Finland’s film classification laws have seen changes throughout the years, but a new law proposal would put the advance review board out of business.

CHANGES are afoot in the way in which television programmes and movies are to be classified in Finland. Like in other countries, members of the public are, nominally at least, restricted as to what they may watch by a system of age-restriction certificates. A somewhat overly-extensive range of certificates is currently in play, meaning that television broadcasts and films shown in cinemas are granted categories of 3, 7, 11, 13, 15 or 18.

The first of these indicates the broadcast is suitable for everyone, while the remainders indicate that only a person who has attained that age should be allowed to view it. Apart from the 18 certificate, someone who is up to two years younger than the rating may see the programme or movie if accompanied by an adult. The 13 certificate in particular is uncommon in other countries except Finland.

The Finnish Board of Film Classification (FBFC), the body currently overseeing classification, is, however, having its fate decided as I write. A committee from the Ministry of Education, under whose auspices audio-visual media classification falls, is considering implementing a new system as of 2012.

Although a new act was already implemented last year, which required the distributor of a programme broadcast after 21:00 to award their own certification based on the Film Board’s guidelines, the system currently under discussion would widen that requirement to all types of programming including television broadcasts, films and video on demand (VOD), i.e. internet broadcasts.

Banned in Finland

It’s been a while since any films other than violent pornography have been banned in Finland. Past motion pictures unwelcome on these shores have included the following, although exactly why Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was banned in 1948 is anyone’s guess:

• Battleship Potemkin (banned in 1930)

• King Kong (1933-39)

• The Big Sleep (1947-49)

• Rififi (1956-59)

• Peeping Tom (1960)

• The Manchurian Candidate (1964-1987)

• Dirty Harry (1972)

• The Evil Dead (1981)

• Cannibal Holocaust (1984-2001)

Shifting responsibility

Maarit Pietinen, Acting Director and Senior Examiner of the FBFC, tells SixDegrees that similar systems which place responsibility on distributors of programmes have been in place in other European countries for some time.

“The Netherlands, for example, already has such a system,” she says, “and while the law implemented last year applies only to programmes broadcast on Finnish TV, the new proposals will potentially affect all audio-visual distribution over any media.” One reason for the proposal is the increasing popularity of VOD services.

“The main problem has become internet broadcasts,” Pietinen explains. “The amount of films and shows available to watch in real time or otherwise over the internet has become so huge that there is no way the state authority can classify everything. The new legislation would place the onus on distributors and broadcasters to follow state guidelines and award themselves certificates based on certain criteria such as violence and sexual content.”

“The new act will cover all distribution channels: cinema, DVDs and home distribution, television broadcasts, internet broadcasts and video-on-demand such as Yle Areena, MTV3 Katsomo and Nelonen Netti-tv,” Pietinen points out.

“Currently, the FBFC is responsible for content regulation specifically for the purposes of child protection of all distribution channels except television broadcasting, which is regulated by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority. If the new legislation is adopted the new body will regulate or supervise all programme distribution, broadcasting included.”

En end to advance inspection

Although, if passed, the legislation would effectively close the FBFC as it is today, Pietinen is strongly in favour of it. “The main advantage of the new law would be that the public could complain directly about the rating of any programme or broadcast, whereas at the moment it is only really the distributor who can criticise a certification.”

“The plan of the Ministry is that the FBFC, which would be renamed, would be able to engage in more influential work such as media education.” If the legislation is realised, there will only be four certificates, if we don’t include the universal (suitable for all) classification: 7, 12, 16 and 18.

Pietinen believes that advances in technology have made life more difficult for certification authorities.

“The development of CGI technology has meant that, on the one hand, in general people expect and accept more in movies. On the other hand we have had feedback from members of the public who have felt that some films have been rated too low, even though we rated them according to standard guidelines. The first part of The Lord of the Rings is a good example of this. We rated it 11 but many people said it should have been higher.”

Protecting the public

1911 First official rulings on film censorship, allowing local police officials to conduct advance inspections. This was problematic, since the same film could be banned in one city and allowed in another. Even before that the police could interrupt public screenings if necessary.

1946 First law on advance inspection of films. The FBFC is established.

1965 A new law left TV programmes outside the advance inspection system due to their massive volume.

1987 Law on inspection of home video programmes.

2001 The current law on inspecting audiovisual products comes into effect, ending censorship for products aimed at adult audiences.

Games lead the way

The legislation under discussion would only affect primarily audio-visual broadcasts, with most computer games not included, for example. Most games are currently certified under the Pan-European Game Information or PEGI system, which classifies products not only by age, with certificates of 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18, but also provides slightly more detailed information about the content, such as depictions of gambling, drug use, sex, violence and discrimination.

“The system of symbols which PEGI currently uses will also potentially be adopted for audio-visual distribution under the new system,” Pietinen explains. “So there is the possibility that along with the age rating small pictures will indicate in more detail the content of the broadcast. It won’t be exactly the same as the PEGI system but will concentrate on content which we consider harmful. Bad language, for example, may not be very nice but we don’t consider it harmful per se, and so won’t be indicated.”

Essentially the system under consideration is intended to make it easier for distributors to broadcast content at appropriate times, and the public to make more informed decisions about what they should be watching.

“It doesn’t mean that a broadcaster can show anything at any time of day, but it will make for a more universal system which is easily understood by the industry and by the public,” Pietinen concludes.

Nick Barlow