Frequently asked questions about youth media protection in Germany
What content and topics are considered of relevance to youth protection in Germany?
In addition to depictions of violence, sexuality and frightening content, content capable of causing socioethical disorientation in adolescents (e.g. depictions of alcohol and drug use, antisocial behaviour, self-endangerment, suicide) is also considered relevant in Germany.
Unlike in other countries, what counts when evaluating material for youth protection purposes is not the depiction in itself but the context. It all comes down not to prohibited themes but to weighing up the potential risks. Such risks are presumed to be present in content which is not limited to the following but for example:
- Strongly aestheticises depictions of violence, tending towards glorification
- Portrays torture or vigilante justice as legitimate
- Presents prejudice and discrimination uncritically
- Shows intolerance, social marginalisation, harassment, bullying or other forms of violence as normal or worthwhile behaviour
- Uses stereotypes to denigrate people or whole milieux or places extreme limitations upon gender roles
- Fails to provide sufficient explanation when sexuality is portrayed in conjunction with violence
- Portrays accidents, illness or blows dealt by fate in a sensationalistic and voyeuristic manner
- Incites viewers to subject themselves to extreme risks or extreme body modification
The reasoning found in youth protection evaluations concentrates on potential risks and can provide an objective perspective when dealing with public controversies concerning particular formats or topics.
In cases involving sensitive topics, accompanying measures can also make sense, such as providing additional information, background facts and expert knowledge concerning a given programme or referring readers to services offering help and support or to contact persons.
What age ratings are there in Germany?
The age brackets are as follows:
- No age restriction
- Aged 6 and over
- Aged 12 and over
- Aged 16 and over
- Not suitable for persons aged under 18
Television transmission times correspond to the age ratings (cf. Age brackets and time schedule)
Age ratings for cinema showings and material carrier media such as films and computer games on DVD or CD are set out in the German Protection of Young Persons Act (Sect. 14 JuSchG). For broadcasting and telemedia (Internet), they can be found in the German Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (Sect. 5 JMStV).
What measures by telemedia providers are necessary for the different age brackets in Germany?
Germany has an extremely fine-knit mesh of legal provisions for child protection in the media. The German Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV) classifies content in relation to harmfulness. The categories are:
The issue of which technical measures a provider is legally obliged to adopt is determined by the nature of the content:
- Illegal content, e.g. child pornography or violent pornography, may not be offered under any circumstance
- Content illegal for minors (persons under 18) may only be made accessible to adults
Content that is harmful for young people’s development may only be offered if the provider takes care to ensure that minors will not normally be able to access it.
For that, there are different possibilities:
- Programming for a recognised youth protection program
- Installing technical means
- Using watersheds (content for persons aged 18 and over may not be provided until after 11 p.m.; for persons aged 16 and over not until after 10 p.m.; for persons aged 12 and over not until 8 p.m. Content that is suitable for children of all ages can be provided without any further measures.
Age ratings for Internet, television and DVD: is it possible to use one classification for different ways of distribution?
Since the revision of the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV) in 2016, it has been easier for media providers to obtain a youth protection rating (i.e. an age classification) for their products.
In principle, providers can rate their products themselves or use the free FSM age classification system to create a technical classification. However, the way to obtain the maximum possible protection from sanctions by the authorities is to have your content evaluated by the FSF and to observe the corresponding age rating when disseminating this content, thereby avoiding fines.
Once issued, an FSF age rating can also be used for other marketing channels. For providers, the adoption of television ratings for DVD marketing is both unbureaucratic and cost-effective.
The examination process can also incorporate a variety of ratings for different versions of a product. It is therefore becoming more and more common to produce an edited version for prime-time TV broadcast (for viewers aged 12 and over), while also releasing the original version with a 16 rating on DVD or Internet platforms.
To sum up, whether your content is going out via television, DVD, VOD or streaming, the FSF and the FSM have the right youth protection solution for your product.
How can a company be protected against interventions and sanctions by state authorities?
Violations against youth media protection laws can cause serious sanctions and fines. Simultaneously, the German legal framework around youth media protection is rather complicated and can be hard to follow.
Becoming a member of the FSM or the FSF reduces the possibilities for direct intervention by state authorities against telemedia providers. In the event of disputes with the federal authorities, first the FSM or the FSF are engaged as an intermediary, thereby legally ruling out direct sanctions (“legal privilege”).
Recognised self-regulation associations therefore function as a buffer between the state authorities and their member companies (Article 20 Para. 5 Sentence 2 JMStV).
What is the procedure for an examination of FSF and FSM?
See FAQ "Applicants’ questions about the FSF examination of programmes" on FSF website and “What we offer" on FSM website.