Rating a film — Jamaican-styleWednesday, March 14, 2012
FOR a country of avid movie lovers, the origin and methodology of film classification in Jamaica is at once obscure and unclear.
Film classification, in Jamaica and elsewhere, is a crucial function in the entertainment business, primarily because of its ability to effectively censor a work which has economic implications and implications for freedom of expression, and protection of societal norms and values. On a practical level, film-rating functions as a guide to allow members of the viewing public to determine the appropriateness of any given film to be watched by minors. The rating of films, the world over, is considered by its very nature to be a subjective undertaking, varying according to each viewer's individual opinion and tastes. But how exactly do the films we watch in the cinema in Jamaica obtain their respective published ratings?
In Jamaica, the law governing cinematography, the Cinematograph Act, is almost a century old, having been passed in 1913. Under this statute, it is not lawful for any person to conduct or allow to be presented or given by means of a mutoscope, cinematograph, or other similar apparatus, any exhibition of pictures or other optical effects, without the written permission of the Cinematograph Authority, in accordance with the rules made under the Act. The authority is therefore authorised under the law to grant permission for the public showing of any film in Jamaica. It is also the duty of the authority to approve every poster or advertisement of a film or a cinematograph exhibition. If, in the authority's opinion, the poster or ad depicts or advertises any matter that is against public order and decency, or the ad, for any other reason is, in the opinion of the authority, undesirable in the public interest, then the authority's approval shall be withheld. The members of the authority are appointed by the minister under whose portfolio this department falls. Currently, the Cinematograph Authority appears to fall under the Department of Information in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Unlike the Broadcasting Commission, which maintains an excellent media profile (I follow it on Twitter) with a well-managed website providing a wealth of information on its mandate, functions, broadcasting laws, regulations and programming codes, the public's awareness of the authority's work and rating methodology is limited. From the Broadcasting Commission website, members of the public may understand what a programme rated "A" may contain and when it may be broadcast. For example, a programme rated "A" (for "Adult") is "suitable for viewing or listening only by audiences aged 18 or older, may only be transmitted after 10.00 pm and it "will likely contain graphic violence, explicit language, graphic sexual depictions or frank sexual discussions".
Since an essential function of the authority is to act as a gatekeeper and arbiter of popular culture by virtue of its position as a media content regulator, the work that it does, the methodology that is used and the process of having a film classified deserves greater public awareness efforts.
Nevertheless, I was able to garner the following information:
* All films intended to be shown publicly in Jamaica must be screened by the authority. A fee is paid to the authority to have a film screened and rated.
* The rating categories are as follows: G - General Audiences; PG 13 - Parental Guidance required for those 13 and over; T16 - Teen 16, may be watched by persons 16 and over and A18 - Adults 18 and over.
* There is a written policy that contains the guidelines for the members of the authority to use to determine what rating to assign to any given film. For example, a film rated "G" would have no nudity, profanity or overt sexual content. The written policy, however, has not been published for public consumption.
The way forward
If stakeholders are serious about the continued development of our local film industry and about Jamaicans having access to information, there has to be some legislative reform of the Cinematograph Act which, among other things, will allow for an increase in the public profile of the law, the process, methodology and body that regulates and classifies the films shown public to 21st century standards. Such standards essentially require at the very least a dedicated office space with a listed contact number and online presence to allow for public interaction and engagement. The law should always strive to keep apace with technological and societal developments, and the Act governing cinematography, in this regard, is anachronistic, teetering on the edge of obsolescence. In fact, there is no express provision providing for the rating or classification of films by the authority. Legislative reform must address new technology such as the classification of videogames, which in the UK is undertaken by the same body that classifies films (the BBFC), as well as DVDs and videos. Account will have to be taken of technological convergence and multimedia platforms for delivering media content which, though tricky to regulate, should have overarching policy guidelines for providers and more important the viewing public, including parents.
The film industry (production and box office) in Jamaica is one with a great deal of potential, as recent history has shown. Updating all our legislation dealing with films and cinematography would augur well for its continued development.
Camille Royes is an attorney-at-law who specialises in Entertainment Law.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login