U.K. Developing Age Ratings for Sexual Content in Music Videos

UNITED KINGDOM—The tenacity of the British spirit appears to be alive and well in Prime Minister David Cameron's dogged determination to make it all but impossible for someone who he thinks should not be seeing sexually explicit content to see it. In addition to the installation of ISP-level filtering—which is voluntary for now—and the less-voluntary imposition of filters at public Wi-Fi spots, the latest baby step calls for the creation of age-related ratings for music videos.

Cameron announced the new plan on Monday. As reported by Billboard, "Overtly sexual and explicit music videos distributed online are to carry advisory age ratings in the United Kingdom from October as part of a pilot scheme 'to help parents protect their children from graphic content.'"

More specifically, "The scheme commences Oct. 1 and will be implemented by YouTube and Vevo, working in association with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The U.K. arms of Sony, Universal and Warner Music have all given their support to the initiative, which will see record labels voluntarily submit content of an adult nature to the BBFC for classification into 12, 15 or 18 age categories.

"Online music video platforms such as YouTube and Vevo will then include the ‘parental advisory’ age ratings ahead of music videos deemed unsuitable to young viewers," adds Billboard.

There will be a three-month test period followed by an evaluation of the program, If deemed successful, "online music platforms would be asked to introduce additional filters that would enable families to block adult or explicit content upon request."

Like Cameron's other initiatives, however, what sounds possible on paper may be harder to achieve in reality, and may even, as some critics argue, be counter-productive, ushering in the exact sort of scenario that the PM is trying to avoid. Indeed, the rush to inception that has been a hallmark of the recent attempts by the U.K. to manage behavior in a digital world have led his severest critics to accuse him and his government of playing to the crowd by making it seem as if they are doing something when even they know that nothing will come from their highly publicized campaigns.

In this case, criticism seems to center around the decision to make an "18" rating, which, it is argued, will only provide a stamp of approval to increasingly sexualized videos that will not have the government's stamp of approval.

In a post on Huffington Post UK today titled "David Cameron: Porn Mogul," filmmaker and writer Adam Hamdy made just that point, arguing, "Instead of ensuring that music videos are age appropriate, David Cameron's scheme is very likely to expose children to new levels of pornography and violence. Certain artists will chase an 18 rating. The videos will simply run with age warnings, which will be ignored, and children will be able to access 18-rated videos chock full of sex and violence.

"The scheme," he adds, "only applies to the UK, has no teeth, and cannot prevent videos from being shown without a rating. A small number of artists may actually want their videos to be denied a rating, generating publicity by effectively being banned by the BBFC."

Hamdy further argues that the current "no-ratings" world is eminently safer than the alternative because, "Given the constraints of a general audience, a lot of music video directors think about how to push boundaries and innovate without ever straying into outright pornography or ultra violence."

Another argument being made against the plan posits that the "18" rating will work as a sort of homing beacon for kids, a huge flashing red light indicating where the good stuff can be found.

British rapper Professor Green made that very point, telling the BBC, "If something's got an 18 stamped on it, then kids are going to want to watch it all the more. They have things at their fingertips that they shouldn't. But I don't know if that's going to create any kind of problem.

"I think if anything it will just make it, 'oh, that video's an 18, I really want to see that'," he said, adding, "It's like when a video gets banned—everyone hunts it down."

Not everyone is against the plan, of course. BPI, the U.K. music industry trade group, released a statement saying, “The BPI agrees with government that, with so many more music videos now being released online through such sites as YouTube and Vevo, it is important this content is made available to the public in a responsible way that is sensitive to the needs and concerns of younger viewers and their parents."

And singer Katy B also registered her approval, telling the BBC, "I think it's good. I don't know why they haven't done that sooner."

The answer to that question may be forthcoming.