Chief censor quits film board to manage Church of England finances

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The Independent Online

Andreas Whittam Smith, the president of the British Board of Film Classification, is to step down from his post to take a senior job with the Church Of England.

Mr Whittam Smith, who was the founding editor of The Independent, led the board to change its attitude on film censorship. His guiding ethos during four years in charge at the board was that sex scenes could be more graphic for adult audiences, but violence – particularly with sexual overtones – must be more strictly curbed and children protected to a greater degree. He also led "roadshows" at which the public's views could be heard, and the board's decisions explained.

Mr Whittam Smith said yesterday: "The board is now seen as an open and accountable organisation with a set of guidelines which reflect current public opinions. That is not to say that the board is above criticism from some quarters. For example I recognise that not everyone yet shares my and the board's view that adults should be able to make their own viewing decisions."

He has been keen to make film classifications advisory rather than mandatory, in line with many European countries. A pilot scheme is looking at the possibility of making the "12" rating advisory as a first step. Such a move would allow parents to make decisions.

In 2000, the board revamped its guidelines to take account of public tastes. It also drew up new rules on hardcore sex films, rated R18, in response to a landmark legal ruling to allow more explicit material than before, including scenes of real rather than simulated sex, as long as films were sold by licensed premises.

Mr Whittam also set up a new panel at the board concerned specifically with the interests of children.

In his new role with the church he will chair the Church Commissioners Assets Committee, responsible for strategic management of the commissioners' £4bn investment portfolio. He said: "I see the role of the Church Commissioners as taking many financial problems away from archbishops, bishops and clergy, providing solutions and leaving them free to devote their full attention to their ministry."

Mr Whittam Smith succeeded Lord Harewood as the ninth president of the film board in December 1997. He declared three objectives: to promote consistency in classification; to encourage public openness; and to make sure the board was well informed about public opinion of its work. A spokeswoman for the board said: "The board's achievement since in meeting all three of these objectives is a tribute to his leadership."

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