Film classification changes 'could put children at risk'

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Explicit sex scenes in films could be more likely to get through the censor's net and be seen by children thanks to plans to axe experienced examiners, Unite has warned.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) wants to get rid of five of their current six examiners by the end of the year and replace them with younger, less experienced, cheaper compliance officers.

Film classification
It's been warned that standards in classification could drop (Daniel Law/PA)

But union Unite has said that the BBFC, which is responsible for classifying films and videos, has such an important role in protecting children and taking forward the Government's plans to control online pornography that it is risking allowing scenes of sex or violence to be seen by too young an audience by doing away with the older staff.

Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey has written to the BBFC's president Patrick Swaffer about the planned staff changes.

He wrote: "It has always been my impression that the BBFC has maintained the trust of the public, particularly in relation to its child protection responsibilities, through the recruitment of mature and experienced individuals who have come from a variety of backgrounds, both personal and professional.

Fifty Shades of Grey premiere
Explicit films such as Fifty Shades Of Grey could get the wrong classification (Jonathan Short/AP)

"It seems to me that to replace those individuals with young, inexperienced, graduates is both unfortunate in terms of the BBFC's public persona, and, quite possibly, a case of age discrimination.

"Furthermore, I do not believe the public's trust, and especially that of many parents, will be enhanced by the knowledge that the BBFC is willing to lose the few examiners who view material on a day to day basis who are themselves parents, a status that brings an unimpeachable knowledge and understanding of child development."

The examiners are being given a choice of leaving on voluntary severance terms or being redeployed as compliance officers with a reduction in status and a £20,000-a-year drop in salary.

Kingsman premiere
Could very violent scenes like those in Kingsman slip through the net? (Steffi Loos/AP)

Unite is arguing that the cost savings are not necessary because the BBFC's most recent accounts revealed an operating surplus of more than £1.2 million and that turnover is up by two per cent, and operating costs down by the same amount.

The union's regional officer Rose Keeping said: "You can't put a price on protecting children and young people from the tidal wave of sexually explicit and very violent films and videos that are available in 2016.

Film classification
Child protection through film censoring could become an issue (Daniel Law/PA)

"With less experienced examiners, there is an increased possibility that an unacceptable sex scene and/or one of extreme violence sneaking past the censors' net - this would be detrimental to the promotion of child protection that the Government is actively supporting.

"We are also investigating whether what the BBFC is proposing for our members contravenes the age discrimination provisions in the 2010 Equality Act."