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Nothing for young vegetables …

In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” the heroes of the film have to go through a lot: They jump into a seemingly endless abyss, are almost killed by a tree, are pursued by giant spiders and Harry fights back Life and death with a giant snake – pretty scary for some. That’s why only young people from the age of 12 in Germany were initially allowed to see the film – until the production company Warner Bros. had a new, slightly less violent version edited for Germany.

The Youth Protection Act

Why is that? Children and young people are not allowed to watch every film indiscriminately. It’s in the Youth Protection Act.

The law is intended to ensure that children and young people do not see anything that could impair their development. These include, for example, sex or violent scenes, but also scenes that are particularly scary or exciting. Especially small children under the age of six can be frightened, inhibited or traumatized by such scenes. Because they still cannot understand that the film on the screen is only imagined and not real. But older children and young people can also be burdened by film images if particularly cruel, nerve-wracking or explicitly sexual scenes are shown. The Youth Protection Act states that otherwise “their education to become a self-responsible and socially competent personality” is impaired. And that shouldn’t happen.

The most important points of the law:

  • Cinema and video films may only be shown, sold or lent to children and young people if they have a age ratings have been provided. On the DVD case or on a sign in the cinema, for example, it says “6+” – like in the films “How to Train Your Dragon” or “Crocodiles in the suburbs”. Other films are approved for ages 12, 16 or 18. If the film is “approved from 0”, then there is no age limit – everyone can see it. That was the case with “Ice Age”, for example.
  • Films that have been classified as harmful to young people are not allowed to watch at all by children and young people under the age of 18 – neither in cinemas nor on DVD. The cinema operator or DVD retailer must ensure that under-18s cannot access films that are harmful to young people.
  • So you can only go to the cinema if the film is approved for your own age group. In addition, children under the age of 6 are not allowed to go to the cinema at all without their parents or an adult. Children from the age of 6 can go to the cinema until 8 p.m., young people under 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. and young people from 4 p.m. until midnight. You can stay longer if your parents or legal guardian are with you.

The FSK – testing of cinema films

If a filmmaker wants children and young people to be able to watch his cinema film or DVD, he must submit the film to the so-called voluntary self-regulation of the film industry (FSK) for examination. It then determines from what age a film intended for public showing and distribution can be cleared. It can also happen that a film is not approved for a younger audience.

Ultimately for the filmmaker, this means that the film brings in less money because not everyone is allowed to see it. If voluntary self-regulation did not exist, the legislature would presumably make the Youth Protection Act even stricter so that under no circumstances can children or young people see films that are not yet suitable for them. At the moment there is still a kind of discretionary power, i.e. freedom to make your own decisions. Incidentally, this test procedure also applies to computer games.

When examining the films, the FSK looks to see whether the film can impair the development of children and young people of certain ages, for example through the depiction of violence or sex, which one only sees at a certain age can understand and process. The FSK ensures that the films comply with all statutory youth protection regulations. In short: it’s about the film audience being old enough to understand the difference between film and reality – and not having nightmares all night after the film and being mentally impaired.

Once a filmmaker wants to change an age rating, there is often only one way: to re-edit the film, like the “Harry Potter” episode in question. The critical scenes are then changed or removed completely and the film can then be submitted to the FSK again. In the cinema it comes with the addition “shortened/edited version”.

Youth protection in front of the television

Films and series for television must also be checked before they can flicker across the screen. But they go through a different path than the cinema films. The television broadcasters assume most of the responsibility here. When planning their programs, they take a close look at which audience usually sits in front of the television at what time and which films and series are suitable. Nevertheless, as with the cinema films, there is also someone who checks whether the broadcasters make the right decisions.

At home, parents have to decide what their children can watch.

In public television such as ARD, WDR or SWR, the editorial departments, i.e. the broadcaster itself, are responsible for programs that are suitable for the protection of minors. Here the youth protection officer is asked to advise the editors on all issues of youth protection. Complaints about violations can be submitted to the Broadcasting Council.

In the case of private television stations such as RTL, Pro7 or SAT1, the Voluntary Self-Regulation Television (FSF) and the state media authorities also check. Both – the private and the public broadcasters – have the job of youth protection officer, who is the contact person and pulls all the strings.

FSF and state media authorities

The private television broadcasters submit programs relevant to the protection of minors to the Voluntary Self-Regulation Television (FSF) for examination, stating the planned transmission time. From the name FSF one can infer that the control is voluntary, but it is now common practice for the youth protection officers of the broadcasters to submit programs relevant to youth protection and the planned transmission time for inspection without being asked. Children and young people are more likely to watch television in the afternoons and early evenings.

CSI is a behind-the-scenes look at police investigations.

Therefore, one can roughly say that the transmission times until the early evening are decisive for the youth protection tests. This is of course the same with public television. The FSF has therefore stipulated that children up to the age of twelve must be able to switch on the television without hesitation from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., children from twelve to 16 years together with their parents until 10 p.m. and young people from the age of 16 until 11 p.m. During this time, nothing may be shown that children and young people cannot yet understand or process or that could be traumatizing.

Reality shows are put to the test, as are fictitious programs such as the crime programs “CSI” or “Crossing Jordan”. Usually, at least three episodes of a series are presented to the FSF – sometimes a whole season. The FSF then decides whether the programs may be shown in the main evening program (from 8 p.m.) or in the late evening program (from 10 p.m.). In the case of “CSI”, for example, it played a role that the dead shown are always treated with respect and mainly a “serious and concerned approach to the subject of ‘death'” takes place. In addition, the FSF positively emphasized that the investigative team was interested in a non-violent investigation of the crimes and was portrayed as morally sound. That’s why most episodes of “CSI” can already be shown on television at 8:15 p.m.

If the broadcaster violates these regulations and broadcasts dubious programming, a complaint can be filed with the state media authorities. Anyone can do that, easily on the Internet:

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