Sex scenes could slip past movie censors if BBFC cut staff, says union

© Reuters
Children could soon be exposed to films containing strong sexual references or extreme violence, the censors’ union warned after the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) decided to axe its five experienced examiners.

The body responsible for classifying all cinema and DVD releases in Britain will replace its current staff with what the censors’ union Unite dubbed “cheaper” but “less experienced” compliance officers. The consequences of the move could have serious child protection implications, the union warned.

“It has always been my impression that the BBFC has maintained the trust of the public, particularly in relation to its child protection responsibilities, through the recruitment of mature and experienced individuals who have come from a variety of backgrounds, both personal and professional,” said Len McCluskey, the union’s general secretary.

“It seems to me that to replace those individuals with young, inexperienced, graduates is both unfortunate in terms of the BBFC’s public persona, and, quite possibly, a case of age discrimination.”

McCluskey has reportedly written to BBFC boss Patrick Swaffer, urging the authority to reconsider the redundancies, especially as it is now responsible for enforcing the government’s new rules on online pornography.

The union believes the BBFC’s former financial woes are no longer a valid reason for the mass dismissals, as recent accounts show a growing surplus of more than £1.2 million. Turnover has also risen by 2 percent.

“I do not believe the public’s trust, and especially that of many parents, will be enhanced by the knowledge that the BBFC is willing to lose the few examiners who view material on a day-to-day basis who are themselves parents, a status that brings an unimpeachable knowledge and understanding of child development,” McCluskey added.

The BBFC are known to have frequently recruited older staff for the examining department due to their more considerable work experience. Many were also hired on the basis of their professional background in child development.

Examiners are being given the option to voluntarily leave the group or be re-employed as a compliance officer. However, the change would mean a reduction in status and a £20,000 cut to their annual salary.

“You can’t put a price on protecting children and young people from the tidal wave of sexually explicit and very violent films and videos that are available,” said Rose Keeping, the union’s regional officer.

“With less inexperienced examiners, there is an increased possibility that an unacceptable sex scene and/or one of extreme violence sneaking past the censors’ net – this would be detrimental to the promotion of child protection that the government is actively supporting.”

The BBFC told RT it is currently consulting with Unite on the "reorganization" of its compliance and examination department. It reassured viewers that the standards of children's protection would not be affected, but no further comment would be issued as "the BBFC must respect the privacy of the ongoing formal consultation process."