Responsible parenting is the answer to obscene material

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The Independent Online

It is difficult, not to say unusual, for censors to get it right. There is a tendency toward arbitrary or personal judgements, as when Yossarian, briefly allocated to censorship duties in Catch-22, used his black pen to unspring the rhythms in the prose of airmen's wartime letters home.

It is difficult, not to say unusual, for censors to get it right. There is a tendency toward arbitrary or personal judgements, as when Yossarian, briefly allocated to censorship duties in Catch-22, used his black pen to unspring the rhythms in the prose of airmen's wartime letters home.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is to be congratulated, therefore, on its new guidelines, which move boldly in the right direction, namely, that children should be more strictly protected, while adults should be given more freedom to decide for themselves.

The issue of censorship is often at the heart of deep conflicts over values. In the past, Britain was torn between those who wanted to turn the clock back to 1963, when sexual intercourse was invented, and the harbingers of the permissive era. More recently, censorship was one of the battlegrounds on which feminism has fought its battles over the portrayal of women.

The board recognises the difficulty of the "12" classification, in particular, and wonders whether it should be made advisory. It already is, in effect, but it should be retained so that there is a zone of relatively harmless material that retains the allure of the forbidden for precocious pre-teens.

Andreas Whittam Smith, the BBFC's chairman and a founder of this newspaper, should be praised for the thoroughness of the consultation exercise that allows him to say with some authority: "I believe the new guidelines represent the views of the vast majority of the people in this country."

But the question of protecting children remains difficult and is about to become several degrees harder. It is not films, so much as videos and digital images that are the problem. Video recording, digital TV and the internet mean that Mr Whittam Smith cannot be one of a small number of sentries at the entry points to mass culture, namely cinema foyers and the five pre-watershed mass television channels.

The BBFC's role is bound to shift from censorship to the provision of consumer information in order that adults may make sensible judgements for themselves and their children. Responsible parenting is the best defence against the possible damage caused by portrayals of mindless violence or instrumental sex. Poor parenting is a wider problem, beyond the remit of Mr Whittam Smith, to which we as a society should now turn.

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