Censor Tells Straw: You're Pandering to the Puritans

Article excerpt

Byline: SEAN POULTER

THE chief film censor has launched an astonishing attack on Jack Straw, accusing him of 'playing to the puritanical vote'.

James Ferman, director of the British Board of Film Classification, claimed the Home Secretary was guilty of 'shooting from the hip'.

He said Mr Straw refused to listen to him and attacked the Minister for trying to stop the board from liberalising the rules on the content of sex shop videos.

The move brought an immediate rebuke from Home Office sources, who described Mr Ferman's views as 'cranky'.

The row between Mr Straw and the BBFC chief was sparked by the latter's decision to relax the rules on sex shop videos - which have an R18 category without consulting the Government.

The move pushed back the boundaries of what is legally available in Britain further than ever before by allowing graphic close-ups of the sex act.

Mr Ferman claimed he was forced to adopt a more liberal attitude on censorship by the Government's decision to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

European Court rules are that material may only be banned on the grounds that it is harmful, rather than disgusting, distasteful or offensive, Mr Ferman said.

He said the Home Secretary was wrong to condemn his decision, adding: 'We will win our argument but we have got to get him to listen first and he is not a man who is very ready to listen.' Mr Ferman went on: 'I think he shoots from the hip. He gets all his evidence from the Daily Mail. I don't think they are a puritanical Government, but they are

playing to the puritanical vote at the moment.' He said it was wrong that Britain should take a stronger line on censorship than other countries, claiming: 'Every film on which there has been a fuss in Britain in recent years has been shown all over the world without any fuss at all.' His outburst is the latest development in a feud which saw Mr Straw recently install Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of of the Independent, as president of the BBFC with the specific role of challenging Mr Fer-man's management style and decisions. …