We are proud to present the 4th in an occasional run of interview features - Sam Scott's recent interview with David Austin, Assistant Director at the BBFC.

Cuts in films and television shows released on home media, play a pivotal role in many of our decisions to decide which release is the best available, and whether or not we would want certain releases in our collections. However, the debate about whether organisations such as the BBFC is required rages on. Whilst many film fans vehemently oppose any sort of censorship, others see classification, and possible cuts, as important to make sure laws are being adhered to, and as general guidelines for parents. David Austin took time from his busy schedule to grant the Rewind team an interview. With the help of some questions posed by Rewind visitors and team members, here is the interview.

First of all, many thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Can you tell us who you are, and what your average work day consists of?

I am the Assistant Director responsible for Policy and Public Affairs at the BBFC. It's difficult to describe an average day. Over the past month, much of my time has been taken up by the finalising and publication of the BBFC's new Classification Guidelines. The new Guidelines will form the basis of our classification decisions over the next four years. I've been briefing key industry stakeholders, the Government and the media about the changes we are making to the Guidelines following a large scale public consultation carried out during 2013. I've also been updating our policies on issues such as language and horror to ensure they reflect the new Guidelines.

Also this month, I've been designing, in partnership with the music industry, a pilot project for the voluntary age rating of music videos. I put together the BBFC's response to a Government consultation on amending the Video Recordings Act, which will affect the threshold at which music, education and sports DVDs lose their exemption from classification. I've been putting together a research project in relation to our regulatory role for content delivered via mobile networks to gauge public attitudes to glamour content accessed on mobile devices. Finally, I've been working with colleagues in Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands on an international project for crowd-sourced age rating of User Generated Content.

In some cases the distributors/studios want a lower rating, so they're willing to cut/blur say one violent moment to get that lower rating from the BBFC. Does this happen often, meaning that the BBFC could pass the film uncut, but the studio wants lower rating?

It has long been a BBFC guiding principle that works should be allowed to reach the widest appropriate audience and the BBFC has been giving advice to film makers on how to achieve their desired rating since it began operating in 1912.

Producing films is costly and companies are often aiming to achieve a particular age rating, sometimes 12A, or sometimes they want a higher age rating, for example some horror films prefer an 18 age rating to a 15 age rating. Making cuts to achieve an age rating happens occasionally. For example in 2012, 234 films were passed 12A and 10 of these were cut, that's 4.3% of all 12A films that year. In 2013 the figures were 321 films passed 12A and 19 were cut, which is 5.9% of the total classified 12A that year.

Cockfights and such still seem to be an issue for the BBFC (e.g. Angel Heart, the "One-Eyed Jack" episode of Miami Vice, Heaven's Gate). Are these type of films going to stay cut forever?

When classifying films and videos, we cannot classify anything that is unlawful. The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 states that It is illegal to show any scene -"organised or directed" for the purposes of the film that involves actual cruelty to animals. This Act applies to the exhibition of films in public cinemas but we also apply the same test to video works. For the purposes of this legislation and The Animal Welfare Act 2006, only vertebrates which are domesticated or otherwise under the control of man are defined as "animals", so cockfights are an issue under the law, rather than being a classification issue like sex or violence might be.

Does the BBFC feel its role is being destabilised by digital media and distribution (e.g. online) and the ease with which people can access material that may at one time have been prohibited by the BBFC. For example, clips of 1970s martial arts films featuring nunchaku on video streaming websites? Has this played a part in the BBFC's relaxation of some of its more stringent practices over the past 15 years or so?

Digital hasn't played a part in how the Guidelines have changed over the years. They are altered purely on the basis of large scale public consultation exercises, which are repeated every 4-5 years, the most recent involving over 10,000 members of the public from across the UK. We also seek expert advice.

Digital has most certainly impacted on our work. We have developed, in partnership with content providers, platforms and mobile network operators, a number of bespoke services to bring trusted BBFC ratings and standards online. We first established a service for streamed and downloaded content in collaboration with the home entertainment industry in 2008. The service provides trusted age ratings, symbols and BBFCinsight to set-top box, video-on-demand and other online content providers. All films submitted to the BBFC for DVD and Blu-ray release are automatically given an age rating for use on digital platforms, making it easier for the home entertainment industry to provide consistent age ratings for their customers, who when surveyed in 2011, 85% said they consider it important to have consistent BBFC classifications for video-on-demand content. The figure rises to 90% among parents of children under 16.

From 2011 we began age rating video content for online distribution only under our Watch & Rate service. In 2013 we saw Watch & Rate submissions increase by 204% compared to submissions in 2012.

Platforms now using BBFC age ratings include Netflix, iTunes, BT Vision, Sainsbury's Entertainment and Kaleidescape, to name a few. Many of these platforms use BBFC age ratings to calibrate parental controls.

In September last year, we became the regulator, in a voluntary, self regulatory partnership, of content accessed via the mobile networks of EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Under this system, any internet content which the BBFC would rate 18 or R18 is placed behind adult filters. The BBFC also operates a transparent, rapid complaints service to respond to cases of reported over and underblocking.

The BBFC's more relaxed standards seem to have developed concomitantly with a more explicit approach to violence in mainstream films (e.g. Hollywood action films or horror films like the Saw franchise). Has one factor impacted on the other: have the BBFC relaxed their approach in response to changes in mainstream tastes, and do the BBFC think that changes in mainstream tastes have been legitimated by the BBFC's more relaxed standards?

We aim to stay in step with public opinion and do so by carrying out regular large-scale public consultation exercises alongside expert research into specific issues, such as sexual violence. The trends in genres of films being made doesn't impact on the Guidelines beyond what the public tells us they find acceptable.

Documentary films like The Act of Killing are still exempt from classification (under certain specific criteria identified on the BBFC's website), although in the case of The Act of Killing there are some very disturbing ideas and images. Do the BBFC feel there may sometimes be a need for them to classify such films?

Video works designed to educate, inform or instruct are exempt from classification under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) unless they contain certain types of very strong content. However, there is concern from Government, and others, that some content in such works, including documentaries, could be unsuitable, even harmful, for children. The Government carried out a consultation on exempt content in 2012 and 2013 and under a subsequent proposed amendment to the VRA, music, sports, religious and educational videos that were previously exempt from classification, but contain content unsuitable for children will require a BBFC classification in future. The Government's intention is that such content will include violence, easily imitable dangerous behaviour, drug misuse, suicide, self-harm, criminal techniques, sex (unless mild), strong language and discriminatory content.

The BBFC's more open approach to its decisions, developed over the past 10 to 15 years, is to be commended. Does the BBFC feel this approach to its decisions has been well-received?

Our main aim is to protect children and to provide parents with the information they need to make informed choices about what their children watch. Being more transparent and providing more detailed content information, which we call BBFCinsight, has been well received and we'll continue to listen to feedback from parents about the information we provide on our website, on our free Apps and through our regular email newsletters. We're also publishing regular podcasts and case studies for students and the general public, to communicate our wider activities and as educational resources.

The BBFC's new website proved controversial in some quarters: it no longer lists the length (in feet or metres) of older films - just the running time (where available, which is rare in many cases of films classified prior to around 1970). The inclusion of the length of older films was a useful feature of the old website for those researching films and their censorship history. Are there any plans to revisit the design of the new website to include such information?

There isn't a plan to review the website design at present. The new format is designed first and foremost to help parents find information quickly and their needs tend to be focused around age ratings and BBFCinsight for recent releases. The result has been a significant increase in visitors to the new website, with the number of unique users doubling since the launch in November 2012.

We do appreciate that historical information on the old website was something students, writers or academics used and we will take on board any feedback we get regarding this. We regularly field questions from academics both on Twitter and via our email feedback service ( and we aim to make the information they require available if we have it.

Often, films that have been cut by the BBFC for cinemas or home releases, are shown uncut on television, including the more well known BBC and Channel 4. Do you believe this undermines the work the BBFC performs?

Films shown on TV are subject to regulation by Ofcom and the watershed. Even video-on-demand platforms broadcasting films frequently use parental controls to restrict access to film content. As I said previously, a number of platforms now use BBFC age ratings for film content and calibrate parental controls in line with these.

You've recently announced plans to rate music videos after public uproar from worried parents with regards to sexual imagery by well-known artists. When will this begin, and what are the immediate plans for the this introduction? Who do you think could be the more problematic performers?

Age rating music DVDs is part of the Government's amendment to the VRA, which we discussed earlier. We expect this new legislation to be passed this year. We continue to classify numerous music DVDs submitted voluntarily by studios. Last year, we also began to classify, again on a purely voluntary basis, music videos being distributed online only, including videos from artists such as Lady Gaga, Metallica and Robbie Williams. We hope to launch, jointly with the music industry, a more formal pilot for age rating online music videos, later this year.

Thanks again to David Austin for his time to answer our questions.