One of the most telling themes in Kirby Dick‘s 2006 documentary ‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated‘ is the discussion of the backgrounds of the (rather secretive) reviewers used in the US (powerful self-regulatory) MPAA system. In particular, the film criticises the lack of training and media knowledge of the various ‘parents’ (some of whom turn out not to be parents after all) that have the influential role of watching and commenting on movies submitted for review.

In the case of Ireland, though, the problem of qualifications for raters has a further twist to it. (There are of course important differences; the IFCO in Ireland, for example, is a public body with a full statutory system for the classification and censorship of both cinema and video releases). As Colin Coyle wrote in the Sunday Times, though, of the ten ‘assistant classifiers’ working for the office (you can meet them here), at least five are former politicians associated with the government parties (Fianna Fáil and the Green Party), not appearing to have any particular qualifications for the role. Now of course, it’s hard to see what the qualifications are, although given that there is already a strong political role through the legislation that establishes IFCO and sets (particularly in the case of video) detailed rules that it must follow, it’s hard to see the case for political appointees. Yet the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act 1992 is clear on this point – assistant censors are appointed by the Minister for Justice (‘for such period as the Minister may determine’!) There may be a case for a mixture of people with relevant professional experience in media (or particularly the study of media) and others, but it does seem quite remarkable to have so many ex-politicians involved. IFCO has come a long way over its history, developing from a rather splice-happy moral authority to its modern incarnation as focusing on classification and the provision of information. (The story is told in the brilliant 2004 book by Prof. Kevin Rockett of TCD, Irish Film Censorship). Its director, John Kelleher, has a great profile as broadcaster, producer, journalist and indeed film classifier, and I think is generally regarded as a modernising, liberal director (what used to be called Censor!), as discussed for example in this 2006 interview and a more recent one (via Eoin O’Dell) here. However, is it possible to specify the appropriate qualifications for a job like this (setting aside for now the debate on the future of systems like that of Ireland or the US), or do you just need a good pair of eyes? The BBFC in the UK (which has a different legal status again), as I understand it, sees the bulk of the work done by employed staff who will have some relevant experience or interests and are hired through open recruitment and given further training. (There’s some information here although – alas – they’re not hiring at the moment) Would this be a better approach for IFCO?