Tougher West German law aims to shield youth from adult-only videos

With its tougher law on videocassettes, West Germany hopes to keep its youth away from the nasties. Since April 1, anyone who rents out adult-only videos to youths under age 18 could end up spending half a year in jail or paying a fine of 1.8 million marks ($600,000) -- or paying a double penalty if the violation was ``premeditated.''

Furthermore, owners or managers of the nation's 6,000 videoth`eques who fail to observe age restrictions at video screenings could be liable to fines of 30,000 marks ($10,000) -- up from the puny 1,000-mark fine that had been in effect until March 31.

No fines have been levied yet. In the first weeks of the new law police are only issuing warnings.

They are telling offenders that they are serious about enforcement, however, and will be back if violators don't clean up their acts.

Glorification of war, pornography, and incitement to violence, crime, or racial hatred can result in the outright indexing of films and videos, now as before.

That decision remains with the Federal Examination Center of Writings that Endanger Youth, which blackballed almost 300 videos last year, following an initial 400 in the first few years after the video fad took off in 1980.

Indexing is a stronger sanction than age classification, since indexing means a movie or video may not be advertised.

The system of age restriction went into effect last month. A new mixed private-public committee is currently viewing five videos a day and designating them as suitable for adults only, age 16 and over, 12 and over, or all ages. Restricted videos may not be sold or rented except at adult-only shops.

The video committee consists of permanent representatives of the film and video industries and an expert, along with rotating representatives of the Federal Interior Ministry, state governments, churches, and youth groups.

Once a video has been categorized by the committee, it is no longer subject to indexing by the Federal Examination Center, according to Christel Achenberg of the center. Ms. Achenberg doesn't anticipate any conflict between the two organizations, however.

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