Censorship: A man to open the film board's doors

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The Independent Online
The difficulties faced by those who are entrusted with the nation's viewing are legion and their decisions have often caused outrage in the past.

Concern about the secretive way the board reached its decisions reached its height earlier this year when the "sex and wrecks" film Crash was given an 18 certificate without cuts. This increased pressure on the Government to make the board more accountable in its dealings.

Lord Birkett, a former film director and one of the board's two vice- presidents, was the original choice for president - following the resignation of Lord Harewood - but Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, intervened after discovering the guidelines covering the classification of sex videos had been unilaterally relaxed by the BBFC's director James Ferman.

Mr Straw wrote to the board condemning their decision and wanting to know why the two vice-presidents had not informed him.When the time came to replace Lord Harewood, Mr Straw used his power of veto. The appointment is theoretically the gift of the Home Secretary but he normally accepts the board's nomination.

He wanted a less Establishment figure and saw the opportunity to push through a reorganisation of the system. For this he needed a strong candidate who would open up the affairs of the BBFC and bring the rest of the board into line.

Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of The Independent, was finally chosen as the man for the job. Although a Europhile, he firmly opposes calls for a pan-European film and video classification system and is aware of the fundamental challenges the communications revolution is throwing up for film censors world-wide.

Having founded an electronic publishing company he has a lot of hands on experience in this area and plans to bring it to his new role.

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