UK Prime Minister Meets with "Manhunt Mother"

Gordon Brown meets MPs and mother of murder victim

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Julian Brazier: an honourable member?
Julian Brazier: an honourable member?
Prior to the release of the Byron report into 'potentially inappropriate content" in video games (and the Internet) Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with MPs Keith Vaz and Julian Brazier today.

The meeting with the PM had been requested by Brazier in January saw Vaz jump on board.

Also at the meeting regarding Brazier's blocked private member's bill to introduce yet another layer of censorship to the UK, was Giselle Pakeerah. Ms Pakeerah is the mother of Stefan Pakeerah the youth stabbed to death during a robbery in a Leicester park on 27 February 2004.

The murder has been blamed - by Stefan's family with support from Vaz and now Brazier - on the Rockstar video game, Manhunt. This is despite denials from the Leicester police and both defence and prosecution counsels during the case of any connection.

Brazier's now defunct bill initially centred on film and video censorship and the introduction of a right to appeal against BBFC rulings that are seen as too lenient. The fact that, if sufficiently concerned by the content of The Last Temptation of Christ or Forrest Gump, you can petition your local authority to ban it doesn't seem to register.

Maybe the good member should read the BBFC's own, publicly available advice to students on the subject? Maybe that would destroy an easy target to backbench ambition building. Here it is anyway:

"Local Authority Decisions
The legal responsibility for classifying film lies not with the BBFC but in the hands of local authorities,which may in their area over-rule any of the BBFC's decisions on appeal, may pass films rejected by the Board or ban films that the Board has classified. They can also pass a film uncut even if the BBFC have made cuts, or put in place new cuts of their own, or they can issue licences for films to be shown in their own area at a different category from the one given by the BBFC.


Vaz, who it should be remembered is the chairman of the influential home affairs committee, is more concerned with curbing video game content. This desire, as we saw earlier this week, can be to ride roughshod over an actual, factual grasp of video game content.

The two MPs now come as a cross-party (Vaz, Labour + Brazier, Conservative) force of extreme bluster. Both are prepared to use Stefan's murder as weapons. With Brazier, in his own attempt to justify his bill stating:

"Example 1: The DVD/video game Manhunt was passed by the BBFC. The central character, Cash, is a convicted killer on Death Row who has to kill everyone he meets to avoid execution. The first killing involves a plastic bag, then moves on to knives, guns and baseball bats. At each stage the hero is shown revelling in the killing.

In Leicester in 2004, Warren Leblanc admitted murdering his 14 year old friend Stephan Pakeerah with repeated blows from a claw hammer and knife. Stephan's mother has publicly attributed the murder to Leblancís obsession with playing the game Manhunt, although the trial judge did not confirm her view.

"For the first time in 10 years a DVD, the successor game, Manhunt 2, has been banned by the BBFC but many other violent games continue to be passed."


The bolding is ours. Firstly because we would appear to be dealing with an individual who uses evidence that, by his own admission, is without substance. Secondly because facts get twisted. Sure, Manhunt 2 was refused a rating by the BBFC. However, an MP with a bill recently blocked in the House should realise that - as we pointed out earlier - the BBFC has no authority to ban anything. In its own words, "To this day the Board's decisions can be over-ruled by local authorities". At best it can refuse to classify.

We have contacted the Prime Minister's office for minutes of the meeting - or at least an official statement regarding its contents.

According to the Kent Messenger Mr Brazier is upbeat, saying that the PM, "...seemed to be concerned and was taking notes during our meeting, which is always a good sign".

No, Mr Brazier, it's standard practice.

That, however, would appear to be the extent of the PM's interest, as Brazier was forced to use past defeats rather than any solid proof of future action in his own statement. "I was sad that the Government chose to block my bill, but I think thereís some chance that weíll make some solid progress on this matter".

"If the Government digs its heels in and doesnít decide to take a firm stance on this, thatís the point when I will have to go back to my front bench colleagues and talk it through", he, rather emptily posited.

SPOnG has long held the belief that additional censorship for video games - or any other media - is a counter-productive step. Education and correctly legislated ratings will provide a greater freedom to enjoy - or not - the subjective areas of entertainment and art. But these cost cash.

However, the ongoing use of Manhunt a cog in the pro-censorship machine should indicate to the video games industry that simply laughing off demagoguery, Daily ExMailPress drum beating and the concerns of parents concerned by a media that many of them don't understand is no longer good enough.

Let's hope the Byron Review provides some sensible options - one of which will be to take game rating away from the BBFC and enable a new, independent body backed with the force of law to rate video games.

In the meanwhile, we await an update from the PM's office regarding the actual outcome of the meeting - aside from some note taking and a photo opportunity.
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Comments

Horatio 6 Mar 2008 17:40
1/6
Oh, its sooooo tempting to write something here that is really juvenile to show how grown up us gamer folk are :-)

But, sadly, I am (grown up), so I guess I'll have to dispense with the "1st post" nonsense...

I'm not sure that we need a new authority, the BBFC just need to have the power of law, and some sort of external review agency that ensures that they don't overstep the mark.

I think our PM needs to spend his time dealing with real problems like immigration and his precious economy rather than wasting his time on debates as old as this one.

I won't get into the general merits of whether we should censor content (or produce it in the first place) - that would take hours to type and Byron is doing it for us.
james 6 Mar 2008 20:08
2/6
So vaz and brazier want government censorship, where as the BBFC is free from government influence, they want this to be a sort of China type censorship.

All religious bodies, parents and self righteous people have to do then is right to their MP about an offensive part in a film or game and it likely gets cut, we'll see people using human rights or health and safetey (just like the ASA) to ban things like Father Ted becuase the offends their religion.
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Tim Smith 6 Mar 2008 20:37
3/6
james wrote:
All religious bodies, parents and self righteous people have to do then is write to their MP about an offensive part in a film or game and it likely gets cut....


See the copy - the BBFC makes recommendations only. People can already contact their local authority to ask for - Father Ted-like - bans.

Vaz and Brazier want an official, country-wide body.

Cheers - and that type of thing

Tim
(rebooted 15:02)
Joji 7 Mar 2008 13:47
4/6
This is never gonna happen, for a number of reasons, which I'll put below.

The first reason is money. While Vaz and co stand on their soap box, what they don't realise is the huge amount of money the games industry brings into this country, a lot of which the government welcomes. With many of the U.Ks old industries (cars, textiles etc) moving abroad to China and elsewhere, the games industry, while a young one, is still one our government does not want to loose. With it earning more than the film industry, they'd want to do their best to keep things sweet with them.

The worst case scenario if VAz gets his way, is that all creative industries, not just games will suffer in the long run (if double standard like those imposed on Manhunt series prevail. The mass effect could then take place, with games folk leading an exodus of creative talent abroad, to places like Canada, where tax brreaks can aid them and creative freedom is not restricted. This would be the governments greatest mistake, while trying to apparently do the right thing in their eyes. On top of that the whole country loses needed loot.

The second is Vaz himself. He's what jack Thompson is in the U.K. The kind of person that paints all games with one brush and doesn't care that most gamers are working, voting and tax paying adults. He doesn't play the games he's criticising to get concrete proof, and much of it seems like dressed up guess work (hence the recent rape part of his statement about games, which he couldn't back up).

Now while the parent of the tragicly deceased lad is now getting involved, it all feels very much like a stage to dance upon hearts and minds. Parents in general are pretty clueless. You try to educate them about games and their ratings, and they have no time to learn it. Ratings make it easy, but parents make things hard with their ignorance. Something bad goes down and its 'those evil games'. You try to advise a parent about parenting and they still don't wanna know, 'coz mummy n daddy know best'. They only have time to learn when its too late and time has run out. How ironic.

Such a shame Vaz still doesn't get it. We are all for kids playing games within their suggested age rating (still a parent/guardians responsibility, no one elses), but by creating even more censorship, all he'd be doing is punishing his own tax payers, for content they are legally allowed to consume (and still not solve the problem he's trying to solve, because it doesn't exist). And what happens when those children become adult gamers too? Does he really think they won't forget such censorship?
Horatio 7 Mar 2008 14:19
5/6
Joji wrote:

The first reason is money. While Vaz and co stand on their soap box, what they don't realise is the huge amount of money the games industry brings into this country, a lot of which the government welcomes. With many of the U.Ks old industries (cars, textiles etc) moving abroad to China and elsewhere, the games industry, while a young one, is still one our government does not want to loose. With it earning more than the film industry, they'd want to do their best to keep things sweet with them.


Money? I'm not sure of the validity of that. Whilst it would be hard to imagine Brown and co wanting finance and talent to migrate to other counties, I think they themselves have referred to the games industry as smally fry recently! And we're not in America where such things can be lobbied so easily. I also think that money is a none-issue anyway as it would only be a small percentage of games that would fall foul of any new classification system or censorship body.

Joji wrote:

The worst case scenario if VAz gets his way, is that all creative industries, not just games will suffer in the long run (if double standard like those imposed on Manhunt series prevail. The mass effect could then take place, with games folk leading an exodus of creative talent abroad, to places like Canada, where tax brreaks can aid them and creative freedom is not restricted. This would be the governments greatest mistake, while trying to apparently do the right thing in their eyes. On top of that the whole country loses needed loot.


Okay, that would be an almost worst-case but worse still for any government would be the public backlash if they were seen to be doing nothing. Whilst Brown has better things to be doing, the rise in youth crime etc is always going to find a scapegoat in the games industry and so the government in general should be seen to be trying to address that. And the tax break comment kind of invalidates your point about the UK government wanting a successful games industry here in the UK - I think they went out of their way recently to say that such subsidies wouldn't happen here.

Joji wrote:

The second is Vaz himself. He's what jack Thompson is in the U.K. The kind of person that paints all games with one brush and doesn't care that most gamers are working, voting and tax paying adults. He doesn't play the games he's criticising to get concrete proof, and much of it seems like dressed up guess work (hence the recent rape part of his statement about games, which he couldn't back up).


Agreed. Vaz himself is something of a comedy character in my eyes, following the same traditions as many media outlets in the UK by talking of things he apparently knows little about.

Joji wrote:

Now while the parent of the tragicly deceased lad is now getting involved, it all feels very much like a stage to dance upon hearts and minds. Parents in general are pretty clueless. You try to educate them about games and their ratings, and they have no time to learn it. Ratings make it easy, but parents make things hard with their ignorance. Something bad goes down and its 'those evil games'. You try to advise a parent about parenting and they still don't wanna know, 'coz mummy n daddy know best'. They only have time to learn when its too late and time has run out. How ironic.


I think that might be harsh. We're not really talking about "most" parents here are we? We only really hear of the bad stories linked to gaming but I hope and believe that many parents understand gaming. It's a pity that a few parents can paint all the remainder with the same brush! Many gamers ARE now in the 25-34 demographic and are likely to be parents themselves so are they the generalised clueless you speak of?

Joji wrote:

Such a shame Vaz still doesn't get it. We are all for kids playing games within their suggested age rating (still a parent/guardians responsibility, no one elses), but by creating even more censorship, all he'd be doing is punishing his own tax payers, for content they are legally allowed to consume (and still not solve the problem he's trying to solve, because it doesn't exist). And what happens when those children become adult gamers too? Does he really think they won't forget such censorship?


Its a shame that this arguement seems to be all-out either way. Come on, we've been here before. I have younger friends who seem perfectly happy in life, despite having to play through green blood in Mortal Kombat :-P
PreciousRoi 8 Mar 2008 10:52
6/6
Tim Smith wrote:
People can already contact their local authority to ask for - Father Ted-like - bans.


Father Jack wrote:
THAT would be an Ecumenicalll Matter-rr
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