In accordance with German regulations for broadcasting and telemedia (Internet), the FSF age classifications are based on the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag: JMStV).
The age brackets are as follows:
For viewers of all ages and for transmission at all times
For content to be approved for viewers of all ages, it must be clear that it will not impair the development or upbringing of children under six, who are almost entirely incapable of distancing themselves from the action on screen. This age group tends to experience individual scenes in isolation from their overall context.
Emotionally stressful moments such as threat situations, acts of violence, heated arguments or the humiliation or intimidation of on-screen characters may disturb and frighten small children, who cannot as a rule integrate them into the wider context of a storyline in a film. Alongside moments featuring disturbing content, consideration should also be given when evaluating material – especially when dealing with this youngest age bracket – to formal presentation methods designed to agitate the senses.
Aggressive background music, excessive visual stimulation during action sequences or sinister visual design can all be too much for children under six to take on board and process properly.
For viewers aged 6 and over and for transmission at all times
Children between the ages of 6 and 12 need stories that challenge them and provide guidance, thereby helping them deal with negative feelings and fears. They look for and find such stories on television, and not just in children’s programmes. Thanks to their experience of television, primary-school children are already in a position to process excitement and handle moments of tension, provided these are not too intense and are resolved quickly. When watching suspenseful films, children in this age group need dramatic structures with built-in periods for catching their breath and episodic solutions to reassure them that much-loved characters, or those with whom they identify, will survive the danger unharmed.
Because of this, content without any such opportunities for relief cannot be approved for age brackets under 12. The same applies to content depicting war or other forms of violent action in their respective historical, political or social contexts, thereby setting them in a frame of reference that may be impossible for younger children to understand. They cannot as a rule be expected to contextualise the intensive effect of individual scenes in the light of the overall context or to distance themselves by recognising the fictional nature of a given representation.
Since the primary-school age is when value orientations are developed and progressively consolidated, it is important, when looking at potentially disorienting content, to consider whether the behaviour depicted may be taken as a model or seems to be treated as normal and whether children viewing it are offered any guidance they can understand.
For viewers aged 12 and over and for transmission at all times
Programmes with an age rating of 12 and over may go out during the daytime, provided this is not inconsistent with the welfare of younger children. In many cases, films that have received an FSK rating for viewers aged 12 and over are edited for daytime transmission.
Frank presentations of acts of violence and fighting, fairly intense threat scenarios or images of victims are scaled back, so as to avoid such scenes causing lasting anxiety to younger children. Programmes falling into this category will therefore tend more towards an age rating of six and over than one of 16 and over. However, they are not necessarily suitable for younger children, and parents should be present when they are viewed.
For viewers aged 12 and over and for transmission from 8 p.m. onwards (prime time)
Children and adolescents aged 12 and over are generally aware of films in their overall context. They are capable of taking individual scenes in the context of the storyline or putting them into perspective, and they are in a position to distinguish between fiction and reality.
Moments of on-screen threat can be processed provided they are not depicted in too extreme a manner. Fears are generated predominantly by realistic scenarios. This age group understands complex storytelling and is able to deal with extended arcs of suspense. As such, the evaluation of individual scenes and risks becomes a less significant factor in determining whether they will cause any lasting anxiety than is the case with younger age groups. At this point the emphasis shifts to the overall message conveyed by a film, and to any tendencies that might be socioethically disorienting or advocate violence.
Viewers aged 12 and over have developed relatively well-established basic behaviour patterns and attitudes that cannot be changed by media content on its own. They are therefore fairly unlikely to identify unilaterally with characters or behaviour patterns. Meanwhile, with the onset of puberty, increased significance is given to ideological perspectives and examples, distinctions between a viewer’s own group and others and to sexual orientation and behaviour towards the opposite sex.
Children and adolescents belonging to this age group are gradually breaking away from their family home and are receptive to alternative value judgements and lifestyles. Attention should therefore be paid to whether the relevant media content promotes violent or socioethically disorienting behaviour, either in its overall message or in part.
For viewers aged 16 and over and for transmission from 10 p.m. onwards (late-night programming)
Adolescents aged 16 and over have already acquired well-established guiding values, enabling them to deal constructively with problematic media content. This age group is also capable of processing relatively drastic depictions of violence in the context of the programme or genre, provided the programme does not tend overall to legitimise violence as a means of resolving conflicts. In addition to the message, the composition and style of a depiction should also be considered, as should its suitability for a youthful audience. Programmes whose attraction rests to a significant degree on their depiction of explicit violence may desensitise viewers as regards how they perceive violence in the media and in real life. The aestheticisation of extreme violence, particularly in conjunction with attractive film heroes, can reinforce positive connotations or a fascination with violence.
Especially important factors in evaluating the risk of socioethical disorientation are the suitability of a specific depiction for a youthful audience and the relevance of that depiction to everyday life. Viewers aged 16 and over are capable of contemplating socioethically disorienting moments in the light of their own values, provided the programme as a whole does not tend to call constitutionally protected values into question.
For viewers aged 18 and over and for transmission from 11 p.m. onwards (night-time programming)
Once viewers reach the age of 18, it is possible to approve content that, while considered “merely” liable to impair development in children and adolescents, is not “clearly very harmful to young persons” (Sect. 4 Para. 2 Sentence 1 No. 3 JMStV).
The key factor determining the examiners’ decision is not whether or not adults would be able to process the content (youth protection is not adult protection), but whether a programme is legal or illegal (Sect. 4 JMStV, cf. legal prohibitions and restrictions).
Programmes are not generally approved for viewing by adolescents if they string together a large number of detailed scenes of violence or discriminating statements without putting them into perspective or commenting on them. If acts of cruelty are displayed for their own sake or depicted in great detail, without the problematic nature of violence as a means of resolving conflicts being addressed sufficiently, this indicates that the content is clearly very harmful to young persons.
Not to be broadcast
Sect. 4 JMStV and Sect. 29 and 30 PrO-FSF determine which content is illegal. In addition to material declared strictly illegal in the German Criminal Code (StGB) (dissemination of propaganda material of unconstitutional organisations and using symbols of unconstitutional organisations, incitement of the people, denial or trivialisation of National Socialist crimes, glorification of violence, instructions to commit criminal acts) and content on the index of the German Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors (BPjM), the following television programming is not permitted:
- That which violates human dignity (Sect. 4 Para. 1 Sentence 1 No. 8 JMStV);
- That which shows children or adolescents in unnatural, sexually suggestive postures (Sect. 4 Para. 1 Sentence 1 No. 9 JMStV);
- That which glorifies war (Sect. 4 Para. 1 Sentence 1 No. 7 JMStV);
- That which is pornographic (Sect. 4 Para. 1 Sentence 1 No. 10 JMStV; Sect. 4 Para. 2 Sentence 1 No. 1 JMStV)
- That which is obviously suited to posing a serious threat to the development of children and adolescents or to the prospect of them being brought up to be self-dependent and socially competent personalities (Sect. 4 Para. 2 Sentence 1 No. 3 JMStV). In particular, content is considered to pose a serious threat if it glorifies or trivialises violence, if it is disorienting in some other way that will lead minors astray into a mindset that is grossly contrary to constitutionally protected values (e.g. disregard for human dignity, racism) or if it is capable of causing minors to harm themselves (e.g. glorification of drug use or suicide).