No censorship, please; we’re Irish (or something like that)

IFCO logo, via the IFCO siteIt seems to be Annual Reports season. TJ has been plugging away at the Annual Report of the Data Protection Commissioner (already mentioned on this blog); Daithí was first with the news about the Annual Report (pdf) of the Information Commissioner (there’s a report in today’s Irish Times (sub req’d)), while her Federal Canadian counterpart (hat tip Slaw) has also just issued a similar annual report (all at a time when their UK counterpart feels (speech pdf | Guardian report) increasingly under threat from government (hat tip MediaPal@LSE)). Leaving these reports to TJ and Daithí­, I’d like to focus on the piece by Michael Dwyer in today’s Irish Times, headlined “Film censor report advocates less restriction, more classification”, concerning the Annual Report (press release (pdf) | Report (pdf)) of the Irish Film Censor’s Office (IFCO). One interesting statistic from the report concerns the numbers of cinema films classified by the office: of 265 features, the biggest category was 15A (95 films, 35% of the total), and only 22 were classified 18 (see this chart from page 11 of the Report):


By way of contrast, a chart on page 15 shows that 9926 videos were classified in 2006. The office was established by the Censorship of Films Act, 1923 (also here) (as amended), and its remit was extended to include videos by the Video Recordings Act, 1989 (also here). My TCD colleage, Prof Kevin Rockett (Head of the School of Drama, Film and Music) has written a short history of the office for the IFCO website, and a terrific monograph on Irish Film Censorship (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004). According to its website, the IFCO

… is responsible for examining and certifying all cinema films and videos/DVDs distributed in Ireland.

Our aim is to provide the public and parents in particular with a modern and dependable system of classification that:

* protects children and young persons
* has regard for freedom of expression
* has respect for the values of Irish society

Guardian censorship logo via the Guardian websiteNote that this description speaks of “certifying” films, and of providing a “system of classification”. These may be c-words, but they are not the c-word of the title of the office; that is deliberate and not an oversight: the IFCO sees its role as certification and classifcation, not as censorship. (Incidentally, the former British Board of Film Censors transmuted into the Brtish Board of Flim Classifcation (BBFC | the BBFC’s media studies page | wikipedia) in 1985 (see this terrific contemporary archived Guardian article) following the Video Recordings Act 1984 (full text | wikipedia)). It’s about time that the ‘C’ in ‘IFCO’ were changed to something like ‘Classification’ or ‘Certification’, and the Censor renamed something like the Director of the IFCO. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard John Kelleher, the current Film Censor, make similar pleas in the past on radio and tv interviews.

IFCO certs, via IFCO websiteIt is all of a piece for a Censor who is very slow to ban movies, preferring instead to classify them, and to publicise the classifciation scheme based on the traffic-light labels at the top left of this paragraph. Unsurprisingly then, the press release quotes him as saying:

IFCO has moved from the old style of censorship to freedom of choice for adults and age-related classification for young persons … from yesterday’s stop sign to today’s signpost. All our research shows that parents and the public rely on IFCO’s ratings and welcome the detailed consumer advice our website provides. So, with the digital age upon us, there’s a real opportunity now for the government to underpin and consolidate IFCO as a consumer advisory agency … a valued “trustmark” for Irish parents.

In similar vein are the results of two research studies commissioned by IFCO and included in yesterday’s Annual Report. One is a survey (focus-grouping the under-rated film Studs) assessing attitudes to strong language in films (pdf) prepared by Lansdowne Market Research. The other was a report on classification in the digital age (pdf) prepared by Jim Barratt, former Head of the Research and Statistics Unit of the UK Film Council.

This second resport, in particular, is timely, to say the least. It is a trite observation that new media pose challenges to the old. As print challenged scriptoria, so the internet challenges cinema and dvd. In particular, video on demand (wikipedia) downloads have the capacity to undermine classification regimes like those operated by IFCO and the BBFC. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Barratt concluded that “[i]naction is not an option! Development of digital distribution may be slower in Ireland given the relatively small number of consumers and low broadband penetration. There is still time to act while the market is in its infancy and before VoD services become firmly established”. Oh dear. IFCO are to be commended for beginning this conversation; let us hope that Barratt’s report is not the last word!