young people from inappropriate material in video and computer games
Draft Council Resolution on the protection of consumers, in particular
young people, through the labelling of certain leisure and recreational products according
to age group.
16.1 The Spanish Presidency recently submitted to the Working
Party on Consumer Information and Protection a draft Council Resolution on the problem of
age-labelling leisure and recreation products in the EU. It is due to be discussed by the
Internal Market, Consumers and Tourism Council on 1 March.
16.2 The intention of the Resolution is to recognise the risk
that minors could be exposed to inappropriate material contained in video games and
computer games, and to stress the importance of giving consumers access to clear
information about content in order to minimise that risk. The proposal also aims to
encourage the co-operative work on rating and labelling that is going on within the
industry, together with other work to identify good practices.
16.3 In forwarding the text that emerged from the Working Party
to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), on 7 February, the Council
Secretariat includes some compromise proposals put forward by the Presidency, including
one from the UK. The Secretariat notes that a few outstanding questions remain to be
resolved, the main ones being:
- whether this Resolution should cover products other than video and computer games, with
some Member States wanting to extend it to cover films, DVDs and videocassettes
- the terms in which the Commission should be invited to proceed.
The draft text
16.4 The draft Resolution starts by noting:
the wide and increasing
availability of video games and computer games; that interactive leisure software
contained in video games and in computer games on sale or for rent in shops or distributed
through the internet constitutes an important and growing market.
16.5 As a compromise, the Presidency suggests that the penultimate paragraph
of the Resolution should welcome the undertaking by the Commission to carry out a study on
rating practices used in the Community and notes that this study also covers other
products such as films, DVDs and videocassettes which may also pose [...] problems as
regards the protection of minors and the functioning of the internal market.
16.6 The Resolution:
- stresses the importance for consumers of having access to clear information;
- notes that many Member States have rating systems according to age on the basis of
diverse criteria, reflecting cultural diversity and different national and local
- considers that the current co-operation at national and Community level in the
interactive leisure software industry on rating and labelling "contributes to an
effective protection of minors and to the realisation of the full potential of the
industry and underlines in this connection the importance of continuing to involve the
other interested parties, in particular consumer associations and representatives of
parents and young people".
- acknowledges that self-regulation is "one of the adequate means" to support
age-rating systems..on its own or as a complement to measures implemented by Member
- invites Member States and the Commission, "each according to their own
competences, to intensify co-operation with all interested parties, such as industry, the
creators of contents, consumers and young people, on the exchange of information and
experience, in order to identify best practices".
16.7 Two alternatives are given for paragraph 12. The Presidency-preferred
Invites the Commission, on the basis of the results of the above-mentioned
cooperation, as well as of the results of the above-mentioned study, to assess where
appropriate the need for a common method for the assessment of the contents of interactive
leisure software in video games and computer games, as well as for a common rating and
labelling system, coming forward where appropriate, with proposals".
16.8 The UK-preferred text reads:
Invites the Commission, drawing on the results of the above-mentioned co-operation,
as well as of the results of the above-mentioned study, to keep under review developments
in the construction and use of various methods for the assessment of the contents of video
games and computer games, reporting back to the Council, and coming forward, where
appropriate and if necessary, with recommendations for further action at Community level.
The Government's view
16.9 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 February, the Minister for Tourism,
Film and Broadcasting (Dr Kim Howells) describes the UK system of classification for
computer games, which he says is unique in European terms. It relies on self-regulation
"underscored" by the 1984 Video Recording Act. With certain exceptions this Act
made it illegal to sell or rent a video unless it had been classified by the British Board
of Film Classification (BBFC) and to sell or rent to someone
below the specified age any video with an age-restricted classification.
16.10 Following the introduction of CD-based games, the Video Standards
Council (VSC) began discussions with the main trade body, the European Leisure Software
Publishers Association (ELSPA), with a view to developing a voluntary age-rating system
for games exempt from the 1984 Act. A self-regulatory system based on criteria agreed
between the VSC and ELSPA was introduced in1993. The Minister says that the VSC actively
monitors the system: "Inter alia, it views all games assessed by the industry as
suitable for 15+ or 18+ users, and carries out random viewing of games in the 3+ and 11+
16.11 He comments:
While the Presidency is right in regarding this as a
serious issue, it must be seen in perspective. Under the UK system since 1994, 70% of
games have attracted a 3+ rating (suitable for all ages), nearly 90% have been rated as
suitable for children under 15, and less than 1% of games have warranted an18+ rating;
also since 1994, only 5% of games have lost exemption and have therefore been submitted to
the BBFC for legal classification (and half of these were
interactive pornography products not made for sale in high street games stores).
"Over the last year the industry has itself been holding discussions in an
attempt to establish a pan-European voluntary system for the age-rating of games. It has
become apparent that there are large differences between countries in terms of cultural
expectations in this field - the issues of sex and nudity are not treated as seriously in
other countries as they are in the UK, and the issue of bad language does not surface as a
problem outside the UK and Ireland. Notwithstanding these differences, we understand that
steady progress has been made in finding common ground. Moreover, the European Commission
has already begun research into the rating practices used for audio-visual works in the
European Union, which is likely to encompass computer games.
16.12 Addressing the policy implications of the proposed Resolution, the
Minister says:We would not want to see a common rating system imposed on the computer
games industry, and it is important that a political statement such as this does not
suggest that it would be desirable. Such a step would be incompatible with the need to
recognise the cultural/national differences that exist in what constitutes appropriate
material for different age-groups. The best way forward is to allow the industry to pursue
its current discussions which are much more likely to lead to a practicable voluntary
pan-European system. There may also be potential in initiatives to develop common
assessment techniques, so long as Member States remained free to award different ratings
based on their judgements of the common assessment. Our objective is to secure wording
which respects these principles.
16.13 The Minister adds that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has
coordinated consultation within Government, and has liaised extensively with the VSC and
the industry, with ELSPA in particular.
16.14 The Minister says that this issue must be seen in perspective by the
Presidency, commenting that since 1994, under the UK system, 90% of games have been rated
as suitable for children under 15. Whilst UK consumers may be content with the ratings
applied, we appreciate that cultural expectations vary widely and it is not difficult to
imagine that the standards set in some Member States may be regarded as unacceptable in
others. We are glad, therefore, to learn from the Minister that steady progress has been
made in finding common ground by the industry in discussions on a practicable pan-European
16.15 We note that the Minister says that it is possible that proposals for
common rating systems may emerge in the longer term. Given the diversity of views in the
Community and the questions of subsidiarity that such proposals would raise, we regard
such a prospect as an even more pressing reason to work for a successful outcome to the
search for a voluntary system.
16.16 We now clear this document but ask the Minister to report back to us
on the wording agreed for this Resolution and to inform us in due course of the results of
the Commission's research into rating practices in the EU.