Netflix Help Keep The BBFC Relevant – And This Is Nothing To Applaud


Dodgy research and a lust for glory hands more power to Britain’s film censors.

The British Board of Film Censors Classification are in a constant struggle to stay relevant and neede these days, as the way we view films shifts continually. After all, that fancy building in Soho Square won’t pay for itself. They were struck a major blow recently when their lucrative contract to censor the internet was abandoned by the government, and despite much-vaunted moves to award age ratings to music videos and such on YouTube, that too seems to have fizzled out somewhat. So the news that Netflix have agreed to use BBFC ratings on all their product available in the UK must have come as a great relief.

Netflix are merely licensing the BBFC ratings (at a guess, not including R18), which they’ll use algorythms to apply to content – the BBFC themselves won’t be involved, which means, presumably, that everything will simply be rated, rather than cut or banned (though we can assume that for anything that has played theatrically or been previously released on disc, the BBFC approved version will be the one used, and there is no assurance that the censors won’t step in to seize control at some later date). The system will use the new, simplified (some might say simpleton-friendly) versions of the BBFC ratings, designed to be easier to see online, and to hell with the aesthetic affect on home video sleeves.

It might be churlish to complain about simple age ratings being added to Netflix releases, though it does feel like the thin end of the wedge – we have, after all, had TV broadcasts for nearly a century without the need for official age ratings being applied to programming. And where Netflix leads, others will follow – and not necessarily by choice. Anything that normalises internet censorship should be resisted.

But it’s a victory for the BBFC and their campaign of fear against unrated material. In one of their many, many dubious research studies, this time a questionaire of 3000 parents and children (so, as with most BBFC studies, less a scientific study and more an opinion poll), it was noted that many children saw “distressing content” each week and some even felt it affected their mental health. As ever, this is a triumph for the BBFC spin doctors and an indictment of our lazy media, who accept the headlines without question. If we were to dig behind the press releases, we might firstly ask what the questions in the questionnaire were, and who defines “distressing content” (which is, after all, a long way from harmful content), and where they saw it – was it on Netflix, or elsewhere? While the press are happy to print shocking headlines like “children say that their mental health is affected by the internet”, let’s note that it’s one in twenty making that dubious (i.e. entirely unproven and not backed by medical diagnosis) claim – but a headline saying “19.5% of children unaffected by anything they see online” is a lot less sensational.

We should resist the BBFC’s mission creep, and always question their iffy research, often based on asking leading questions to not very media savvy parents. Netflix, Amazon Prime and others are perfectly capable of using their own age rating systems if they felt it was necessary – let’s not give our state entertainment censors more power voluntarily.