Legislation for the cinema industry in the United Kingdom goes back to 1909, when the Cinematograph Act was passed providing for the licensing of exhibition premises and safety of audiences. The emphasis on safety has been maintained through the years in other enactments, such as the Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act 1922, Cinematograph Act 1952 and the Fire Precautions Act 1971 – the two latter having been consolidated in a key piece of legislation, the Cinemas Act 1985, which amended earlier legislation regulating the opening and use of cinema premises on Sundays.
The British Film Institute Act 1949 allows for grants of money from Parliament to be made to the Institute. All films intended for public viewing are subject to prior consideration by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to check no criminal offence has been committed in the content. Guidance is given on the suitability of films for children. Although local authorities are ultimately responsible for film licensing they rarely ignore the BBCF’s recommendations.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 controls the distribution of video recordings with the aim of restricting the depiction or simulation of human sexual activity and gross violence taking into account the potential for under-age viewing and whether content is suitable for watching at home.
The Communications Act 2004 established the Office of Communications (Ofcom) as the independent media regulatory body, replacing five existing regulators – the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the Radio Authority and the Radiocommunications Agency. Ofcom answers to the UK Parliament. Its task is to ensure that commercial television and radio, telecommunications networks and wireless and satellite services operate, compete and develop in the greater public interest. Ofcom also has a number of powers in relation to BBC television and radio and advises the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on proposed newspaper mergers.
Independent production quotas have been statutorily imposed in relation to the UK’s terrestrial and public service broadcasters. The Broadcasting Act 1990 requires the BBC, the ITV companies, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to devote at least 25% of their qualifying programming time to broadcasting a range and diversity of independent productions. Article 4 of the EU Broadcasting Directive Television Without Frontiers (TVWF), implemented by the UK through the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996, requires Member States to ensure that broadcasters within their jurisdiction reserve a majority proportion of their qualifying transmission time for European works. Additionally, under Article 5, at least 10% of their transmission time was to be earmarked for European independent works. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2007 (AVMS) updates the former TVWF Directive, in particular by extending its scope to include video on demand (VOD) services. Although such legislation is to beabsorbed initially into UK law, it is not known whether it be retained in the longer term after the UK leaves the EU.
The Children (Performances and Activities) England Regulations and its equivalent in Wales govern children appearing in film and TV (see chapter 4.1.5).