memorandum by Sir Roger Gale, rapporteur
Following the motion for a resolution on violence
on television and its consequences on children (Doc. 12858
), I was appointed rapporteur of the Committee on Culture,
Science, Education and Media on 23 January 2013. Subsequently, I
suggested a change of title to “Violence in and through the media”,
as television could be considered too narrow for such a report in
the current media landscape.
2. The debate about media violence is as old as the media. Twenty
years ago, the 4th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media
Policy (Prague, 7-8 December 1994) addressed to the Committee of
Ministers of the Council of Europe an Action plan containing strategies
for the promotion of the media in a democratic society, in which
they requested that the Committee of Ministers “prepare, in close
consultation with media professionals and regulatory authorities,
possible guidelines on the portrayal of violence in the media”.
As the media have changed over time and especially over the past
decade, it is timely to revisit this subject.
3. Widely publicised acts of extreme violence by individuals,
who have usually had exposure to violent media, regularly puts this
subject high on the political agenda. Public debate arose, for instance,
after the shootings at a high school in Columbine, Colorado (United
States) in 1999, at a high school in Erfurt (Germany) in 2002, at
a vocational college in Kauhajoki (Finland) in 2008, at a secondary
school in Winnenden (Germany) in 2009, at a Jewish school in Toulouse
(France) in 2012 and, most recently, at School No. 263 in Moscow (Russia)
in February 2014, as well as the bomb attack in Oslo and the shooting
massacre in Buskerud (Norway) in 2011.
The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media held
a hearing on “Violence in audiovisual media and its consequences
on children and society” hosted by the Committee on Culture, Education
and Communication of the French Senate on 18 December 2012 in Paris.Note
Expert reports were heard by Professor Divina
Frau-Meigs, University of Paris III, Professor Jo Groebel, Scientific
Director of the UNESCO Study on Media Violence of 1998 (Berlin),
Mr Giacomo Mazzone, European Broadcasting Union (Grand-Saconnex/Geneva),
Dr Salome Ramos, psychologist (Aveiro, Portugal), and Dr Astrid
Zipfel, Institute for Communication and Media Science, Heinrich
Heine University (Düsseldorf).
5. On 21 May 2013, the committee held a hearing on this subject
at the House of Commons in London. The committee heard Mr John Carr,
Member of the Executive Board of the UK Council on Child Internet
Safety (London), Ms Tineke Lodders-Elfferich, President of the Board,
and Mr Wim Bekkers, Director of the Netherlands Institute for the
Classification of Audiovisual Media (NICAM) (Hilversum), Mr David
Austin, Assistant Director, Policy and Public Affairs, British Board
of Film Classification (London), Mr Simon Little, Managing Director
of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (Brussels), and
Mr Neil McLatchie, School of Psychology, Keynes College, University
of Kent (Canterbury).
6. I am most grateful to all the experts and politicians who
have thus contributed to the truly European elaboration of this
2 The correlation
between media violence and violent behaviour
Over decades of research, several theories and models
have been developed that try to explain the mechanisms by which
the reception of media violence translates into aggressive behaviour.
These approaches vary by the duration of the effects they describe
(short-term or long-term), by the pathway they focus on (arousal,
emotions, cognition, etc.) and by the fundamental question of whether
media violence has positive, negative or no effects. The main ideas
of these approaches can be briefly described as follows.Note
2.1 Theories, models
and empirical research
8. The Catharsis Theory is the only theory that claims
positive effects of media violence. It assumes that the viewing
of such content would lead to an engagement in fantasy aggression,
thereby permitting the purging of the viewer’s feelings and the
discharging of aggressive tendencies. Consequently, the viewer is
less inclined to behave aggressively after viewing media violence.
This theory has not been confirmed by methodologically sound research.
9. The simple assumption that media violence is imitated directly
through an unspecified “suggestion process” (Suggestion Theory or
Contagion Effects) has been refuted. Some special conditions may
exist that allow for an imitation of violent acts (which has been
examined with respect to suicide, in particular). However, these
cases are better explained by more differentiated theories – media
content seems to be only one of many more important causes or the
final trigger for an action that was planned long before. Details
of the media content and the attributes of the recipient must be
10. The Habituation Theory emphasises cumulative, long-term effects
in the form of emotional blunting and desensitisation. While viewing
media violence seems actually to reduce emotional and physiological
reactions to the respective content in the long run, evidence that
it also affects the attitude towards violence in real life, diminishes
empathy with the victims of violence and reduces the inhibition
threshold for the viewer’s own aggressive behaviour is scarce.
11. Heavy media users supposedly suffer from a distorted view
of social reality. Viewing violence may cultivate a fear of crime
and the belief that the world is a mean and scary place (Cultivation
Theory). Research is currently concentrating on intervening variables
in that process, for example victimisation experience.
12. The Instigation of Fear effect has mainly been investigated
with respect to children. Research shows greater importance of the
individual relevance of the content (which differs according to
developmental stage and personal experiences) than of the sheer
amount of violence.
13. The Excitation Transfer Theory claims that different types
of media content (violence, but also eroticism, humour, sports,
etc.) can cause a state of unspecific arousal that intensifies any
subsequent (but not necessarily violent) actions.
14. The Stimulation Theory holds that a state of emotional arousal
may be brought about by frustration, which then leads to an aggressive
disposition. This can result in violent behaviour if the individual
meets situational cues that are associated with the actual feeling
of anger, that bear a resemblance with past experiences (also media
content) or that are generally supposed to instigate aggression
(weapons for example).
15. The Priming Theory assumes that violent media stimuli can
activate violent associations in the individual’s brain and, in
the short term, unconsciously influence the perception of situations
and the choice of behavioural options.
16. The Social Learning Theory postulates that people adopt patterns
of behaviour by observing other people’s actions (in reality or
in the media). However, these patterns do not necessarily have to
be acted out. Normally, violence underlies inhibiting conditions
(for example social norms, fear of revenge, sense of guilt, etc.).
However, observing or experiencing positive consequences (rewards,
success, etc.) following violent acts encourages the transfer from
latent behavioural patterns to manifest action. The Social Learning
Theory additionally considers attributes of media content (comprehensibility,
justification, etc.), attributes of the observer (character, cognitive
abilities, former experiences, etc.) and social conditions (socialisation,
values, etc.). It takes into account that different observers perceive
the same content differently and therefore derive different stimuli
for their own actions.
17. The General Aggression Model tries to integrate different
concepts. It suggests that behaviour results from personal and situational
factors that affect cognition, emotions and arousal, thereby influencing
the appraisal of a situation and the subsequent choice of behavioural
options. Environmental reactions to this behaviour retroact and
reinforce or inhibit the chosen behaviour in the future. Repeated
processes of learning, activation and reinforcement may result in
durable aggressive concepts and desensitisation, which lead to an aggressive
personality and violent behaviour in the future. The General Aggression
Model currently is the most frequently used approach in media violence
research. However, this model has never been fully tested. It is universal
but it lacks specification of many factors, such as the role of
18. The relatively new Catalyst Model claims that media violence
at most influences the shaping of violent behaviour but not its
instigation. Violent behaviour, in fact, results from a combination
of genetic factors, family influences (especially experiences with
violence) and situational environmental factors (for example stress).
19. To sum up, the vast majority of theories and models on media
violence find a link between exposure to media violence and violent
behaviour. The pathways that may lead to violent behaviour are arousal
(which, however, is only effective for a very short time), habituation/desensitisation
processes and the acquisition and activation of violent cognitions.
Of these, cognitive theories seem to have the most support. However,
notably, the different pathways are not mutually exclusive and violent
behaviour is not an inevitable consequence.
20. Reviewing the huge body of methodologically diverse empirical
studies leads to the conclusion that the scale of the effects of
media violence is small to moderate (the correlation coefficient
“r”, which can vary between -1 and +1, is usually between 0.1 and
0.3). In other words, only some 10% of a person’s aggression is
explained by media violence; the rest is due to other factors. However,
this percentage represents an average – it may be stronger (or weaker)
for particular individuals. For example, studies that focused on problem
groups (for example juveniles with a criminal record) have found
much stronger effects. The same considerations hold true for particular
variants of media content. Hence, the effects of media violence
are moderated by – or are contingent upon – several additional factors.
This is the focus of ongoing research.
2.2 Factors influencing
media violence effects
21. The present state of knowledge verifies the relevance
of the risk factors indicated below. However, it is important to
state that these factors do not allow for a reliable identification
of potential perpetrators or media content that will unconditionally
instigate aggression. These are only hints of relevant factors whose
actual effects arise from a complex network of interacting variables.
Preference for violent
Comprehension of violent
storylines without stable moral concepts and behavioural patterns
Preference for violent
media content; higher risk of acting out aggressive tendencies
Preference for violent
media content, proneness to risk
(family, school, peers, etc.)
“Double dose” of violent
role models (violent media models and own violent experiences reinforcing
Media content/context of violence
Justification of violence
Elimination of moral
concern, suitability of violent perpetrators as role models
High identification potential,
suitability as role model
Perpetrator has similarities
to the recipient
High identification potential,
suitability as role model
Violence is rewarded
(or at least not punished)
Higher motivation for
learning and acting out violent behavioural patterns
No negative consequences
of violence for the victim
Lack of empathy for the
victim, no reason for critical reflection of violence
2.3 The specific case
of video gamesNote
22. Children today are using media more than ever before.
By the age of six the average child spends 14 hours in front of
a screen, and by the age of 18, the average child spends 45 hours
a week using entertainment media, which is more time than they spend
at school. While television remains the most accessed media source,
advances in technology mean people can now access media through
devices such as personal computers, tablets, laptops, mobile phones
and gaming consoles.
23. The media can entertain, educate and inform, but they have
also become more violent. By the age of 18, the average child has
seen 200 000 acts of violence on television. 60% of television programmes
contain violence, half of which are shown during children’s programming.
Similarly, 90% of films suitable for adolescents contain violence,
half of which are of a lethal magnitude.
24. Video games are a popular form of media, played by 97% of
adolescents. These games have been under the spotlight recently
because they are growing more engaging and violent. Around 94% of
video games contain content descriptors for violence, and almost
26% contain content descriptors for blood and gore. In comparison
to other media sources, video games also have the unique ability
to reward specific behaviours such as killing, through goal fulfilment,
advancement to the next level, and through social approval.
25. The effects of violent video games provoke mixed views amongst
the public. 75% of parents think that violent video games contribute
to violent behaviour, whereas violent video game players tend to
believe violent video games have no effect on aggression. A common
retort to this discussion involving violence and video games is
that violent video games are “just a game” – just as football games
cannot teach players to play football, violent video games cannot
teach players to be violent. Despite its intuitiveness, multiple
studies have shown that gamers respond to virtual events as if they
are morally relevant, a result which would not be expected if it
were “just a game”. To illustrate this point one study found that
after playing a violent video game, gamers reported feeling more
guilty when the violence was not justified compared to when the
violence was justified. Additionally, research has also shown that
children who play violent video games view the world as a scarier
place, are more fearful and initiate more self-defensive acts than
children who do not play violent video games.
26. There are two specific ways in which violent video games have
been found to fuel aggressive behaviour. The first one is dehumanisation
and refers to the denial of human traits to another person. It is
used as a form of moral disengagement so that when we harm someone
we often see them as less human so we do not feel as bad that we
harmed them. One example of a study showed that participants who
played a violent video game ascribed less human emotions (for example
hope and envy) to a partner compared to participants who played
a non-violent video game. These participants that dehumanised after
playing the violent video game then gave a less favourable character
assessment of their partner on a mock job application form. This
was viewed as an act of aggression since the participants were told
that their assessment would directly impact their partner’s chances
of getting a job.
27. The second mechanism through which violent video games lead
to aggression is through desensitisation. Generally, when we see
an act of violence we respond emotionally and physiologically. For example,
we feel empathy or anger and our heart rate increases and we sweat
more. Research has shown that both of these reactions to violence
can be desensitised. Children who play violent video games have
less empathy than children who do not play these violent games.
This has important real life consequences, as research has shown
that it can also make us less willing to help people when they are
28. The conclusions about the effects of violent video games on
aggression are only as good as the underlying research and there
is still much that psychologists do not know. In the future, researchers
need to work more closely with regulators to provide research that
is relevant for ratings, as not all groups respond to violent video
games in the same way. For example, gender (boys respond more aggressively
than girls) and age (children respond more aggressively than adults)
influence the way players respond to violent video games. Current
research also lacks the precision required to make informed ratings
decisions. We do not have the level of detail in research to distinguish
between acceptability of violence towards a human character or non-human
fantasy character for a specific age range. Yet, PEGI (Pan-European
Game Information) ratings systems are drawn up as though we do.
2.4 Child pornography
as a form of media violence
29. At the committee hearing in London, Mr John Carr,
Member of the Executive Board of the UK Council on Child Internet
Safety, explained that there is a clear consensus that engagement
with child abuse images leads to an increased probability that the
person involved in viewing this material will then go on to commit sexual
offences against children. A conservative estimate according to
current research suggests that around 15% of the people caught in
possession of child abuse images are actual or potential child abusers. Engagement
with these images puts these viewers on the path that may lead them
to commit sexual offences against children. It is therefore extremely
important to prevent people from finding and becoming engaged with these
30. It is challenging to monitor and regulate the content found
on the Internet as there is such a vast amount of information available.
Many countries around the world have an Internet hotline where any
member of the public can report child abuse images or pornography,
and around one third of these reported instances are actually of
an illegal nature. Shockingly, last year The Internet Watch Foundation
found that 81% of all child abuse images featured children under
the age of 10. The Internet Watch Foundation also maintains a list
of all of the addresses of websites and newsgroups where these illegal
images are being found and it distributes that list to every Internet
service provider and mobile phone companies. 98.6% of those who
use the Internet will be using it through a carrier that deploys
that list to block access to those sites with illegal images on
it, and each Internet service provider must demonstrate that it
is taking steps to block access to these child pornographic images.
31. The parental filter is another measure that has been put in
place to protect children and young people from accessing inappropriate
material via their mobile phones. Since 2004, all mobile phone companies
except one have adopted a voluntary agreement whereby they place
legal adult sites containing pornographic, gambling, violence or
self-harm related content behind a parental filter, and access is
only granted once it is proven that the customer is 18 or older.
32. It is also important to offer filtering for websites, particularly
as free Wi-Fi access has become more publicly available. Historically,
content protective measures have sometimes been overlooked. For
example, Starbucks’ Wi-Fi had no restrictions in place and, although
this was remedied when questioned in the United Kingdom, the filters
have yet to be adopted in other European countries. The British
Prime Minister, David Cameron, has personally backed such content
filtering and is working towards all free Wi-Fi access having restrictions
in place. However, at present there is no legal compulsion for companies
to agree to this. While such filtering could reflect cultural differences
in Europe, it must not be applied to censor political criticism.
33. It is not certain what consequences this widespread exposure
to pornography may have on society. Various studies have shown that
exposure to pornography is changing the attitude of boys and girls
and what they expect sex to be about. Girlfriends are expected to
do the same things that professional porn actresses do and, particularly
amongst young people, this is coarsening the discourse on sex and
2.5 Violence by individual
users through cyber media
Users of Internet media can use such media for violent
behaviour against other users. Bullying was analysed by the Committee
on Culture, Science, Education and Media in the 2010 report by Mr Gvozden
Flego on education against violence at school.Note
as a specific type of bullying, can take the format of direct (e-mails,
SMSs) or indirect psychological aggression (posting photographs
and comments on the Internet) towards others. In both cases, new
digital media are used by people to inflict psychological stress
As cyber-bullying and other forms of bullying are quite frequent
among young people and might even lead to suicides, governments
should address this phenomenon in particular at school level, as
outlined in Resolution
on education against violence at school. This form of
violence through the media has received wide public attention,Note
but Internet service providers
have yet to address this matter adequately, for instance through
helplines and educational assistance to users – in particular young
Self-violence might be propagated by media content, although
research has shown that other factors are necessary in order to
actually trigger suicidal acts (see paragraph 9 above). With regard
to media reporting, the World Health Organisation produced in 2008
Guidelines on Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals.Note
Internet media have also been used by individuals in order
to share with others user-generated pictures and videos of extreme
violence. The latter media content is prohibited by law in probably
all European countries. While such cases are rare in relative terms,Note
their absolute numbers require
strict action by law-enforcement authorities and their co-operation
across borders. Social networks should exclude such content through
their user agreements and codes of ethics.
3 Standards set by
the Council of Europe
The Committee of Ministers addressed media violence
25 years ago, adopting Recommendation No. R (89) 7 concerning principles
on the distribution of videograms having a violent, brutal or pornographic content.Note
Looking at media violence in more general terms, the Committee
of Ministers adopted eight years later Recommendation No. R (97)
19 on the portrayal of violence in the electronic media.Note
In 2008, the Committee of Ministers adopted Human Rights Guidelines
for Internet Service Providers (ISPs),Note
which recommend inter alia
that ISPs should “provide
information or link to information about risks of encountering or
contributing to the dissemination of illegal content on the Internet
as well as the risks for children of being exposed to harmful content
or behaviour when they are online”.
In the same year, the Committee of Ministers also adopted
Human Rights Guidelines for Online Games Providers, which call for
specific attention to be paid to the portrayal of violence – especially
when targeting children.Note
The guidelines state that online
game providers should “take care to consider and evaluate how the game
content may impact on human dignity, the sensibilities and values
of gamers, in particular children” and make concrete recommendations
- the application
of independent labelling and rating systems of games;
- the provision of appropriate information to the users,
parents and carers on the risks in a users’ guide in the language
of the country where the game is marketed;
- the development of in-game parental control tools.
The only legally binding text by the Council of Europe dealing
with media violence is the European Convention on Transfrontier
Television (ETS Nos. 132 and 171), which contains the following
Article 7 – Responsibilities
of the broadcaster
1. All items of programme services, as concerns their
presentation and content, shall respect the dignity of the human
being and the fundamental rights of others.
In particular, they shall not:
a. be indecent and in particular contain pornography;
b. give undue prominence to violence or be likely to incite
to racial hatred.
2. All items of programme services which are likely to
impair the physical, mental or moral development of children and
adolescents shall not be scheduled when, because of the time of transmission
and reception, they are likely to watch them.
The Standing Committee established under this convention agreed
in 2009 on the following revision of this article, but the Committee
of Ministers has still to agree to such revision:Note
6 – Responsibilities of media service providers
The presentation and content of audiovisual media services
shall respect the dignity of the human being and the fundamental
rights of others.
In particular they shall not contain any incitement to
hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality.
Media service providers shall ensure the adequate protection
of minors. In particular, they will ensure that:
television broadcasts do not include programmes which
might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development
of minors, in particular those that involve pornography or gratuitous
violence. This provision shall be extended to other television programmes
which are likely to impair the physical, mental or moral development
of minors, except where it is ensured, by selecting the time of
the broadcast or by any technical means, that minors in the area
of transmission will not normally hear or see such broadcasts;
on-demand services which might seriously impair the physical,
mental or moral development of minors are only made available in
such a way that ensures that minors will not normally hear or see
such on-demand services.
45. The overall yardstick for freedom of expression and information
in the media is, of course, Article 10 of the European Convention
on Human Rights (ETS No. 5). The European Court of Human Rights
has developed a large body of case law in this context, although
it has not yet had the opportunity to decide specifically on cases
of media violence.
4 Standards set by
4.1 National media
Many member States have created specialised bodies
or regulatory authorities which address, inter
, media violence. In May 2013, the committee heard
representatives of the Netherlands Institute for the Classification
of Audiovisual Media (NICAM)Note
the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).Note
47. NICAM was founded in 1999. It is a foundation set up with
one specific goal – to help parents and educators of children (aged
1 to 16) by providing information on the potential unsuitability
of audiovisual productions. They introduced the “Kijkwijzer” system,
meaning “watch wiser” or “viewing guide”. This is a universal classifications
system for television programmes, cinema films, DVDs and video games.
Research suggests that up to 90% of Dutch parents use the system,
as well as children aged 9 to14 (particularly girls) because they
wish to be informed of the potential risks and consequences of watching
certain audiovisual media.
48. NICAM’s approach has spread internationally, for example to
Iceland and Finland. NICAM only provides information on the potential
unsuitability of audiovisual content and not its suitability. It
does this by informing adults, parents and children using pictograms
indicating minimum age and information about the content of the media
(for example contains sex, violence, drugs). “Kijkwijzer” is not
an independent body but a self-rating system – the classification
process is the responsibility of the broadcasters and media distributors.
NICAM receives half of its funding from the government; the rest
comes from public and private broadcasters and DVD and film distributors.
49. The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has developed
an online media guide for children called “mediasmarties.nl”, which
provides objective information about games, television programmes,
films, DVDs, CD-ROMs, websites and online games. Mediasparties.nl
is an independent website without commercial interests. Providing
objective reviews, content descriptions and age indications, it
is designed for parents, educators and people working in childcare,
schools and youth centres.
50. The BBFC has been the United Kingdom’s regulator of film since
1912 and of videos since 1984. The BBFC is self-financing and independent
of government involvement. Since 2008, the BBFC has been classifying
age-related content distributed online. All classification decisions
are based on published guidelines which are updated every four years
following large-scale consultations. These typically involve around
10 000 people who take part in interviews, focus groups and questionnaires.
The public decides what level of content they feel is acceptable
at different age ranges.
51. Generally, the BBFC classification systems give an age rating
and content advice regarding a particular piece of content, but
occasionally it intervenes and makes content cuts or rejects content
entirely. This happens in two circumstances: either because of United
Kingdom law (indecent images of children), or because of a potential
harm risk (depiction of violent pornography).
52. In 2011, the BBFC implemented the policy concerning the depiction
of sexual violence, as a number of films were showing this sort
of extreme content at the time. It was necessary to intervene with
all of them, either cutting material out at scene level, or banning
the film entirely because of the harm risks that BBFC believed they
posed. It is illegal in the United Kingdom to supply uncut versions
of these films. Like NICAM, the BBFC keeps depictions of strong
or glamorised violence away from impressionable young children.
Research has found that over 80% of parents with children under
the age of 16 value the work of the BBFC.
53. Online however, many of these regulations disappear. It is
felt that online content should now be regulated as strongly as
offline content. The BBFC thinks there is a case for more co- and
self-regulation. The key factors for success of an online regulatory
system are: to have child protection at its core, to have effective (trusted
and recognised) labelling of content, to have broad coverage that
is low cost and efficient, and to be flexible and innovative.
54. Since 2008, the BBFC has been working with industry to create
a number of self-regulatory services. “Watch and rate” provides
consumers with access to labelling and content information for content
that will only ever be distributed online. Moreover, Netflix allows
parents to then filter this age-inappropriate content. Another example
is the prototype tool which will allow peer and community ratings
of content according to trusted standards. It is hoped that this
will be piloted later this year in Italy. The BBFC is also introducing
another initiative to provide filtering solutions in line with BBFC
classifications for certain Internet content, for example websites
that encourage violent behaviour can be put behind filters and kept
away from children.
55. The BBFC and NICAM have developed a tool that makes it possible
to rate user-generated content online. “You rate it” is a simple
rating tool based on BBFC and NICAM ratings. It can be embedded
in any video upload site to facilitate user-generated ratings. Ratings
can inform users of the content via websites, apps, search engines
and filter software, thus enabling users to make selections. Ratings
can also be done by the uploader or by the user community. It is
not yet in its pilot stage but discussions are under way.
56. Today, children must be protected. The challenge is to do
so in a relatively inexpensive way without impinging upon freedom
of expression. The success of these initiatives, however, ultimately
depends on the public using these tools and filters effectively.
The systems therefore need to be trusted and easily understood. Another
challenge relates to the use of international tools whilst maintaining
national and cultural differences in acceptability.
4.2 The Pan-European
Game Information (PEGI) system
According to the findings of the Interactive Software
Federation of Europe (ISFOE),Note
one third and one half of people aged 6 years or over play video
games, and although this tends to decrease as they get older, almost
half of 25 to 34 year-olds play video games. Almost 60% of parents
believed that playing video games has a positive impact on the development
of skills in children. Similarly, nearly 50% of parents believed that
playing video games has a positive impact on children’s creativity.
The majority of parents, moreover, do not feel that video games
provoke aggressive behaviour in children.
58. It is generally accepted that violent narratives are not appropriate
for children, and it is on that basis that the industry adopted
a precautionary principle. Ten years ago, the industry developed
and launched the PEGI system. PEGI is a Europe-wide system of self-regulation,
promoting the appropriate sale and use of video games. It is based
on a contractual code of conduct and licenses and was jump-started
by a European Council resolution of March 2002. Since its creation,
PEGI has been supported by the European Commission, the European
Parliament and national governments from many countries, from Iceland
to Israel. It is important to note that PEGI is only a classification
system – it does not censor or ban games; that remains the responsibility of
59. PEGI is essentially a two-part information system. The first
part comprises age icons which are based on criteria developed by
experts in child development, psychology and media fields. For example,
to obtain an age rating of PEGI 3+ the violence would have to be
stylised and cartoonish, not recognisable as violence as such. The
second part of the information system comprises the content descriptors
– these are the reasons why a game is given a particular age rating
and here culture sometimes influences the acceptability of content. For
example, bad language may be particularly important to the English
but not to the Dutch. Regardless of local differences, the age label
plus the content descriptor enable parents to make informed purchasing decisions.
60. A PEGI 7+ game still appears cartoon-like, has features of
a scary nature that are not necessarily violent but which might
still be concern for parents who do not want their children to have
nightmares. A PEGI 12+ game starts to look more realistic, but the
violence remains stylised. Although not strictly covered by this
rating, simulated gambling and sexual posturing are usually included.
61. A PEGI 16+ game features violence that looks quite realistic
and quite graphic scenes of a sexual nature, drug references and
profane language. A PEGI 18+ game features sometimes quite disturbing
scenes on a par with some film products. In the United Kingdom at
least, it is illegal to sell these games to people who are under
age. It should be noted that these scenes can usually be avoided,
and tend to only reflect a few seconds of what for experts can be
a six-hour game.
62. The first step of the rating is the process of self-assessment
by the game creators, who are best placed to judge the game’s content.
Two independent third parties then verify these ratings. Structurally,
supporting the management board, PEGI also has an expert group and
a criteria committee, which are constantly reviewing PEGI criteria
and ensuring it remains up to date with public opinion and advances
in technology. Supporting those, PEGI has a Complaints Board and
an Enforcement Committee which review complaints that arise from
consumers and publishers and enforce the contractual penalties in
63. PEGI can issue a fine of up to €500 000 and impose the compulsory
withdrawal from the market and/or re-rating and editing of content
as necessary. This is overseen by the PEGI council which is made
up of representatives from the PEGI member countries who are likely
to be civil servants in the ministries of media and culture.
64. In 2012, more than half of the 1 800 PEGI-rated games were
suitable for young children, and 75% were suitable for pre-teens.
Only 9% were in the PEGI 18+ category and only 1% had any reference
to drugs. Interestingly, these figures do not include any of the
thousands of games available on phones and tablets which would tend
to be rated predominantly at a 3+ and 7+ rating and used more by
casual gamers as opposed to core gamers frequently using games consoles.
65. PEGI is a robust system for rating physical products in retail;
however there are now many ways to access games. New platforms often
prefer to use their own age-rating systems. PEGI is trying to improve
its reach for these non-physical retail products and has developed
“PEGI for Apps”, which is more efficient and cost-effective than
traditional PEGI rating methods as the ratings are made using a
post-release audit system. Additionally, PEGI for Apps uses feature
descriptors for guidance as it has been found that content is of
lower concern to parents than certain features, for example personal
data sharing, social interactivity or location sharing.
66. PEGI is co-operating with the United States and Brazil and
hopefully later Japan, Australia and South Korea, in order to address
the global nature of app stores and harmonise the classification
system so that it leads to different national ratings relevant to
specific countries, taking into account their cultural specificities.
67. Professor Jo Groebel stated at the committee hearing
in Paris in December 2012 that, when violence in the media is high,
like for example in Japan, and social control is also very high,
there is little violence in reality, but the suicide rate is important:
violence is turned against oneself. However, when social control
is at a very low level, and it is associated with a high level of
violence in the media, like in the favelas of Brazil, South Africa and
in parts of the United States, this leads to a high level of violence
in real life and can form an explosive mixture. Media violence therefore
has to be seen as an indicator in a given society and media policies
have to be contextualised.
68. Since traditional audiovisual media such as cinema films,
videos and television still play a major role in the media landscape,
the existing regulations and self-regulatory examples remain valid
and must be maintained. The advent of the Internet does not justify
reducing our social norms to an unregulated or anarchic State.
69. The lessons learnt from traditional media regulation and self-regulation
should be applied intelligently to new forms of media, where possible.
However, adjustments or new additional approaches have to be pursued in
order to avoid lacunae or grey zones of insecurity.
70. Such approaches depend largely on co-operation by all stakeholders
of the rapidly evolving new online media, namely by governments,
the private sector or industry and civil society or user groups.
In addition, scientific expert advice is necessary for all three