A Thought Piece by Andrew Mackereth 8 December 2017

Back in 2013, I was approached by the President of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), who invited me to join the Advisory Panel on Children’s Viewing (APCV).

It was a perfect role because I am nuts about cinema. My first cinema trip was as a very young child to see the James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever. I love suspense thrillers, sci-fi and action films such as the Jason Bourne and Star Wars franchises. I am also partial to scandi-noir films based on the books of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson.

The APCV panel

The APCV panel is composed of a range of views, perspectives and backgrounds. Currently I serve alongside a childcare barrister and family judge, a senior research fellow from the University of Oxford, the director of the BBC academy, the co-founder of the Trust and Safety Group and the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Everyone takes the work extremely seriously and gives their time and expertise freely. With every other member of the panel a president or professor, I can feel out of my league sometimes but they are very kind and gracious, despite being intellectual giants.

I serve as the only education representative on the panel and consider it a very big responsibility. The panel take my contributions seriously as I can give an insight into the trends among young people. For example, I’ve helped to highlight how deeply young people buy into cult TV shows and YouTube channels. We recently had a long discussion about anime (a genre of Japanese animation) as other panel members were not aware of how popular it is amongst teenagers.

Controversial debates

As a member of the APCV, I attend quarterly meetings to view a film and assess if the strict classification guidelines have been followed appropriately. The films we watch usually have controversial themes so a strong constitution is required. Recently, the panel have reviewed films with themes of bereavement, self-harm and knife crime. The only time I have ever missed a meeting, they watched Paddington!

Our most recent meeting began in the usual fashion with a private showing of a recent film. This time it was Netflix’s ‘To the Bone’, starring Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins, which has attracted controversy because it graphically shows the physical decline of a woman with an eating disorder. The precise discussions must remain private, but the consensus was that the classification given was correct. Our discussions then moved on to a presentation about the portrayal of sex and relationships in anime, a genre which causes some cultural conflict with Western audiences. I found this debate fascinating.

Some of the most significant debates we have had at panel have been around the Digital Economy Bill. The Bill contains measures to establish the same standard of protection online as currently exists offline, aiming to reduce the risk of children and young people accessing, or stumbling across, pornographic content online. The BBFC has been proposed as the regulator of the age verification of pornographic content online, subject to designation by both Houses of Parliament. This is a massive responsibility.

The work of the panel isn’t restricted to new films. We also have a responsibility to support the classification of online video sharing platforms and streaming sites. Often, a family favourite from the 1970s or 1980s will come under scrutiny when it becomes available online or released as a boxset. This can be surprisingly problematic as the language, tone and content reflects the mood of the world at the time, which when viewed now would cause offence because of the treatment of sexuality, gender or race. A TV series that was once a Friday teatime family treat is quite likely to now carry a Parental Guidance (PG) rating as a result.

Benefits for The Parker

Aside from the work, there are distinct benefits for my students. The BBFC education programme is vast and supports the work of media/film students in schools. The Parker recently submitted a huge volume of questionnaires to the BBFC about the views of young people on age ratings and classification, so our students will help to form a wider policy debate. They also have the coolest range of free merchandise!

I would encourage any senior leader that gets an opportunity like this to take it. We accumulate vast knowledge of young people, their families and their motives naturally through our work. What better way is there to challenge ourselves and serve the wider community than by contributing to an organisation that can help to enhance or promote the wellbeing of children and young people? I know I am fortunate because I serve on an advisory board that has the power to influence, entertain, protect and shape the minds of millions of young people, worldwide.

Andrew Mackereth
The Parker E-ACT Academy