Information about the FSK

FSK Logo on CoverThe FSK is a Self-Regulatory Body for the legally regulated protection of youth and minors. In a system of Co- Regulation it works together with the highest authorities of the federal states (Oberste Landesbehörden, OLB). Its task is to estimate the effects that films, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and videos might have on children and adolescents, and to rate the material according to its suitability for different age groups. The legal basis for the work of the FSK are clauses 11, 12 and 14 of the Law for the Protection of Youth in Public Places (JuSchG).

§ 14 JuSchG: Labelling of films as well as of film and play programmes "Films as well as film and play programmes which might potentially impair the development and education of Children and Adolescents to responsible personalities in society shall not be released for that age group."

In principle, children and adolescents under 18 years are not allowed to attend public screenings. Before a film can be made accessible to children and adolescents it has to be passed by the OLB. Finally, films which are likely to be physically, mentally or morally harmful to children and adolescents may not be declared suitable for public screening at all.

Any film may be given one of the following five ratings:

1) Suitable without age restriction
2) Suitable for persons over 6 years
3) Suitable for persons over 12 years and children over 6 years when accompanied by a parent or educational officer
4) Suitable for persons over 16 years
5) Not to be shown to persons under 18 years (Keine Jugendfreigabe)

Each film or play program submitted to the FSK to be released in cinemas, on DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc. is viewed by the Juvenile Examination Board. The members evaluate each film with respect to its potential effects on children and adolescents. After discussing their results the Examination Board takes a vote on the final rating of each film. Decisions are based upon simple majorities.

In their discussion and evaluation of films the working committee is guided by the following questions: In what ways could a film possibly affect children and adolescents? Why might it have these effects on minors? And would the material have different effects on minors of different age groups? In order to answer these and related questions it is important to recognize that the audio-visual medium has become an integral part in the socialization of young people. In order to appreciate the complex role the audio-visual medium plays in the lives of young people one also has to bear in mind that visual perception is not a passive process but involves an intellectual activity which is likely to affect the overall behaviour and attitudes of a young person.

The discussions of the working committee focus on two questions, namely
(a) What is the subject matter of the film? and
(b) In what form is this subject matter presented? These two questions result in
(c) What kind of effect does the film have on the viewer?

Of course, there can be no objective answer since the parameters involved are extremely complex. Age, social background, education, psychological disposition, sex, consumption habits are factors which vary from individual to individual and may yield very different responses to one and the same film. The evaluation process is further complicated by the fact that the age groups used by the FSK are a legal construct and do not correspond to the stages in a child’s cognitive development as they have been postulated by developmental psychologists.

In spite of this general predicament, however, there are practical guidelines which have proven to be useful for the evaluation of films, especially with respect to the depiction of violence in films.

1. Examiners are asked to reflect on their individual reaction to the film submitted for evaluation. This requires that they do not simply judge the material in terms of rational categories but that they also be sensitive to how the film affects them emotionally.

2. Examiners should ask themselves how children and adolescents whom they know would react to the film under consideration. Often this is not a purely hypothetical question since many of the examiners have had long-standing experience working with young people in schools, holiday camps etc.

3. To evaluate video films examiners must have a knowledge of the social diversification and internal dynamics of juvenile groups, i.e. they should be able to answer questions like the following: What kind of groups exist in the juvenile scene? What are the behavioural patterns within specific peer groups? To what extent are these patterns determined by the audio-visual medium?

4. Examiners are also expected to take into account findings from developmental psychology. It is indispensable to have a knowledge of the general psychological development of children and adolescents. Furthermore, examiners should be able to relate single developmental stages to the ability of minors to take in and process audio-visual information. Of course, the importance of insights gained from research in sociology and psychology must not be overstressed. Such theoretical knowledge should by no means distract the examiners from their actual goal, which is to evaluate particular films and not to make statements about the general importance of this medium for the development of children and adolescents.

5. Another central component in the evaluation process is a knowledge of the effects the media has on the consumers’ behaviour. It would be of little use, however, to enumerate the various hypotheses about how such effects are brought about, or to refer to inadequate long-term studies. In the past few years, researchers have carried out a number of empirical studies which show that the audio-visual medium has an effect especially on children. Of course, the precise nature of the influence films and videos have on young people varies considerably, depending on a number of contextual variables. Therefore, no serious expert concerned with the protection of youth would claim that the results gained in some domain of research could be applied blindly to other domains.

6. Last but not least, examiners need to have a knowledge of how visual imagery is used in modern film to convey specific messages, i.e. they need to be able to decode visual information and filter out its meaning.

The working committee’s decisions can be appealed against either by committee members who dissent from the majority vote or by the company which has submitted the film in question. In addition, each federal state can appeal against the decision to make a film accessible to juveniles via its OLB. In a final stage, the film and video industry’s central organizations may lodge an appeal against the working committee’s decision.