Judges of Movie Morality . . . but You Are Not Allowed to Know about Them; AS SICKENING SEX-AND-WRECKS MOVIE GETS THE GO-AHEAD, FOCUS ON THE `ORDINARY PEOPLE' BEHIND AN EXTRAORDINARY DECISION

Daily Mail (London), December 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Judges of Movie Morality . . . but You Are Not Allowed to Know about Them; AS SICKENING SEX-AND-WRECKS MOVIE GETS THE GO-AHEAD, FOCUS ON THE `ORDINARY PEOPLE' BEHIND AN EXTRAORDINARY DECISION


Byline: SEAN POULTER;JASON BURT

THE 13 examiners of the British Board of Film Classification are supposed to be `ordinary people' who `accurately reflect the moral climate and judgment of the nation'.

Yet the public is allowed to know virtually nothing about the censors who decide what it can and cannot see in cinemas. Their backgrounds and qualifications are all kept secret.

The BBFC will disclose only their names. And although it released a list of former occupations, it refused to say which examiner used to do which job.

The board insists it is under no obligation to say anything else about its censors - who earn between [pounds sterling]22,000 and [pounds sterling]30,000 for appointments which last a maximum of five years - because it is a private company.

Director James Ferman has said: `I don't want the examiners scrutinised, that's what I get paid for. They may be involved in the public arena, but they do not set standards, they implement guidelines laid down by us, the management. I carry the can.'

Critics say the panel is almost entirely Mr Ferman's own creation after a major purge some two years ago, which followed a number of controversial decisions.

The newcomers were recruited through newspaper situations-vacant columns, in advertisements requiring them to have `direct experience of parenting or a knowledge of child development, a lively and informed interest in current affairs and an understanding and love of film'.

It was also suggested that applicants `may also have relevant work experience in such fields as the law, teaching, the magistracy, social welfare, psychology, research, public relations or leisure software'.

The new intake - Janet Burgis, David Cotson, Deborah Courtnell, Rosalind Hodgkiss, Imtiaz Karim, Ferdinand Lau, Rebecca Mackay, Graham Meaghan, Michael Vizard and Gianni Zamo - were among more than 1,000 applicants.

The list was whittled down to 30, who were called in to the BBFC for a test which involved viewing three films and videos.

They joined the three survivors of the purge, headed by Richard Falcon PhD, a bachelor in his 40s, who taught film studies at the Centre for Extra Mural Studies at Birkbeck College in London. He has also written a book on censorship.

Mr Falcon, a liberal, is known to have criticised a decision not to allow the horror film The Exorcist a video release. He also complained that cuts in the children's film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were too severe.

The two others who escaped the purge were Sylvia Denham, a 43-year-old mother of two young children, a translator by profession and a former member of the Hongkong censor board, and Maria Moustaka, 44-year-old theatre director from North London.

More than half of the reconstituted panel come from a public sector background - there are two teachers, a lecturer, two probation officers, a social worker, a clinical psychologist and a television regulator.

The others are a theatre director, a marketing manager, a journalist, an audio-visual production manager and a Parliamentary assistant.

Several of the group are members of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance trade union. Their ages range from early 30s to 57.

Despite the evidence of their occupations, Mr Ferman insists they are from a wide social background.

`We don't want them all to be the same,' he said. `We want a range of backgrounds, people who can understand film and analyse what is required.

`We want people who notice everything, anything that is problematic in terms of plot, images or four-letter words. They must be able to describe what is and isn't acceptable and how it might be taken out.

`They also must be able to relate issues in films to issues in society, for example films which might glamorise handguns and combat knives.'

The BBFC is a private company, managed by film industry executives, which draws its income from a levy on companies wanting to screen movies. …

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