PROTECTING 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.
|Document originated:||7 February 2002
|Forwarded to the Council:||Not applicable
|Deposited in Parliament:||7 February 2002
|Department:||Culture, Media and Sport
|Basis of consideration:||EM of 7 February 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||None
|To be discussed in Council:||1 March 2002
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
|Committee's decision:||Cleared, but further information requested
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
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; and
- 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
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
- 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 sensibilities;
- 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 States;
- 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 text reads:
"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+ categories."
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
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 voluntary system.
16.15 We note that the Minister says that it is possible
that proposals for common rating systems may emerge in the longer
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.
52 Two Member States have scrutiny reservations on this