Right of Reply: James Ferman

The former director of the British Board of Film Classification replies to a recent article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown headlined `Sex, politics and censorship'
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The Independent Culture
YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN appears to assume that film censors never submit themselves to "serious debate on what `good' and necessary censorship ought to be". But members of the BBFC have such debates formally every week, with every decision having to be justified before the toughest critics they are ever likely to encounter: their own colleagues.

Far from being "glib", examiners must learn that, in this field, there are no easy answers. Arguments must be weighed, and every reasonable point of view likely to be put by the public must first be canvassed within the board itself.

There is no room for "libertarians" at the BBFC, since freedom must always be balanced with responsibility. Above all, there is the duty to prevent harm to potential viewers, especially children, as well as harm by such viewers through antisocial influence. The BBFC reserves the right to impose cuts on adult material where harm is likely, but it prefers to restrict access through classification.

My liberal reputation derives from my belief that, by restricting pornography to those adults who knowingly choose to patronise licensed sex shops, we can justify more sexual explicitness than hitherto. But I would always censor the link between sex and violence. Where media access is more widely available, we must be even more censorious. "Page three girls", which arrive on far too many breakfast tables, are in my view a prime example, since they have probably done more to coarsen and cheapen the tastes of growing boys than the availability to adults of video pornography. Freedom for masculine tastes should not involve abridging the freedom of teenage girls.

Ms Alibhai-Brown quotes the US President Thomas Jefferson. I would instead quote his successor, James Madison: "If men were angels, there would be no need of government." And no need of censorship, either.