In November 2012 South Africa’s content-classification authority, the Film and Publication Board (FPB), implemented its new guidelines – the result of an exhaustive research and consultative process.
As per the amended Films and Publications Act, the FPB is mandated to regulate the creation, production, possession and distribution of publications and films through classification, and to impose age restrictions and give consumer advice. In addition the FPB exists to make the exploitative use of children in pornographic publications, films or on the Internet punishable.
According to FPB CEO Yoliswa Makhasi, the FPB is required by law to conduct a review of its classification guidelines every two years.
“From start to finish our latest review took a year to complete as it had to factor in our amended legislation. The reason we review the guidelines is to get feedback from the communities and tap into their value systems.
“We also do annual convergence surveys where we get feedback from people who receive classification. This year we surveyed 20 000 Gauteng-based people,’ explains Makhasi.
In the next financial year the FPB will conduct a country-wide survey focusing on home entertainment.
Makhasi continues: “When we do the biennial review of the guidelines we take cognisance of the results of the convergence survey. In addition we undertake desktop research, provincial consultations and meetings with sectoral bodies. The end product of all these processes is the guidelines. Once we have a draft set of guidelines we hold a public consultation with civil society and distributors. Following this round of feedback we gazette the guidelines.’
A number of issues are addressed in the new guidelines, including a separate classification to denote gender-based violence.
“This issue was raised by many people, several of who are women. Previously we only had a classification for sexual content and another for violence. But if there is a film with a rape scene then it should be classified specifically to denote that because rape, sex and violence are all separate things.
“We’ve also introduced two new age categories to cater for the younger members of our society. The categories are: 7 to 9 Parental Guidance (PG) and 10 to 12 PG. To fall into either category a film must include an educational element and must be watched with a parent in attendance. The film cannot be offensive in any way,’ comments Makhasi.
Criminal techniques in films
Interestingly, another issue raised in the feedback to the guidelines was to do with films like Ocean’s Eleven and Gone in 60 Seconds which include the depiction of criminal techniques in their storylines.
“Films like these are almost teaching audiences how to trick people out of money or how to steal cars. We are in the process of training our classifiers to pick up on these themes.
“Additionally, research has shown that our society is very sensitive about sexual content, racism, prejudice and discrimination so we need to warn audiences about films which contain these elements,’ says Makhasi.
The FPB is currently working towards a single set of classification for the country, as broadcasters do their own classification, thus confusing the public.
States Makhasi: “We want to achieve a situation where labeling will be the same across film, television and online, thus sending the same messages to South Africa. So we need to work together with broadcasters and online distributors as this strategy requires policy intervention. We’ve already engaged with broadcasters who’ve said they tend to use FPB classification which is encouraging.’
The FPB recently introduced an online submission classification system, developed at this stage for games, with films to follow in the future. This system affords the industry an opportunity to submit their games online.
Makhasi says that this is a system of co-regulation which gives those industry players who sign an agreement with the FPB leeway to classify their own games.
“However, we will continuously do industry audits and there penalties involved if games are not classified properly. The advantage of this online system is speed and efficiency – whereas it previously took five days to classify a game, now it can be done in 24 hours.’
Makhasi concludes by urging society, parents and youths to be exercise discretion and carefully monitor children’s exposure to harmful content, be it in game, films, TV or on the Internet.
“The situation is not made easier by the fact that there is so much harmful content on the Internet and that all children these days have cell phones with Internet connectivity. We need to do our utmost to protect them.’
screen africa magazine – january 2013