Leading Article: The new censor is there for everyone, and we need him

Share
Related Topics
Before we congratulate our founding editor on his appointment as the nation's chief censor, we should pause to ask what the British Board of Film Classification is actually for. Its title and constitution, as a body set up by the film industry, but with quasi-judicial powers, have a fustiness about them. And sometimes the very idea of censorship can seem somewhat antique.

Most adults will associate the board with the adolescent naughtiness of trying to get into X-rated pictures. For some it might recall the pervasive and sometimes irrational wartime censorship parodied in Catch-22, when Yossarian got the job of blacking out words and phrases in airmen's letters home and spent a whole day unspringing the rhythms in them.

Nowadays censorship seems at once a more serious and a more hopeless task. The range, depravity and accessibility of what is portrayed in moving images, with sound attached (sometimes rather unconvincingly), is indeed alarming. But we should not be too impressed by the vivid tableau, often painted, of the rickety defences of civilised values being swept away by a tide of unstoppable filth, much of it foreign. Satellite broadcasting and the Internet certainly pose new and difficult questions of cross-border policing. But the implied choice thus presented, that we should either abandon censorship or adopt a repressive policy of national autarky, is a false one. Just because break-ins occur, there is no reason to legalise burglary or shoot all burglars.

The only sensible policy is to engage in the argument: to establish clear rules and guidelines, accept that some dirty water will find its way past the defences and to attend always to the causes of things rather than to superficial phenomena. This last is perhaps the most important. We must move the debate on from the pointless attempts to "prove" that screen violence causes real violence. Apparently a Home Office study to be published next month will "demonstrate" a link between violent films and the behaviour of young offenders. Of course there is a link. Not in the simple sense that Dustin Hoffman suggested last year, when he asked if there was a connection between Hollywood's products and the massacres in Dunblane and Tasmania. Sick people will do sick things regardless of whether they have seen The Terminator. But the forms their madness takes will always be shaped by something, be it popular culture, religious visions or media reporting of the actions of other sick people.

Censorship cannot be decided on the basis of what might send deranged people over the brink, but rather as a kind of collective agreement that enables a society to rub along together. It needs to reinforce the rules we set for acceptable behaviour, while allowing the expression and understanding of irregular behaviour. Young offenders may choose to watch films which suggest to them that violence is a good way of resolving disputes or asserting identity. But they will only act on those assumptions if there are no countervailing forces in their families or social groups.

Film-makers and censors need to worry, then, about violence with no moral context, or presented as a source of sexual pleasure. Difficult judgements have to be made, particularly about artistic exploration of the darker side of the human character, but just because they are difficult does not mean they should not be attempted.

Sex, on the whole, should worry the censors less. It too needs to be seen in the context of social rules which enable us to co-exist in mutual respect. If people want to play voyeur on filmed acts of consensual sex, few of us can think of any good reason for preventing them. The only argument against pornography (minus violence) is the continuing concern about the portrayal of women. But that is a matter for social concern, not legal repression.

For these reasons, the system of age certification is a good one. It helps to manage the transition of responsibility from society as a whole to the parent. The primary responsibility for ensuring that children understand and learn from what they watch lies with parents or guardians, and the system provides a useful guide to what sort of thing to expect.

Most importantly, the censors should be confident that they can account for their decisions, because all they are doing is acting as our proxies. One reason for welcoming Andreas Whittam Smith's appointment is that the BBFC has undermined the case for censorship by a series of inconsistent and mistaken rulings in recent years. Jack Straw was right to break the convention that Home Secretaries will rubber-stamp an appointment decided on the basis of Buggin's Turn, and for using his power of veto to install a new broom. We hope and expect that this new broom will bring a coherence and a credibility to the regulation of public taste.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would tackle our looming dementia crisis

Susan Greenfield
 

Letters: NHS data-sharing is good for patients

Independent Voices
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee