To what extent is it becoming more difficult to regulate media, and why?
Media regulation has always been an issue for contemporary regulators, because as society changes, the varying degrees of regulation must keep up in order to protect audiences: technology, desensitisation and the rise of the internet are all factors which will make the regulation of media more difficult. Society has become increasingly more desensitised to violence since the BBFC was formed in 1912, and therefore it is fair to predict that the same will continue to happen. This is also a similar case with video games, as technology is advancing at a rapid rate, meaning that regulators will struggle to compete with the increasingly more realistic content found in violent games. Additionally, it could be argued that as the internet continues to grow, the regulation of media will become increasingly more difficult to effectively enforce regulations. This is because films and video games can either be downloaded or pirated from online servers, meaning that there is no requirement for audiences to provide physical ID thus making regulation far more difficult.
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. Over time, the BBFC have become more relaxed with what films are passed in the varying age ratings, altering what content is acceptable as society progressed. For example, “nude figures” in films frequently caused the film to be refused a certificate, until 1958 when The Garden of Eden was demanded to be given an A certificate. Ever since then, producers have strived to push boundaries. Hate Crime is a film that depicts the mutilation, torture and murder of a Jewish family. The BBFC refused to give this film a certificate as they felt that the violence fuelled by a racist incentive would cause harm to audiences, even if given an adults only rating. However, as producers strive to push boundaries, audiences demand increasingly more disturbing content. This poses an issue for the BBFC as although they aim to give audiences what they want, they cannot risk the harm that Hate Crime my cause, perhaps influencing people to behave in this way. Therefore, it becomes difficult for regulators to strike a balance between protecting audiences and severely restricting an adults entertainment.
The rise of the internet may also contribute to the difficulty of regulating media. Video on demand services do not require a film to have a BBFC certificate in order to be available for download and as there is no physical gatekeeper, audiences can be of any age to watch the film. This means that films which have been regarded as harmful for audiences can be accessed. For example, The Human Centipede 2 was refused a certificate without cuts to content which may cause harm to audiences, such as sadistic and sexualised violence, and graphic torture. It was the basis of this film which they thought would cause the most harm, as it presents the first Human Centipede as a film which should be copied. Although the BBFC deemed this film to be too harmful without cuts, there is no regulation to prevent the uncut Human Centipede 2 being shown on VOD websites such as Netflix or iTunes, making it difficult for the BBFC to regulate what audiences are being exposed to. There are additional issues which the internet pose that make the regulation of films difficult for the BBFC; piracy is becoming increasingly more normalised within society. This means that the uncut version of The Human Centipede 2 can be accessed by any audience member without the regulation of the BBFC. However, piracy has been an issue since films have been digitally distributed meaning that as the internet expands, piracy will become ever more difficult to regulate for the BBFC.
PEGI works in a similar matter to the BBFC and regulate video games across Europe to help European parents make informed decisions when buying games. However, the desensitisation of society means that audiences demand increasingly more graphic content, making regulation difficult for PEGI because as society progresses, they will have to constantly re define what is appropriate in order to effectively protect the public. Hatred is a video game which follows the ‘genocide crusade’ of a sociopathic teenager. PEGI gave this game an 18 certificate because they thought the lack of context for the mass murder would cause harm to younger audiences. Steam, an online download website, later removed the game from download as it caused a moral panic amongst parents. Although a discredited theory, the hypodermic needle theory suggested by Bandura explains society’s issues with the game; that by taking part in violent games, the gamers will be influenced to behave violently. This causes problems for PEGI when regulating graphic video games such as Hatred, as the public enjoy playing these types of games but there is also a wide spread belief that these games have damaging effects, thus making regulation difficult. As the desensitisation of society increases, PEGI will struggle to regulate graphic content. Online download sites also cause a concern for the regulation of video games. There is no means of physically identifying the user and therefore people under the age of 18 can easily access Hatred, despite being deemed to harmful for these younger players. Therefore, PEGI is unable to effectively regulate the content that younger people are exposed to. As the internet expands and people find new ways to distribute games, PEGI will have increasing difficulties in regulating and protecting members of the public who are most vulnerable.
It can be argued that the regulation of video games can be more difficult than that of films. This is because games can be played in many different ways, and there are frequently different pathways the game can be played, depending on the choices the player makes. For example, Grand Theft Auto 5 can expand from an innocent driving game to a violent attack on women. There has been controversy towards the depiction of women in GTA 5 and has been stated that every female in the game exists solely to be sneered, leered or laughed at. This becomes an issue for the regulators, as they cannot predict how certain members of the public will play the game and therefore cannot foresee how harmful the game will be. In the past, video games were very basic and were composed of various shapes, making regulation unnecessary. However, as technology has improved, GTA5 is almost a realistic depiction of reality. This makes regulation very difficult for PEGI, as the game becomes more immersive as the graphics improve, meaning that it is likely to have a greater impact on the player and may cause more harm to the vulnerable audiences. Therefore, as graphics continue to improve and the rise of virtual reality gaming systems, regulation will become more difficult as games become more immersive.
As regulation continues to become more difficult for contemporary regulators due to the growth of technology, the BBFC and PEGI will need to consider new ways to regulate how content is distributed on the internet. In the future, PEGI may be able to regulate how games are received by players of different ages, perhaps blocking certain pathways for audiences under the age of 18. The BBFC may need to expand their ways of regulating films to the internet, perhaps having a system which can detect what film is being viewed, whether or not it has been pirated. This will then help to regulate whether or not the viewer is of the certified age. However, this will mean that better technology will need to be implemented in order to establish the age of the audiences, perhaps using finger print identification to remove the possibility of people lying about their age. Ultimately, if regulators do not attempt to regulate the content which is available on the internet, there will be little need for regulation as the future. This is because as the internet grows, the need for theatrical exhibition and store bought purchases will decrease.