The importance of classification: Protecting and respecting children


Our previous article highlighted the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) journey  from censorship to content regulation and why it was formed to classify content with the aim of protecting children and adults against exposure to inappropriate content. The broader mission of the FPB is to help promote and respect South African diversity by applying a classification system reflective of these views and standards and which is echoed in the make-up of the classification committees assigned to classify content.

The classification process is not aimed at stifling creativity, but rather to be used by content creators as a guide. There is no doubt that media content has a positive influence on children and adults, and has been used for the entertainment, education and empowerment of them through the convergence of technology. It is therefore the purpose of the classification guidelines to ensure that adults are able to make informed viewing, reading, and gaming choices for themselves and children in their care while protecting them from over exposure to disturbing and harmful content, and from premature exposure to adult experiences.

The social environment of children plays a pivotal role in the development of the child because children are highly impressionable and learn from observation – behaviour which they imitate and develop, and encode to memory learnt social prescripts. Children are therefore socialised behaviourally, which has powerful influences on the development of personality through social learning.

Psychoanalysis theory of personality development shows how children are impacted or influenced in the psychosocial stages of socialisation and ego identification in their moral development. In addition to the social environment, outside influences impact on how children resolve identity crises and form acceptable self-identity congruent with their value system and world view.

Introducing children prematurely to age-inappropriate content during the different cognitive and moral development stages can cause intellectual, emotional, social, moral or psychological harm that may negatively influence and impact behavioural and attitudinal patterns of some children.

Understanding how children develop and function cognitively, emotionally, psychologically and morally in the different development stages is the most crucial factor considered in the development of the classification guidelines. The potential of content that negatively influences a child’s self-regulation, executive functioning, social understanding and social interaction therefore has to be foremost during the classification process.

Classification of content by the FPB

Material that does not contain content that could cause moral or psychological harm to children and present no or a low sense of threat or menace still has to be classified, and is assigned an unrestricted distribution category indicated by an “A” as suitable for all ages or a parental guidance (PG) rating.

The age-restrictive distribution categories in the classification guidelines are used to protect children in the defined age groups of 7-9, 10, 10-12, 13, 16 and 18. Whilst parental guidance  accompanies the 7-9 and 10-12 age-restrictive distribution categories it means a parent or adult need be present to explain the more complex and mature content or classifiable elements that may be present in the material, or to provide comfort where content could be confusing or distressing to more sensitive child viewers.

Children under the age of 18 are protected by the X18 and XX age-restrictive distribution categories. Material classified as X18 contains content of an adult nature that may only be exhibited in or sold by adult stores. Such stores have to hold a valid licence to conduct business as an adult premises and X18 materials may only be exhibited or sold from within a building.

Material that contains explicit sexual conduct that violates or shows disrespect for the right to human dignity and degrades any person are assigned an XX rating. The XX rating extends to material that advocates propaganda for war or violence and hatred based on any identifiable group characteristic that incites to cause harm to such groups.

A film, game or publication that is classified as a “refused classification” does not mean that it is “banned,” it simply means that material contains child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or the advocacy of hatred.

In addition to the above age-restrictive categories, the FPB also provides consumer advice on what is included in the content, these include the following:

  • S: Indicates scenes involving sexual conduct or sexually related activities
  • SV: Indicates scenes involving sexual violence, these are scenes relating to rape, sexual harassment, compelled and attempted rape
  • N: Warns that there are scenes of nudity whether in a sexual or non-sexual context
  • L: Alerts that there is bad use of language
  • V: Warns of violent scenes
  • H: Warns there is horror
  • D: Warns there is a use of drugs
  • P: Prejudice

The classification process does not only have to ascribe to legal and regulatory prescripts in the Act. The classification process also has to take into account the broader convergence to societal norms and values, but, first and foremost, the cognitive development of children in the various age categories.

As the only content regulator in South Africa outside of broadcasting, the Board is under constant pressure to assess future trends in the development of content and investigate new and future advances in technology for the distribution of content to provide solutions to implement the mandate of the FPB.

By The Film Publication Board


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here