Resource material › Our Policy Advice Areas › Censorship Policy
- Censorship Sector Overview
- Strategic Framework
- Ratings and Classifications
- Objectionable Publications
- Bodies Associated with Censorship Regulation
- Key Issues
- Other Stakeholders
- More Information
Censorship Sector OverviewThe Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 mandates the censorship of 'publications' in a number of media. Although the Act itself is administered by the Ministry of Justice, the Department's Censorship Compliance Unit is responsible for a range of censorship activities, the largest being enforcement. The Department provides advice to the Minister.
The Act mandates the censorship of 'publications'. These include, but are not limited to: films, videos, books, electronic computer files, magazines, photographs, sound recordings, billboards, T-shirts, DVDs, CD-Roms and other computer-based media.
Objects such as carvings or statues which do not carry some form of depiction or writing are not considered to be publications. Television and radio broadcasting are not included under the Act.
The Act seeks to maintain a balance between control of objectionable and restricted publications and individual freedom of choice. There is a tension between the concept that the availability of some types of material may be 'injurious to the public good', and section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, which states that everyone 'has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.'
Strategic FrameworkThe Act does not specify the outcome that is to be achieved through the government's censorship interventions. However, the view that society may be harmed by the availability of certain types of material was enshrined by statute in New Zealand during the 1860s and remains generally accepted to this day. By implication, the desired outcome is the reduction of potential harm to the public.
The Act operates on three levels to address the harm to the public good perceived to be associated with free access to potentially harmful material:
- The rating of films and videos by an industry-based labelling body. Ratings are not legally binding and are intended for consumer information
- The classification of publications to restrict availability to particular persons or groups of persons (classified publications may also be subject to display restrictions). Classifications are determined by the Office of Film and Literature Classification and are legally enforceable
- All objectionable material (as defined under the Act) is banned, including such material determined to be objectionable by the Office of Film and Literature Classification.
Ratings and ClassificationsThe current Act builds on previous legislation. All films and videos must be rated or classified before they are supplied to the public. Classifications are determined by the Office of Film and Literature Classification.
Classifications are legally binding restrictions on the availability of publications, usually age-based. An example is the classification R18: Restricted to persons 18 years and over.
Ratings are issued by the industry-based labelling body, in accordance with regulations made under the Act. Ratings are not legally binding and are intended for consumer information. An example is the rating M: Suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over.
Films and videos must carry a label conveying the rating or classification and a descriptive note as to content, where appropriate. Labels are based on the traffic light - green for general exhibition, yellow (or amber) where some caution should be exercised, and red for restricted titles.
Publications other than films and videos do not have to be classified or rated, but may be submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification for examination and classification. Suppliers of unclassified publications commit an offence if the material supplied is in fact objectionable.
View the latest Office of Film and Literature Classification statistics on the number of publications submitted for classification or approval.
Objectionable PublicationsIn part, the Act defines 'objectionable' as follows: 'a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good'.
The Act sets out detailed criteria to help the Office of Film and Literature Classification decide whether a publication is objectionable. It also lists six categories of material which are automatically objectionable:
- the exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes; or
- the use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct; or
- sexual conduct with or upon the body of a dead person; or
- the use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising conduct or sexual conduct; or
- bestiality; or
- acts of torture or the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty.
Bodies Associated with Censorship RegulationThe bodies associated with censorship regulation are as follows:
Office of Film and Literature ClassificationThe Office, which is a Crown Entity, examines and classifies publications. It also examines and classifies advertising material associated with publications and may impose display restrictions on the advertising material and the publications themselves. The Office is funded as a non-departmental output class.
Film and Video Labelling Body Inc.This Body approved under the Act issues ratings (unrestricted) to films and videos and submits to the Office of Film and Literature Classification films and videos of a nature that should be restricted. It issues all labels for films and videos. Labels for restricted titles are issued at the direction of the Classification Office.
Film and Literature Board of ReviewThis Statutory Body reviews decisions of the Classification Office. Reviews are re-examinations of the publications in question. The Board has the same powers of examination and classification as the Office, but its decisions supersede those of the Office. The Board is administered in the Policy Group.
Department of Internal AffairsInspectors of Publications employed by the Department help to ensure that:
- publications are supplied in accordance with existing classifications;
- unclassified publications which should be classified are not supplied; and
- supply of objectionable publications is investigated and prosecuted.
- submits publications to the Classification Office;
- services, and meets the costs of, the Film and Literature Board of Review;
- monitors the Classification Office as agent of the Minister.
New Zealand Customs ServiceObjectionable publications are prohibited imports and may be seized at the border.
Key IssuesDevelopments in communications technology increase the ease of access to information. This has a major impact on censorship, which aims to limit access to 'information' which may be harmful.
Diminishing Applicability of the Classification SystemIn the past, consumers have relied on ratings and classifications to advise them of the content of publications and to limit access by those under a specified age to unsuitable material. The classification system assumes that material can be easily examined. However, computer games, for example, may contain material that cannot be readily accessed for classification purposes. Amendments to the Act cannot solve the inability of classification bodies to access all the contents of such publications.
A significant component of the classification system is effective pre-release intervention. However, the Internet has provided a new means of obtaining and accessing publications. People can very easily order books, CDs, DVDs, computer games and videos directly from overseas and it is now possible for films to be downloaded via the Internet, bypassing the classification system. While the amount of material obtained in these ways is modest, if these trends continue, the rating and classification system will apply to an increasingly small segment of the market.
Blurred Regulatory DistinctionsThe evolution of technology is blurring the distinctions between services that have traditionally been regulated in different ways and it is not clear which statute or what standards should apply. Two examples relevant to censorship are:
- The difference between supplying films and broadcasting is becoming less clear, as satellite and cable broadcasters tailor content to individual viewers on demand.
- The line between supplying film and print publications and broadcasting is becoming blurred because the Internet now has sufficient capacity to carry real-time video, which can be viewed in the same way as television can be. To date, 'supply' has largely been handled by a pre-release classification system while 'broadcasting' has been handled by a post-broadcast complaints system.
Increasing Challenges for Censorship EnforcementIn the past, access to publications could be largely controlled, as items could be seized at the border or from shops, mail order operations etc. Now many people have easy access from their homes to objectionable material available via the Internet.
Censorship enforcement activity currently concentrates largely on the distribution of objectionable material via the Internet, and the Department has had some notable prosecution successes to date, especially in relation to child pornography. Continuing technological advances are likely to make it increasingly difficult to maintain the present level of success, without increased, and possibly more intrusive, enforcement powers.
As a result, maintaining the balance between protecting the public good and preserving the freedoms in the Bill of Rights Act is likely to become an increasingly difficult issue.
Other StakeholdersThe Ministry of Justice administers the Classification Act.
The Ministry of Justice and Women's Affairs both have a policy interest in censorship issues.
Minister's Specific ResponsibilitiesThe Minister for Internal Affairs with the agreement of the Ministers of Women's Affairs and Justice, the Minister recommends the appointment of the Chief Censor and Deputy Chief Censor to the Office of Film and Literature Classification, to the Governor-General.
With the agreement of the Ministers of Women's Affairs and Justice, the Minister recommends to the Governor-General the appointment of all nine members of the Film and Literature Board of Review, of whom one is appointed as President and one as Deputy.
The Minister approves an organisation as the labelling body under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. The Minister also appoints community representatives on the labelling body, on the recommendation of the Minister of Consumer Affairs, after that Minister has consulted the Minister of Women's Affairs.
- Briefing for the Incoming Minister of Internal Affairs (for a hard copy version please email email@example.com)
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