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
"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.