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FAQs From Students

Can I watch a restricted film or play a restricted game if I have my parent's permission?
How are the restrictions like R18 enforced?
How do you censor the internet?
How can cellphone images and texts be censored?
How do you classify games?
Does music get censored?
Are cinemas allowed to show different rated trailers before films (e.g. an M trailer before a PG film?)
What about television and radio?
How do you decide when a film should be R13, R16 or R18?
Who are the stakeholders in films?
What impact does censorship of a film have on stakeholders?
What is the significance of censorship of a particular film for New Zealand society?

Can I watch a restricted film or play a restricted game if I have my parent’s permission?


No. Restrictions apply in homes and schools as well as stores and cinemas. It is illegal to supply a publication to anyone below the age of the restriction. This means parents or teachers cannot give permission for an underage person to access a restricted publication. Some people, such as teachers, may apply to the Chief Censor for an exemption from classification to show a film to underage students if they have a good reason to show that particular restricted film or game. Penalties for unlawful supply can be up to $10,000 or 3 months prison for an individual or $25,000 for a company. For more information on the rules on supply of restricted material see: public-children-films.html

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How are the restrictions like R18 enforced?


The main enforcement agency for the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 is the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs where Inspectors of Publications respond to public complaints about breaches of the Classification Act and proactively work to detect people using the internet to distribute banned material. The Inspectors work to ensure cinemas and games/DVD/magazine retail outlets are complying with the law in relation to restricted publications. The Police have the same powers as the Internal Affairs Inspectors but are not as involved in the day-to-day enforcement of the Act. Border control activity is undertaken by NZ Customs. For more information on enforcement see: censorship-enforcement.html


In order to ensure they are complying with the law, many cinemas now require proof-of-age ID for entry to restricted films.

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How do you censor the internet?


If a website is hosted on a server located in New Zealand, it must conform to the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. Websites hosted by overseas providers are not subject to New Zealand law, although they must conform to any local law relating to website content.


Any material downloaded from a website onto a computer in New Zealand is covered by the Act, and may be subject to investigation by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs or Police, whether or not the website is hosted in New Zealand.


Chatlogs are also subject to the law and chatrooms likely to be of concern are monitored by the Department of Internal Affairs.


The Office has classified clips from YouTube as well as other material from websites. The majority of computer file submissions have been from enforcement agencies or from the Courts. An article on a 2007 court case regarding objectionable material on the internet can be found at: thelaw-occasional-objectionable-computerfiles.html .

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How can cellphone images and texts be censored?


The definition of publication in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act covers any electronic or computer file that can be reproduced or shown by the use of a computer or other electronic device such as a cellphone. Anything on a cellphone is subject to the requirements of the Act and may be investigated by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs or Police.


In 2008 the Office classified some films taken on a cellphone as objectionable. These were submitted as part of a court case.

 

How do you classify games?


Unrestricted games (G, PG and M) can carry their overseas labels, but if a game was classified MA15+ in Australia or 15 or 18 in the UK it must be classified and labelled to buy/sell it in NZ.


The Office classifies games by using an expert game player to work through the game while a Classification Officer watches.  We also use cheat sheets and navigation aids provided by the game’s distributor.


Information on games is at: industry-games.html. You can find out which games have been classified by looking at the spreadsheet attached to our Games Classification Newsletter at  news-archive.html.

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Does music get censored?


Music recordings do not have to be classified and labelled before they are sold, but the Office can classify music if it is submitted.


Most of the labels you see on music (such as "content may offend" or "parental guidance recommended") are put there by music retailers or distributors to indicate content that could be offensive or unsuitable for some listeners. Music recordings that have been classified by the Office (after 2005) will carry the same label as films.


If you are concerned about the content of a particular music recording, you can contact the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs: censorship@dia.govt.nz. Alternatively, you may, with the leave of the Chief Censor, submit the recording to the Office: public-making-a-submission.html.


You can see what sound recordings have been classified by searching the Decisions Database, and selecting the medium ‘CD sound recording’. Extra information on music videos classified by the Office is at: schools-music-videos.html.

Are cinemas allowed to show different rated trailers before films (e.g an M trailer before a PG film?)


Not all trailers are suitable to be screened with all films. The film industry has agreed with New Zealand censorship agencies that, prior to screening a children’s feature film, they will only show trailers for films with the same or lower rating. For example, a PG rated children’s film should only have trailers for G or PG rated films before it. 

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What about television and radio?


Broadcasting is specifically excluded from the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. The legislation governing television (including SKY) and radio is the Broadcasting Act 1989. This Act established the Broadcasting Standards Authority: www.bsa.govt.nz.

  
The one exception to this exclusion is films that have been banned or have had cuts made to them. Television stations may not broadcast banned films, or show uncut versions of films that have been cut, without special permission from the Chief Censor.

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How do you decide when a film should be R13, R16 or R18?


The Office can restrict a film to people of any age, up to the age of 18. However 13 is the lowest age restriction currently used, and this is because it is recognised that by the age of 13, people are usually at high school and are beginning to develop skills which help them to learn to put the things they see in films into context (for example to recognise that films, generally speaking, are fictional, use actors and are set in particular times or locations). Although these skills are being developed, 13 year olds generally lack the maturity or life experience to put more serious or graphic depictions of things such as sex or violence into context. For this reason, films which are more graphic or intense will be assigned a higher classification, such as R16.


For a film to be given a restricted classification, it must in some way describe, depict, express or deal with one or more of the following things: sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence. Not only must it deal with these things, it must do so in a way that if the film was to be classified as unrestricted (can be made available to anyone) there would be a likelihood of injury to the public good. The Office considers the extent, degree and manner in which these things are presented. Extent refers to the length of time the violence or sex is on screen, degree refers to the intensity, and manner refers the way in which it is presented (for example, whether it’s humorous, gratuitous, serious).  Information on the matters the Office must consider are at: thelaw-what-the-act-restricts.html.


Other factors which influence the classification given to a film, particularly when deciding which age restriction is appropriate, include the way the film is made – how realistic is the violence or sex (or crime or horror for that matter) being depicted? Films which are less realistic are easier to recognise as being fictional, therefore the risk of a younger person being frightened or disturbed may be reduced. Another factor that may result in a film being given a lower classification is the presence of merit, value or importance in the film, such as social, educational or historical merit.


Another legal test for the Office is the Bill of Rights Act 1990. This Act affirms our freedom of expression—“including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form” (s14)—and therefore any censorship in New Zealand must prove itself to be within the “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” (s5). In practice this means that if the Office is deciding between two classifications, it must give the less restrictive classification—i.e. a classification which impinges on the freedom of expression the least—while still protecting the public good from injury. In other words, if the Office is unsure about classifying a film as R13 or R16, adherence to the Bill of Rights Act means that the classification should be R13.


The Classification Office can also consult with expert groups or members of the public about a publication if there are particular issues the Office wishes to explore before deciding on a classification. One film the Office consulted on was Out of the Blue, where members of the Office discussed the film with the Aramoana community, including people who had had family members killed in the shootings that the film depicted. The record of assistance for Out of the Blue can be found in the case study on that film in the NCEA resources.


The Classification Office also regularly conducts research on topics that are relevant to its work. You can read the Office’s research reports at: censorship-research.html.

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Who are the stakeholders in films?


In the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th Edition, 2004) a stakeholder is defined as “a person with an interest or concern in something”. In the case of classification of a film this can be wide, for example, the New Zealand public or the cinema industry as a whole; or more narrow, for example, the makers/distributors of a particular film; interest groups specialising in issues raised by a film (e.g. teenage counselling services or public health officials); or the film’s intended audience, e.g. young teenagers. The potential effect of a classification decision depends on which stakeholders you identify for discussion.


For example, in the film Out of the Blue, which dealt with the 1990 shootings in the South Island town of Aramoana, any of the following groups could be identified as stakeholders (people having an interest or concern):

  • People involved in the production or marketing of the film
  • The New Zealand public (as filmgoers and taxpayers)
  • People associated with the events depicted in the film
  • The New Zealand Police
  • Gun lobby groups with an interest in gun law reform
  • People who would like to see the film but cannot because of its R15 classification.

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What impact does censorship of a film have on stakeholders?


Once you have identified who the stakeholders are in a particular film (or other publication), you can explore what impact the classification decision had on them. For example, in the film Out of the Blue, a stakeholder group identified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification was people involved in the tragedy because they were either related to the victims of the shootings or had themselves been injured. Before making a decision on the classification of the film, the Office met with this group to discuss issues surrounding its classification. You can read about the consultation and the opinions of this group of stakeholders in the record of assistance which forms part of the NCEA case study on Out of the Blue.


Sometimes, reading the written reasons for a classification decision will help you decide which stakeholders may be impacted. Written decisions on most films are available from the Office’s Information Unit. The exception is films classified prior to 1994 and films that have been cross-rated by the Film and Video Labelling Body (most G, PG and M-rated films). As a matter of policy, we will post written decisions to your parents or teachers on request and they can hand them on to you. It is helpful if you do not request decisions on films you are not legally entitled to see.

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What is the significance of censorship of a particular film for New Zealand society?


To explore the significance of censorship of a particular film for New Zealand society, you need to understand how censorship works. For a film to be given a restricted classification, it must in some way describe, depict, express or deal with one or more of the following things: sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence. Not only must it deal with these things, it must do so in a way that if the film was to be classified as unrestricted (can be made available to anyone) there would be a likelihood of injury to the public good. The reasons for restricting the film must be sufficiently robust to restrict New Zealanders’ freedom to access information as laid out in section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.


By thinking about the reasons discussed in classification decisions of the Office, you should have sufficient information to formulate your own opinions on issues of significance for New Zealand society. Written decisions on most films are available from the Office’s Information Unit. The exception is films classified prior to 1994 and films that have been cross-rated by the Film and Video Labelling Body (most G, PG and M films). As a matter of policy, we will post written decisions to your parents or teachers on request and they can hand them on to you. It is helpful if you do not request decisions on films that you are not legally entitled to see.

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