Media regulation

The case against a film rating system

When should China implement a film rating system? Previous articles translated on Danwei have argued that ratings should be put in place as soon as possible, but their portrayal of opposing arguments might be a bit caricatured.

The other side is represented in an op-ed in the current issue of the Xinhua news magazine Outlook Weekly (瞭望新闻周刊). The writer whole-heartedly supports film ratings, but argues that implementation should be delayed until China's legal system is improved.

"Film ratings" should be postponed

by Lin Wei / Outlook

Because Wang Xingdong and other CPPCC members have for many years persisted in advancing proposals, the "film ratings" issue has once again come to the fore. Will Chinese films at last receive ratings? This writer believes that theoretically speaking, discussion is hardly necessary on this issue.

In such an open China where value orientations and aesthetic sensibilities are diversifying day by day, adults in charge of this world ought to take up their responsibilities - to use a plain, clear mark to tell children which films they should not watch, and which films will harm them if they do.

"Shoulds" abound, however. In practice, things that should be done are very often not what can be done, or what is best done right now.

Indeed, implementing a film rating system immediately, at least for China in its current stage, is probably not the most appropriate or beneficial choice.

One obvious fact is that any country's film rating system is not a rigid legal framework upheld by national law; it is advisory rather than compulsory. Under China's current national conditions, were studios and directors set free to film whatever they wanted, and if they relied only on a notice before the picture reading "This film is not suitable for children" without any other corresponding compulsory measures, then "not suitable for children" would not only fail to keep children away, but on the contrary, the curiosity of minors would be piqued precisely because of this "unsuitability."

Some may wonder, if a film rating system has proven successful in effectively protecting the physical and mental well-being of young people in many countries and regions, why should it uniquely fail in China? Bluntly speaking, in this writer's opinion, this is precisely where the problem lies.

Everyone is aware of what consummate, strict laws European and American countries have for protecting minors! So severe that it is even illegal for parents to leave their children home alone! Only in this greater environment can a rating system achieve success in protecting children.

For us, however, though we have the Law of Protection of Minors, it has always been "weak"; strong enforcement has been rare. Many parents cannot supervise our children according to the law as is the case in western countries, and there are in addition to this more than 20 million unattended children with long-term absent parents. Against this backdrop, aren't we just fooling ourselves if we look solely to a notice attached to a film for our children's protection?

Moreover, Europe and America have commercial standards; if the law says selling alcohol to minors is prohibited, then merchants will respect it, and if a film is not suitable for children, then cinemas will refuse entry to "children." Will our cinemas take such initiative? Judging from the number of Internet cafes that care nothing for regulations saying "no minors admitted," one doesn't hold out too much hope.

And even if above-board cinemas operate in strict accordance with the rating system, there are still those streetside vendors who resist all efforts of anti-pornography and anti-counterfeit campaigns to eliminate pornography and counterfeits - like traps they lie in wait at all times for children to fall into.

For this reason and in face of the facts, postponing film ratings may be a bit conservative but it is unquestionably safer. For those studios and directors who have waited so many years for a rating system, this is certainly a "bad" choice; however, to protect children, sacrificing a bit of box-office is probably worth it - and after all, isn't that the original intent of a film rating system?

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There are currently 4 Comments for The case against a film rating system.

Comments on The case against a film rating system

What a maroon. "Let's not pass a law because some people won't obey it." And in what way is that safer? Everything is already available on the streets of China from G to XXX. Having a ratings system will allow for the legal availability of more adult entertainment - and while in some cases this may mean R-rated US violence, it might also mean more thought provoking material aimed at an adult audience rather than what is deemed acceptable to the lowest common denominator.

Spike, having a ratings system won't allow for the legal availability of more adult entertainment (or accomplish anything else) until they legalize it AND effectively rein in the rampant piracy. But it seems like Chinese men are perfectly happy watching pirated DVDs or downloaded AVIs of Japanese porno and/or banging KTV hookers in the meantime...

I would support a ratings system in China if it would take the place of the current regime of censorship. It can only help filmmakers to have clear instructions on what is permitted and what is forbidden, and allow them to make creative decisions with a sense of their economic feasibility. As it stands now, it's almost impossible to predict if any but the tamest films will pass muster with the authorities, and that seriously retards the growth of the modern Chinese industry.

Lin Wei is correct, though, in noting that a ratings system won't prevent improper content from reaching delicate ears. In that way, it's really an argument against ratings systems in the US and Europe. The truth is, ratings are shorthand summaries of content, but as currently implemented, they are blunt tools at best, and parents still have to do their job, and research the films they want their kids to see.

The only tool that most theaters in the US have for keeping minors from seeing R-rated films is generally not running the films at all. Kids will always find ways to see racy material, and filmmakers who want to discuss difficult issues in films will always pay an economic penalty for not getting wider release.

China's rule of law might not be solid, right now, but even if it was as developed as Europe or the US, they would still face the same problem keeping content from minors. Ratings are not, in the modern world of the internet, an especially useful tool for that.

Hi my name is Evan B. and I am aganist the movie rating system it is unfair that adults get to see movies that are rated R while we are stuck watching PG. Sometimes I do get to see some PG-13 movies but even though I am 13 I still don't get to see them all.

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