How well does contemporary media regulation protect the public?
Contemporary media regulation, of both film and video games, serve to protect vulnerable audiences from content that both the BBFC and PEGI deem too explicit. However, it could be argued that with the rise of technology, it is becoming increasingly easier for audiences to go against the stated age rating and choose their own entertainment. For example, both films and video that have been refused a rating can be accessed through piracy, and children below the specified certificate can still play or watch whatever media they want through VOD and online gaming sites such as Steam. Nonetheless, this type of behaviour is actively done and therefore it could be argued that these people are choosing not to be protected by either BBFC or PEGI.
The BBFC is an independent, non governmental body who views films and aims to “protect the public, especially children, from content which might raise harm risks”, as stated by their website. The BBFC are submitted films which they then view and decide which age certificate to give the film, if it is deemed acceptable for public viewing. PEGI works in a similar matter and regulate video games across Europe and to help European parents make informed decisions on buying games. Both of these bodies serve to protect the public and advise who each film or video game is suitable for. Cinemas and retailers must abide by these certificates and cannot be made available if they do not have a BBFC or PEGI age rating. However, once out of the hands of a physical gatekeeper, there are no laws to protect younger audiences from watching DVDs or playing games that have been purchased. It then becomes down to the public to decide whether or not they want protecting; whether or not they abide to the certificate. Video on demand sites such as Netflix and iTunes also do not require and proof of identification, and therefore with a click of a button an audience member could easily lie about their age. This stands for video game download sites, and therefore there is little protection.
The Woman in Black’s age rating system was a successful means of the BBFC protecting audiences. For cinema screenings, it was given a 12A rating with cuts to make the music less tense and cuts to a scene in which the ghost of the ‘woman in black’ hangs herself from a noose, including sight and sound of her neck breaking. Without cuts, the film was deemed too psychologically threatening for the younger audiences and meant that the ratings helped to protect children better. The 12A rating poses issues towards the protection of under 12s, as if the parents deem this film acceptable for their younger children and are willing to accompany them to the screening, they are able to do so. This means that although this content posed some harm due to the recurring themes of ghosts and suicide, parent take the means of protecting children into their own hands and therefore the BBFC decision is no longer effective. Then, for retail release, the BBFC gave The Woman in Black a 15 certificate, as DVDs can be taken out of context when watched at home and harmful scenes can be watched over and over again. By adapting the age ratings based on the viewing platforms, the BBFC is able to better protect audiences as now anyone under the age of 15 will not be able to purchase the DVD. However, the protection of the BBFC certificate is limited once the DVD has been purchased. There are no laws to prevent anyone under the age of viewing The Woman in Black DVD if they are younger than 15 and therefore, if parents are not willing to protect their children, they can be exposed to the harmful content of the film. In this case, the BBFC’s protection becomes in effective if there is no physical gatekeeper.
The BBFC protects audiences as far as they wish to be protected. Hate Crime is a film which focuses on the terrorisation, mutilation, and abuse of members of a Jewish family. The film was refused a certificate as the BBFC thought it would risk potential harm even if only confined to an adult rating, due to the manner which the violence is “presented and aggravated by a racist incentive” as stated on the boards website. Without a certificate, the film cannot be shown in cinema or sold in stores, yet VOD websites such as Netflix are still able to show these films. This means that the BBFCs regulation does not protect audiences very well, as despite deeming Hate Crime too harmful for audiences of any age, they can still easily access the film on VOD sites. However, these websites tend to follow the BBFCs ruling so as to maintain a reputable appearance with audiences. Audiences are still able to avoid protection through the means of online piracy. Hate Crime will continue to exist as a film in other countries which means that it can be illegally pirated, meaning that the BBFC’s decision is not taken into consideration at all. The BBFC certificate will protect significantly less of public as piracy and illegal downloads become more normalised, but these audiences are choosing not to be protected and therefore may not cause concern in terms of regulation. Additionally, the power of the internet lies in the freedom that it gives the public and by attempting to protect audiences from content on the internet, the BBFC may cause public outrage.
People typically feel that they should have the freedom to choose their own entertainment, causing them to go against the protection of PEGIs certificate. Grand Theft Auto 5 is part of a series of games which, despite being given an 18 certificate, have been notoriously targeted towards teenage audiences. The game contains a mission named “By the book” which caused great controversy due to its graphic depictions of torture. The game also caused some upset due to the depictions of women. However, audiences may easily believe they have the maturity levels to handle content that is deemed too graphic by PEGI, and refuse the protection of the age certificate. Video games, such as GTA are purchased as gifts for younger players as it is not quite known how graphic and realistic these modern day video games can be, and therefore PEGI provides little protection as the age certificates are completely disregarded in many situations. In the past, video games used to be very basic, featuring only moving blocks or circles in an arcade like fashion. As the development of these games has happened very rapidly, it could be said that public perceptions of video games are dated and do not understand how realistic the settings and actions of the characters in Grand Theft Auto 5 are. Therefore, in order for PEGI to protect the public better, there may need to be a better universal understanding of the content in these games.
Occasionally, regulators do not handle content appropriately which results in harmful games being given a lower age certificate. This could be said for Hatred as despite being given an 18 certificate by PEGI, the video game caused a moral panic and demands were made for it to be removed from download. Steam, a popular online download site complied with these demands thus supporting the fact that PEGI may not be a very effective organisation in protecting the public. Hatred is a game which follows the protagonists “genocide crusade” against the human race. The main issue was that there was little context for the mass murdering sociopath which the audiences play as. It could be argued that by giving Hatred an 18 certificate, PEGI serves to protect the public. This is due to the uses and gratifications media effects theory, as this graphic video game will allow players to act out their violent impulses, rather than being violent in real life. Therefore, by allowing this controversial game to be released, PEGI protects the public by creating an outlet for aggressive behaviour.
Ultimately, both the BBFC and PEGI do a good job of protecting the public if the public chooses to be protected. If audience members and players follow the given certificates, they will be fully protected from the harmful content; if they opt to go against these age ratings then they will not be protected. However, this is not down to the capability of the BBFC or PEGI as they have done as much as they can to protect the public without making watching rejected films or permitting young children to watch these films against the law. In the future, there will need to be better regulation of piracy sites for both video games and films. This will help to further protect audiences from unregulated content. There may also be ways introduced to identify audiences at home, thus furthering the power of the physical gate keeper and enforcing these certificates to protect the public on all platforms.