I've been in the job of Director of the British Board of Film Classification for ten years now, and I still sometimes see some confusion about what the 12A certificate means...though less than there once was. In fact, we consulted the public in 2002 about whether, for cinema releases, they wanted a rigid 12 or a more flexible 12A, and they clearly preferred the latter. The 12A certificate means these things. A 12A film is not in our view generally suitable for under 12s. But we recognise that parents know their own children best and want some flexibility. So under 12s may go to a 12A if accompanied by an adult. But the quid pro quo is that accompanying adults need to be responsible in making these viewing choices on behalf of children. We strongly recommend that they consult first the world class short and long form content information ("BBFCinsight") which we provide to flag any relevant issues in the film. Many parents do indeed discuss this information with their children - which is great. OK, let me unpack this summary, using Jurassic World as my main example.
I've written previously about the ethics of the BBFC's Classification Guidelines and the importance of public trust in our Classification decisions. In general the public agree with BBFC age ratings. At the last review of the Guidelines in 2013, we spoke to more than 10,000 members of the public from across the UK, and 92% agreed with the classification of films and videos they had seen recently. But it's not always the rating itself the public takes issue with. How it is used is also an area for debate.
In the past fortnight we've seen the film Jurassic World break box office records around the globe. Classified 12A in the UK, we recommend the film as suitable for children aged 12 or older. We recognise however that children mature at different rates and that parents know their children far better than anyone else. The 'A' part of the 12A means that a parent may take a younger child to see the film if they think it's suitable. To help parents make that decision, we provide advice on the content of the film called BBFCinsight. We provide both short BBFCinsight, and longer more detailed BBFCinsight, making clear the key classification issues in the film and any particular sequences parents may wish to consider before taking their child to see the film. We provide this at all the categories, even at 18, however it works hardest at the advisory level.
The short BBFCinsight for Jurassic World states: 'moderate threat, occasional bloody moments, action violence'; an indicator of the type of content viewers can expect. More detail can be found in the long BBFCinsight for Jurassic World, freely available on our website and free Apps.
Films at 12A can contain a wide variety of issues, which in turn reflects what many child experts, parents and the media say about children at the pre-teen age; their interests, personalities, likes and dislikes; are extremely varied at this point on the way to adulthood.
It is typical for rating boards in numerous countries to use advisory ratings at the lower end of the classification system and restrictive ratings at the higher end. In between there is often choice or flexibility. For example in the US there is the PG-13, and in Australia there is the M rating, which suggests suitability of teenagers 15 and over, though under-15s may legally access the content with parental permission.
We introduced the 12A rating following public consultation in 2002. We asked parents if they would like a restrictive 12 rating for cinema releases, or a more flexible 12A. Parents opted for the latter. However, for an advisory rating to work parents and other responsible adults must take responsibility for ensuring the content is suitable for their child.
Last year, on the 12th anniversary of the 12A rating, we created an advertisement for cinemas reminding parents about the meaning of 12A and the availability of BBFCinsight. The advertisement played in cinemas for three months, thanks to support from Pearl & Dean in giving the air time free of charge to a not-for-profit regulator. We continue to make the advert available online on our website and promote it via our public email newsletters, podcasts and twitter correspondence.
Ultimately, our goal is to see a rise in the level of understanding around 12A. At the review of the Guidelines in 2013, we asked specifically about the meaning of the rating, and 75% could accurately relate what 12A means.
Turning back to Jurassic World, we see an example of a film, based on our research and Guidelines, that is likely to be suited to those aged 12 or older, particularly 12-14 year olds. It is therefore not entirely surprising to read some feedback about 5, 6 and 7 year old children being frightened by the film. It is worth noting that the PG certificate is generally suitable for children aged 8 and older, and we offer this guidance on our website. Therefore younger children accessing a 12A film and being upset is not surprising, though other kinds of questions about suitability come into play if the issues at 12A are language or sex references.
Some have asked whether a lower age limit should be applied to the 12A. I think this is unlikely to be helpful. It goes against the choice for flexibility parents asked us to give them.
What Jurassic World shows is a film firmly at the 12A level, not close to the 15 borderline, but which contains sequences and action a younger child is likely to find frightening. We make this information known and it is ultimately the choice of the parent to ensure their child views content that suits them. Our job is to help parents make that choice.