The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

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Resource material › Our Policy Advice Areas › Censorship Policy

Standardising classification for Commercial Video
on-Demand content

Between 26 April 2019 and 26 May 2019 the Department conducted consultation on proposals to standardise classification for Commercial Video on-Demand (CVoD) content. A consultation document was published seeking New Zealand consumer and industry views on proposals to include CVoD services under New Zealand’s classifications regime.

The consultation document outlined key issues and specific questions relating to the proposed options to standardise CVoD classification. Twenty-four submissions were received during consultation.

Censorship Sector Overview

The
Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (the Act) mandates the censorship of 'publications' in a number of media. The Department's Digital Safety Directorate is responsible for a range of censorship activities, including enforcement. The Department also advises the Minister of Internal Affairs on all matters relating to the Act.

The Act seeks to maintain a balance between control of objectionable and restricted publications and individual freedom of choice.
This includes considerations between the availability of some types of material that 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 Framework

The Act does not specify outcomes to be achieved through any 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 access to potentially harmful material:
  • The rating of films and videos by an industry-based labelling body, the Film and Video 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 Classifications

The current Act builds on previous legislation. All films and videos must be rated or classified before they are supplied to the public.


Ratings are issued by the industry-based labelling body,
the Film and Video 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.

Classifications are determined by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, and are legally binding (usually age-based) restrictions on the availability of publications. An example is the classification R18: Restricted to persons 18 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 visual system - green for general exhibition, yellow (or amber) where some caution should be exercised, and red for restricted titles.

Publications other than films and videos in ‘traditional media’ (e.g. DVDs, cinema release films) 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.

Objectionable Publications

In 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 Regulation

The bodies associated with censorship regulation are as follows:

Office of Film and Literature Classification

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (the Classification Office), is an independent 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 Classification Office is funded as a non-departmental output class.

Film and Video Labelling Body Inc.

This industry-based body, which was approved under the Act, issues ratings (unrestricted) to films and videos and submits to the Classification Office, films and videos of a nature that should be restricted (R-rated classifications). 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 Review

This 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 Classification Office, but its decisions supersede those of the Classification Office. The Board is administered and supported by the Department’s Policy Group.

Department of Internal Affairs

The Department employs inspectors of publications that 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.
The Department also:
  • submits publications to the Classification Office;
  • services, and meets the costs of, the Film and Literature Board of Review; and
  • monitors the Classification Office on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs.

New Zealand Police

Every member of the Police is deemed to be an Inspector of Publications.

New Zealand Customs Service

Objectionable publications are prohibited imports and may be seized at the border.

Other Stakeholders

The
Ministry of Justice and the Ministry for Women both have a policy interest in censorship issues.

Minister's Specific Responsibilities

The Minister of Internal Affairs recommends to the Governor-General, the appointment of:
  • the Chief Censor and Deputy Chief Censor to the Office of Film and Literature Classification; and
  • the members of the Film and Literature Board of Review, including the President and Deputy President.
These recommendations must be made in agreement with the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Women.

The Minister also approves an organisation as the labelling body under the Act, currently the Film and Video Labelling Body. The Minister also appoints community representatives to this industry-based body, upon recommendation from the Minister of Consumer Affairs, after that Minister has consulted the Minister for Women.