Censorship: High hopes that tide can be turned

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The Independent Online
Can Britain's new film censor make a real difference in what appears on Britain's screens, big and small? The Home Secretary obviously has high hopes that Andreas Whittam Smith can do something to stem the mounting tide of video violence.

His first crucial decision as president of the BBFC - a post he takes up on 1 January - will be to appoint a new director to replace the man who has effectively controlled film censorship in this country for the past two decades - American-born James Ferman.

Mr Ferman, 67, sparked a major controversy this year when he approved the highly controversial sadomasochistic film Crash. This film was later banned by some local authorities.

Councils still retain that prerogative and will continue to exercise it. "I want the board to be very in touch with local authorities," says Mr Whittam Smith.

He is certainly more relaxed about elected councils in this country having some say about what films get screened in their neighbourhoods than he is about Brussels bureaucrats taking over this task.

Although a Europhile, he firmly opposes calls for a pan European film and video classification system.

"I see this as a perfect example of an area in which the principle of subsidiarity should favour regulation by individual countries rather than EU institutions," he says.

Britain's new film censor is certainly aware of the fundamental challenges the communications revolution is throwing up for film censors worldwide. Having founded an electronic publishing company called Notting Hill Media with his eldest son Ben, he has a lot of hands-on experience in this area and plans to bring it to bear in his new role.

In Andreas Whittam Smith's own words, he "won't be asleep at the switch".