Frequently Asked Questions

Are there films that don't have to be classified?

All films intended for distribution or exhibition in South Africa must be approved, by means of classification, by the Board but not all films have to be classified by the same means. Films which do not contain any classifiable elements or films of an educational nature, for instance, may be exempted, upon written application, from the classification procedure and, if so exempted, would be regarded as having been approved for distribution or exhibition.. “Classification” in this context means approved for distribution or exhibition, with or without conditions. The usual classification procedure is for a film to be referred for examination (viewing) by a classification committee of the Board. However, films without any classifiable elements may be exempted from the usual classification procedure by the Executive Committee of the Board.

Do other countries also classify films?

Most, if not all, countries have either statutory authorities or industry-sponsored bodies to classify and rate films, computer games, publications and, in some countries, even TV and radio broadcasting, for reasons similar to that of the Board.

For instance, films in the UK are classified by the British Board of Film Classification, in Australia by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, in the Canadian Province of Ontario by the Ontario Film Review Board, in India by the Central Board of Film Certification, in Brazil by the Departamento de Justica, Classificacao, Titulos e Qualificacao, in Chile by the Consejo de Calificacion Cinematografica, in Denmark by the Media Council for Children and Young People, in Finland by the Finnish Board of Film Classification, in France by the Ministry of Culture, in Hong Kong by the Film Censorship Authority, in Ireland by the Film Censor’s Office, in Singapore by the Media Development Authority, in the USA by the Classification and Rating Authority of the Motion Picture Association of America, in Nigeria by the National Film and Video Censors Board, in Mauritius by the Board of Film Censors, in Ghana by the National Film Board and in Kenya by the Film Censorship Board, to name but a few.

How can I become an examiner?

A request for public nominations of suitable candidates for appointment as examiners is usually made in national newspapers once every 3 years. (Examiners are appointed to three-year terms, though they are eligible for re-appointment.) You may contact the Board for information on when a request for nominations for the next panel of examiners will be made.

How do I register with the board as a distributor of general films?

A “general film” is a film that does not contain any of the scenes described in either Schedule 6 or Schedule 7, or, if it does contain such scenes, is saved by Schedule 9, and does not have the “X” as part of its classification, even if such films have an age restriction of 18+. Films which have “X” as part of the classification (“X18” or “XX”) are regarded as “adult” movies. Note that any film classified “XX” may not be distributed but may be possessed for strictly personal and private consumption.

Get an Application For Registration Form (Form Board E), which you may download from the Board’s website ( or obtain from the Board (phone 0800 000 555 / 012 003 1400).

Complete the form, making sure that you answer every item on the form. The Board will not process forms which have not been completed in every detail. Deposit the registration fee into the account of the Board:

Account FPB, trading as State Expenditure Bank ABSA, Adderley Street Branch Account No. 40 50 45 11 90 Branch Code 632 005 Reference Name under which you trade

Send the completed registration form and a copy of the bank deposit slip to:

Eco Glade 2, 420 Witch Hazel Avenue, Eco Park, Centurion, 0169


If the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, why are films classified?

Classification does not deny freedom of expression, except for materials which are outside constitutional protection, such as child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement to violence and the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion. All other materials are rated to protect children in the relevant age groups from exposure to materials that pose a risk of harm. “Harm” in this context is not just physical harm but includes emotional and psychological harm which may have a negative impact on the normal emotional and cognitive development of children. In balancing competing interests, such as the right to freedom of expression and the protection of children, the Constitution provides that the best interests of a child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

What evidence is there that exposure to certain materials may have negative impact on the development of children?

There are, literally, thousands of studies that confirm a high correlation between exposure to certain kinds of materials and changes in children’s behaviour. Research has tended to focus on the impact of media violence, and general conclusions are:

  • increasing aggressiveness and anti-social behaviour, especially if a child is predisposed to aggressiveness
  • increasing their fear of becoming victims making them less sensitive to violence and victims of violence,
  • and increasing their appetite for more violence in entertainment and in real life.

Media violence often fails to show the consequences of violence and the message is that there are few, if any, repercussions for committing violent acts. If a violent act is rewarded or left unpunished, it is more likely to foster attitudes that support aggressive behaviour.

Research studies also suggest that children, particularly younger children, are not able to distinguish between reality and media distortions of reality and may accept the world as seen in the media as the real world. Relating to the distribution of films

What gives the board the right to tell me what films I, or my children, can watch?

The Board was established by an Act of Parliament – the Films and Publications Act, 1996 – to regulate the distribution and possession of films, computer games and publications by means of classification. The Board, therefore, is a statutory authority responsible for providing the public with information about the content of films, computer games and publications and its classification decisions have the force and effect of law. The Act recognises the right of adults to freedom of expression, except with respect to child pornography, but requires the Board to intervene where there is the likelihood or risk of harm to children.

What is the difference between censorship and classification?

Censorship, as generally practised, and as experienced by South Africans prior to 1994, is a system which denies and prohibits access to certain materials determined by a Government to be inimical to its interests as a government. Censorship is, therefore, motivated by political considerations. Classification, on the other hand, is a system which rates material into appropriate categories on the basis that adults should be free to choose for themselves what to see, hear, read or play, that children should be protected from potentially disturbing, harmful and inappropriate materials, that everyone has a right not to be exposed to unsolicited materials that they may find offensive and that the public has a right to such information as will enable them to make appropriate viewing choices for children in their care. Classification, therefore, is motivated by public interest and constitutionally-protected rights and freedoms and not politics. With the exception of child pornography, there is no censorship in South Africa. Child pornography remains the only category of materials that is completely prohibited in films, videos, publications, the Internet and in any other medium of expression or representation, as well as private possession.

What must I do of I want to open a video shop to sell or rent out films?

The sale or renting out of films within South Africa is regulated by the Films and Publications Act, 1996 (the Act). In terms of section 18(1A) of the Act, any person who wants to sell or rent out films must register with the Film and Publication Board (the Board) as a distributor of films. Any person who sells or rents out films without being registered with the Board would be guilty of an offence under section 24A(1)of the Act.

Who appoints examiners and what are their qualifications?

Chief examiners and examiners are appointed by the Minister responsible for the Board. Appointments are, generally, made from a list of candidates nominated by the public. Examiners must have knowledge or experience in one or more of such matters as community development, education, psychology, religion, law, drama, literature, communication science, photography, cinematography, gender issues and childrens’ rights. The panel of examiners must also be broadly representative of the South African community in terms of ethnicity, age, religion and gender.

Who decides on how a film should be classified?

Films are examined for classification by a classification committee, consisting, usually, of a chief examiner and two examiners, appointed from a panel of examiners. Classification committees examine films against the Constitution, the Act and publicly-approved guidelines. The guidelines not only identify classifiable elements, such as strong language, violence, sex, nudity and racial, gender or religious prejudice, but also establish, as far as it is possible to assess, generally-accepted standards or levels of tolerance of the South African community of the identified classifiable elements. The more frequent and intense the classifiable element, such as violence, for instance, the higher the age-rating imposed on that film. In other words, restrictions on who may or may not be allowed to watch a film would depend on the frequency and intensity of classifiable elements in a particular film.

Who decides on the criteria that is used to classify a film?

The Board has established a set of guidelines which examiners use to determine what is inappropriate, potentially disturbing or harmful to children in particular age groups. These guidelines are based on national and international research on child development, the effects of the media on children and on standards or levels of tolerance of certain materials generally accepted by the South African community, as indicated in the response from the public to the guidelines published each year for comments and representations. Guidelines are also informed, where appropriate, by the criteria and guidelines used by similar bodies in other parts of the world. Guidelines used by the Board are sensitive not only to fundamental rights and freedoms of all South Africans and South African culture but also to the aspirations of Government towards the establishment of a human-rights based democracy in South Africa. Since the guidelines are published each year and refreshed on the basis of public comments and representations, it would not be incorrect to say that the criteria used by the Board is determined to a large extent by the South African public.

Why do we need a classification board?

In the words of Parliament, it is necessary to provide for a “…..system of classification of films and publications to provide a clear balance between the constitutional rights of adults to choose what they want to watch, view or read, and the duty to protect people, particularly children and women, from exposure to harm-resulting forms of violence, sexually explicit films and publications”.

The Film and Publication Board helps you make informed choices about whether or not a particular film is appropriate for your children or even for yourself. Films are examined against a set of guidelines which identify such classifiable elements as strong language, violence, sex, nudity, drug abuse, criminal techniques and racial, gender or religious prejudice. The Board then alerts the public, through age-restriction and consumer advice, about the frequency and intensity of these classifiable elements in a particular film. This is the practical application of the Board’s motto “We inform, you choose”.

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