British Censors have criticised some of Hollywood's largest film distributors, including one owned by Walt Disney, for failing to warn parents of the sexual and violent content of films approved for children.
Under a change to the classification system introduced last year, films given the new 12A rating can be viewed by children only if they are accompanied by an adult. A clearly visible warning of the content of the film should be carried
on material advertising the films, however.
The British Board of Film Classification has uncovered many cases in which the warnings have been non-existent or so small that they are hardly visible.
The board has also received complaints from parents who feel that they have been misled into taking their children to see films that they then found unsuitable.
The companies involved include Buena Vista, owned by Walt Disney, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The board has now contacted several of the offending companies, including Buena Vista, warning them that they must comply with the rules in
Sue Clark, a spokesman for the British Board of Film Classification, said that the board was in talks with some distributors about their failure to provide proper warnings.
The 12A certificate is dependent on companies providing proper warnings about the film. The majority of distributors take their responsibilities very seriously, but we do have concerns about the way some companies are promoting 12A
films, she said. We are talking to parts of the industry to ensure that companies do provide guidance which is visible and easy to read. When it comes to our attention that publicity is not on the
material, or is too small to read, we raise it with the company and require them to amend it.
The 12A rating, which was introduced in August, is highly prized by the film industry because it means that children accompanied by an adult can go to see films previously regarded as unsuitable for them. It has been granted to more
than a 100 films already, generating millions of pounds in extra box office revenue.
It is a condition of the certificate, however, that all advertising material for the film should carry highly visible warnings about bad language and sex and violence.
An examination of publicity campaigns for recent 12A releases substantiates fears that some sections of the industry are not giving proper prominence to these warnings.
One example is a two-page advertisement in Empire film magazine for Die Another Day, the most recent James Bond film, distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. It includes the film's 12A certificate, but no warnings on content.
In April and June this year Buena Vista failed to include warnings in advertisements, also published in Empire, for two of its 12A releases, The Recruit, which starred Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, and Bringing Down The House, which
starred Steve Martin.
Even in cases where advertisements for films have carried the required warnings about content, some have been so small they are almost undetectable.
The 12A certificate and warning on an advert for the Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven was one such example, although the film, which was distributed by Focus Films, dealt with issues of racial prejudice and homosexuality in 1950s
The warnings on more recent releases including Down With Love, which stars Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, Matchstick Men, which was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, and the Buena Vista blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean also carry
These are often in the smallest lettering on posters and adverts - less prominent than the references to the film's internet sites.
Although the board has no plans to scrap the 12A certification, it is warning film companies that their breaches are undermining public confidence in the system and that "nothing is set in stone".
David Turtle, of Mediawatch-UK, a viewers' campaign group, said: I think some of the distributors are acting in a very irresponsible manner. People can only make a proper choice if they are given adequate
information. Far too often parents have to rely on what they read in a particular film review and that is an unacceptable situation.