Cracks in the fabric of society: Censors say jail will deter illegal traders: Video classification

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The Independent Online
FILM censors who classify videos for home viewing yesterday urged the Government to use exemplary jail sentences to deter unscrupulous traders who sell material to under-age customers, writes Ian MacKinnon.

Identity cards, dubbed 'school cards', to be issued compulsorily at the age of 10, would make the task easier for reputable retailers and could be used for other age- regulated activities such as cinema-going or buying alcohol and cigarettes, the British Board of Film Classification's director, James Ferman, said.

But he told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on the link between video nasties and violent behaviour that the education of parents and their control over their children's viewing habits was just as vital. To assist in the process, the board was planning the launch this autumn of a system to advise parents of the material contained on videos, such as strong language, nudity and violence.

It also emerged that in formulating a new amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill before the Lords, the board had persuaded Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to include the illegal use of drugs as one of the tests that censors should specifically look for when classifying films. Under the amendment, retailers who supply adult films to under-age customers could face jail terms of up to six-months and a maximum pounds 5,000 fine under the proposals, or two years in jail and unlimited fines for those who provide unclassified videos to anyone.

But, despite this tightening of legislation, Mr Ferman told the committee that heavy jail terms could be used to make an example of those who broke the law.

He went on to outline to the one-day hearing, how a recent Court of Appeal ruling in favour of a London borough trading standards department which used a child as an agent provocateur to buy a classified video, would help to catch errant retailers and lead to an increase in prosecutions.

However, repeatedly questioned by the MPs as to whether any causal link had been proven between violent behaviour and the material in video films, Mr Ferman said that no study had established one.

Professor Elizabeth Newson, head of the child development unit at Nottingham University, and an NSPCC Director, agreed there was a need for much better targeted research into the subject. But she said yesterday she believed there was 'a sufficient causal link'.

(Photograph omitted)