the massacre to NBC news, the previous day.
– Some newspapers blamed the film OldBoy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003). vtech-shooting-oldboy-cho200407.html

• The movie was titled "Natural Born Killers" and its director was Academy Award-winner Oliver Stone. Its release in 1994 inspired a young couple from Oklahoma to set out on what they planned to be a killing spree that left one person dead and another paralyzed from the neck down.

Video Recordings Act state that we must pay special regard to the effects of works that may cause ‘harm to society through the behaviour of those who are exposed to them’.

However, the BBFC’s steady liberalisation since the late 1990s, and the creation of Ofcom has led to more emphasis on ‘self-regulation.’ Regulation should now be in the hands of the individuals/parents, not institutions. Contradiction? Due to the relatively unregulated internet?

The future of film and television
• BBFC’s research has found that audiences are concerned about violence and drug-taking, rather than sex. (NOTE: BBFC Guidelines for sex on a ‘15’ certificate, allow ‘strong verbal references to sexual behaviour’) • Now, more films being passed at ’18’ certificate featuring explicit sexual scenes.

• Ai No Corrida (Oshima, 1976) suddenly passed at ’18’ video in the

was certificate for late 90s.

• The Pornographer (Bonello, 2001) was passed at ’18’ certificate, but a 6-second scene of ejaculation was cut. • Academic and anti-censorship campaigner, Linda Williams (University of Southampton) argued that this was ridiculous.

• A few years later, 9 Songs (Winterbottom, 2005) was passed at ’18’ uncut for cinema and video exhibition.

• In 2007, Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell) was released uncut on DVD in the UK. • The film contains some of the most sexually explicit content ever seen, and was notable for its graphic depiction of heterosexual and homosexual sex.

• So, what happens online, impacts what other content providers do – it’s all connected.
– Channel 4 plan to ‘test’ Ofcom’s power by showing the filmprobably on its More4 digital channel. – This will hugely impact upon television censorship. – Adult digital channels will probably feel that they can show more ‘hardcore’ material – only currently available at ‘R18’ certificates from licensed premises.

• The latest dispute involves the threat of the NC-17 rating – which is considered the kiss of death for box office prospects in the US because so many media outlets refuse to carry advertising for anything beyond an R rating. Through the appeals process Smith and his distributor, The Weinstein Company, reached a satisfactory compromise on that score, but not before several different trailers and the poster had been rejected. In the US, the original poster – in which Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks appeared fully clothed – has been replaced with stick figures and lots of text. As Smith is the first to admit, at least it’s an appropriate indication of his rudimentary visuals and dialogueheavy style. Even now, cinemas in several states have refused to show the film simply on the strength of its title. (Here the BBFC has given the film an 18 rating.)

Thoughts and opinions?

TASK: research the BBFC website – QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER……
• So, can the BBFC survive, if content it deems unacceptable is available online? • Or, will regulation shift subtly towards information and education?

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