Legislation and legal process

Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is responsible for enforcing the Films, Videos, Publications and Classification Act 1993 (the Classification Act). Section 3(2) of this Act sets out clear criteria for what may be judged as objectionable in Aotearoa New Zealand. This includes content that:

  • Depicts violence, cruelty, and crime in a way that could be harmful;
  • Promotes or encourages acts of terrorism and crime; and/or
  • Targets a specific group.

The Classification Office is the independent Crown entity that evaluates content based on the criteria in the Classification Act. Inspectors of Publications at DIA are responsible for enforcing these decisions. These inspectors will request that online content hosts remove objectionable content they are hosting so that access to that content is no longer possible within Aotearoa New Zealand.

2021 Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act Amendment Bill

In November 2021, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill (CVE Bill) was passed to provide government with new powers to respond to TVEC online.

The new toolset includes a power related to formal takedown notices. This power will enable DIA to issue an official notice to online content hosts that are hosting objectionable content. They must restrict it from access by New Zealanders or face enforcement proceedings which could result in fines of up to $200,000.

The power related to takedown notices came into force on 1 February 2022.

The CVE Bill also provided new powers for Inspectors of Publications to issue takedown notices if one or more of these apply:

  • An interim classification assessment has been made and the content is likely to be objectionable.
  • The content has already been classified as objectionable.
  • The Inspector of Publications believes, on reasonable grounds, that the content is objectionable.

These powers will be used:

  • Where an online content host is uncooperative; or
  • in a crisis scenario, to achieve clarity and an immediate response.

Most online content hosts are based overseas and there are inherent jurisdictional difficulties when trying to enforce statutory powers in other countries. Where a takedown notice has been issued and the online content host is unresponsive, DIA will contact the local regulator or law enforcement agency and share the takedown notice to demonstrate the platform has breached New Zealand law.

Breaches of terms of use

Amendments to the Act that came into force in 2022 provide new powers for the government to request the removal of objectionable content from a platform. However, in most cases where objectionable content is identified, that content already breaches an online content host’s term of use.

Mainstream platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) have terms of use that are stricter than the New Zealand threshold of objectionable. Therefore, referring to content that is objectionable as a breach of terms of use is usually an effective way to get that content removed.