By Hamish Mackay
National newspapers have been accused of "simply not caring" that newsagents may face fines or jail for selling newspapers containing free 12 and 15 certificate films on DVD.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has warned that many of the DVDs given away with newspapers carry 12 or 15 certificates, which makes it illegal to supply them to anyone under the appropriate age.
"It is a very serious offence," BBFC head of communications Sue Clark told Press Gazette. "You end up with a criminal record and can go to prison or be heavily fined."
Clark said some newspapers had broken the law by failing to show film certificates on their front pages — so newsagents might not realise they contained age-restricted material.
She said: "Some newspapers simply don’t care if it appears. They have been made very aware of the situation, but it hasn’t stopped them doing it.
"I know from one person who rang the BBFC that they came in to find their child watching a 15-rated film and they were about seven or eight. Parents have raised concerns. And we are concerned that parents may not be able to choose what their children access."
She said one solution might be for newspapers to give away vouchers for DVDs, and some, including the Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, already did this. She also suggested that DVDs be supplied separately from newspapers.
Trading standards officers are responsible for policing the Video Recordings Act, and the local authority regulatory body — Lacors — has made representations to newsagents, stores and garages, trade bodies and newspapers demanding they tighten their procedures.
Catherine Tong, marketing and PR manager of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said its members had been advised to stick to the law, pointing out: "We are working with the whole publishing industry to make sure that, if there are age-restricted items inside newspapers or magazines, they are clearly marked."
Highlander and Conan The Destroyer, both 15-rated films, were given away with red-top tabloids in January. The Independent has recently given away Czechoslovakian masterpiece Closely Observed Trains, and this Saturday The Guardian is giving away 1970s horror classic The Wicker Man.
Film industry journalist Brian Pendreigh said: "There is the further complication of paper boys and girls delivering age-restricted DVDs to homes at weekends, when parents may be having a long lie-in."
A spokesman for The Guardian said that newsagents were given clear instructions informing them when a 15-rated DVD was being given away with the paper.