13/01/2014 05:29 GMT | Updated 14/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Maintaining Public Trust in Film Classification

Public trust is crucial to an organisation such as the BBFC. It is vital that the public - parents in particular - trust that the classification decisions we make reflect their own sensibilities. If for example, we were to classify depictions of strong, unsimulated sex as suitable for all, or restrict mild language to older teens or adults only, the public would soon start to lose confidence in, and so ignore, the BBFC's classifications.

We therefore go to great lengths to ensure that our decisions are in tune with society's concerns.

Today, we publish our new Classification Guidelines. These describe the sort of content we will classify - and occasionally refuse to classify - from U to R18. They are the fourth iteration of our guidelines since 2000 and will set our classification standards to 2018.

These and previous guidelines are the result of extensive public consultation. This most recent consultation involved over 10,000 members of the public. It began in December 2012 when we sent hundreds of films and videos to households across the UK and asked people (including for the first time, teenagers as well as their parents) for their views on the classification of this material. The research continued through the spring of 2013 when we ran focus groups in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to look at how the public thinks we should deal with specific issues, such as sex, violence and language in films and videos. Over the summer we then invited several thousand members of the public to complete questionnaires about classification generally and about 60 specific films and videos, including some of the most controversial films over the past four years, such as The Woman in Black and Black Swan.

We also publish the results of this consultation today. Here are some of the key headlines.

First, people are accessing media content in more ways than ever before. On mobile devices as well as cinema screens. In their bedrooms or on the move as well as in the living room. The BBFC and much of the home entertainment industry has already responded to this change by providing age ratings, on a voluntary basis, for film and video content being distributed online, a move welcomed by parents.

Second, the public continues to want film and video classification: 89% of film viewers consider classification important; and 95% of parents with children under 15 usually check the BBFC classification before watching a film. Even 76% of teenagers - many of whom are at times frustrated by not being able to watch certain content because of our age ratings - consider classification to be important.

Furthermore, most of those who took part in the research believe we are effective at using classification to protect children from unsuitable content. 76% of film viewers and 84% of parents with children aged 6-15 rate us as effective, while 92% of film viewers agreed with the classification of films and videos they had seen recently. Even the most complained about film of the past four years - The Woman in Black - received 89% support for its 12A rating. Only 11% thought it should have received a higher rating.

Third, film and video content can be a source of worry for those with responsibility for children. Parents are concerned about risks to vulnerable adolescents including self-harm, suicide, drug misuse and premature access to sexual content, including what some describe as the normalisation in films and videos of behaviours which parents consider inappropriate. Both parents and the BBFC already give weight to these issues, but under our new Classification Guidelines we will give them even greater attention.

On some specific points:

• We will give even greater weight to the theme and tone of a film or video, particularly around the 12A/12 and 15 level;

• We will particularly take into account the psychological impact of horror as well as strong visual detail, such as gore.;

• in relation to sexual content, the public is particularly concerned about the sexualisation of girls and pornography. The content of music videos and the ease of accessibility of online porn are special worries;

• on language, the public urged us to be both stricter with the sort of language we allow at U and more flexible about allowing very strong language at 15, stressing that context, not just frequency, is the most important factor in how they perceive language in films.

Fourth and finally, there is still room for improvement as there always is even for trusted and effective organisations such as the BBFC. Although it is 12 years old this year, the 12A rating remains confusing for a significant minority. Up to 27% of consumers could not describe accurately what 12A means. We and the film industry will work during 2014 to improve understanding of this very important rating. Consumers also asked us to make BBFC insight easier to read, and many were unaware of this service, which describes in a few sentences the key classification issues in individual films to help parents in particular make fully informed decisions about what they and their families will watch. We will make the changes the public requested and work to improve awareness of insight.

We believe that this sort of public consultation is crucial to continued public trust in what we do. Our new Classification Guidelines reflect explicitly concerns raised by the public during the 2013 consultation and will, I believe, ensure that we continue to be in step with what the public wants and expects in order to make sensible and informed viewing decisions.