Censors tighten rules on sex videos

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BRITAIN'S FILM censors are toughening their code against hardcore pornography to stop explicit sex videos gaining classification for sale to the public.

The British Board of Film Classification is worried that unless rules are hardened it could lose a forthcoming appeal by the pornography industry, opening the way for a flood of explicit videos.

The Video Appeal Committee, set up by the Home Office to address public concern over "video nasties" in the Eighties, will rule whether videos containing highly graphic scenes should be granted "R18" certificates later this month.

The committee overturned the board's ban on a video called Makin' Whoopee! last year and now the pornography industry has submitted seven more sample videos to end the confusion over the law.

To prevent the lifting of the ban, the board, headed by its new director, Robin Duval, has decided to toughen its legal case by arguing that under the Video Recording Act, the videos are "harmful". Previously the board has tried to defend the ban by claiming under obscenity laws that videos containing explicit scenes were "obscene". The board hopes its chances of winning the appeal will be greatly improved because of the difficulty of denying "harm" could be caused, particularly if children obtained copies of an "R18" classified video.

The BBFC's stance is backed by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, who has made clear he is opposed to any liberalisation of the law.

When publishing its ruling on Makin' Whoopee! last year, the Video Appeal Committee said: "It may offend or disgust but it is unlikely to deprave or corrupt that proportion of the public that is likely to view it."

The committee also cast doubt on the independence of the board from the Home Office. A confidential document, seen by The Independent, said: "The grounds for the appeal were that in the past, the BBFC had granted `R18' to similar works and had changed its standards following the intervention and instruction from the Home Office rather than making its own decisions."

Despite such accusations, a board insider said its president, Andreas Whittam Smith, and Mr Duval were "completely determined" to win the appeal. In February, within three weeks of being in the post, Mr Duval made a presentation to the Home Office on the implications for the board of the Makin' Whoopee! ruling.

According to another document seen by The Independent, Home Office officials "made it clear at the meeting they did not regard Makin' Whoopee! as an acceptable benchmark".

Mr Duval is known to oppose assessments by the board's previous director, James Ferman, that some hardcore pornography should be permitted, to create a legitimate alternative to black-market videos from the Continent and the US.

Another source said: "There has been a clear change of culture within the BBFC. But there is still a general feeling among others that none of these films are showing anything which would be harmful. It is pretty basic stuff."

A Home Office spokesman said the Video Appeal Committee was an independent body. "It would be inappropriate for Jack Straw to interfere in the committee's decision."