This is a fine example of double TV censorship. Ofcom demand that if a film has been subject to censorship then only a BBFC approved version can be shown. But the system is doubly biased in favour of censorship. Ofcom do not accept the converse, that a film approved by the BBFC is therefore suitable showing on TV (at the appropriate hour). Ofcom censorship rules still apply. So broadcasters effectively have to submit their films for both BBFC and Ofcom censorship.
Now Ofcom have put the Horror Channel on final notice for showing a version of the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave that did not include all of the 17 cuts demanded by the BBFC. The Ofcom report is as follows:
Horror Channel is available free to air on cable, satellite and digital terrestrial platforms. The licence for the service is held by CBS AMC Networks.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to a broadcast of the film I Spit on Your Grave – a 2010 remake of the 1978 film of the same name. Both films chronicle the sexual torture and subsequent revenge of the principal character Jennifer Hills. The complainant alleged that the version of the film broadcast on Horror Channel contained material that the British Board of Film Classification (“the BBFC”) had required to be cut before the film’s release in the UK.
The BBFC guidelines1 list “material which makes sexual or sadistic violence look normal, appealing, or arousing” as an example of the type of content that may be cut as a condition of classification. The BBFC confirmed to Ofcom that, prior the film’s release in the UK, the BBFC had required 17 cuts to the version of the film submitted by the distributor before it awarded the film an ‘18’ certificate. The BBFC said that cuts were made “in order to remove potentially harmful material (in this case, shots of nudity that tend to eroticise sexual violence and shots of humiliation that tend to endorse sexual violence by encouraging viewer complicity in sexual humiliation and rape)”.
At Ofcom’s request, the BBFC compared the BBFC’s 18-rated version and the version broadcast on Horror Channel. The BBFC confirmed that the version broadcast on Horror Channel was a combination of the distributor’s and the BBFC ‘18’ rated versions because some of the shots that it required to be cut for the film to have been awarded an ‘18’ certificate were still present either wholly or partially in the version broadcast on Horror Channel.
Ofcom considered Rule 1.22:
No film refused classification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) may be broadcast unless it has subsequently been classified or the BBFC has confirmed that it would not be rejected according to the standards currently operating. Also, no film cut as a condition of the classification by the BBFC may be transmitted in a version which includes the cut material unless:
the BBFC has confirmed that the material was cut to allow the film to pass at a lower category; or
the BBFC has confirmed that the film would not be subject to compulsory cuts according to the standards currently operating.
Generally accepted standards must be applied to contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material.
The Licensee said the BBFC confirmed that the ‘18’ classification of the uncut version of the film related to its UK “theatrical release”.
With regard to Rule 1.22, AMC said that it had acquired the “theatrical release” version of the film from its distributor, which the Licensee “believe[d] complied with rule 1.22 prior to scheduling the film”. It said when initially viewing the content for compliance purposes, it had noted the presence of a “slate prior to the content indicating it as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) R rated version of the film, where the MPAA R rating is defined as ‘Restricted’”. The Licensee confirmed that “no further cuts were made to this content as, following compliance viewing, AMC believed the content complied with the requirements of the Ofcom code”.
AMC said its compliance process in this case included referring to the BBFC website to confirm whether the content had previously been awarded a certificate. It said that in the case of I Spit on Your Grave, the Licensee “found there to be two versions submitted to the BBFC and subsequently awarded an 18 certificate in 2010, one which had been cut by 43 seconds (duration [107 minutes 45 seconds]) and one passed as 18 uncut (duration [103 minutes 24 seconds])”. AMC said by contrast that the MPAA R rated “theatrical release” version of the film which had been broadcast had a duration of 101 minutes and 23 seconds, which was therefore shorter than the two versions described on the BBFC website.
The Licensee said that having been made aware by Ofcom that it had broadcast a version that had not been certified by the BBFC, it submitted this version to the BBFC for classification. AMC said the BBFC required six cuts to this version in order for it to be given an ‘18’ classification.
Ofcom Decision: Breech of ruler 1.22 and 2.1
We took into account that the Licensee’s confirmation that “no further cuts were made to this content as, following compliance viewing, AMC believed the content complied with the requirements of the Ofcom code”. We recognised that AMC’s compliance process included viewing the content in full prior to airing. However, we were concerned that the Licensee appeared in part to have based its decision to broadcast this version on the certification rating that had been awarded by an overseas organisation with a different set of standards to the UK’s film classification body. Moreover, particularly given the nature of the film in this case, we were concerned that the Licensee considered overall it had applied a sufficiently robust process to ensure compliance with Rule 1.22.
The broadcast of this material clearly breached Rule 1.22 of the Code.
Ofcom next considered whether adequate protection from the inclusion of this potentially harmful material was provided for members of the public. In this case the film was preceded by the following pre-broadcast warning by a continuity announcer:
“Now for a programme with a warning that comes in threes: strong language, violence and scenes of a sexual nature”.
This was followed by an on-screen slate which said:
“The following programme contains scenes which some viewers may find disturbing”.
However, bearing in mind that the version of the film broadcast contained a number of shots which the BBFC had specifically required to be cut as a condition of the award of an ‘18’ certificate, we did not consider that these warnings were sufficient to alert viewers to the potential harmful content within this film. Ofcom therefore considered that the Licensee had failed to provide adequate protection to viewers from potentially harmful material and had consequently not applied generally accepted standards. Accordingly, the material also breached Rule 2.1 of the Code.
Ofcom is concerned about the nature of these breaches and the adequacy of AMC’s compliance processes and therefore puts the Licensee on notice that further compliance failures in this area may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction. Furthermore, we are requesting that the Licensee attends a meeting to discuss the issues raised in this case.