National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Nov 4 2015 at 8:14:15 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine

Information for:

Secondary navigation

Back to top

Main content

CLASSIFIED

Image of the word 'classified' as a stamp imprint

A blog from members of our Information Unit

We provide information to other staff at the Classification Office, to the public, and to industry members — we are not involved in assigning classifications. The content of our blog posts will be wide-ranging (but we've only just started). For example we'll be discussing censorship and freedom of speech, pornography, research, or other aspects of our work at the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

FROM THE BUTCHER SHOP TO INTO THE RIVER – THE HISTORY OF BOOK CENSORSHIP IN NEW ZEALAND

Cover image of the book 'Into the River'

2 October 2015

This week is Banned Books Week and a great opportunity for community discussion around the history of book censorship in New Zealand, and how the classification system works today. This post is adapted (and updated) from a paper we presented at LIANZA’s 2010 conference.

In this post we'll cover a couple of notable examples of book censorship from the early part of the 20th century, then move on to the era of the Indecent Publications Tribunal (IPT) and the work of our current Classification Office.

The early years of book censorship

Censorship is often bound up in debates over morals and values – yet in New Zealand's history it has also been guided by government and legislation. New Zealand's first piece of legislation created to deal with censorship of written material was the 1892 Offensive Publications Act. This Act outlawed "any picture or printed or written matter which is of an indecent, immoral, or obscene nature". This was followed shortly afterwards by the 1893 amendment to the Post Office Act which allowed suspected indecent mail to be opened and destroyed.

In 1910, the Indecent Publications Act came into force, and was not amended until 1954. The 1910 Act replaced earlier censorship legislation, with its purpose being to 'censor smut while protecting worthwhile material', or as put by the Attorney General of the time, John Findlay, its purpose was to protect the "liberty which improves and ennobles a nation" while removing the "license which degrades." Notably, this Act took into account the literary and artistic merits of publications – these elements were not included in England’s censorship legislation until 1959.

1920s: First New Zealand novel is banned

Cover image of the book 'The Butcher Shop'

In the first few decades of the 20th century New Zealand was developing a new and distinct culture and economy. The 1920s also brought one of the first watershed moments in the history of book censorship in New Zealand.

The New Zealand novel by Jean Devanny entitled The Butcher Shop is on record as the first New Zealand novel to be banned in this country. It is the story of the lives of a rich and cultured farming family in New Zealand, and of their marital and extra-marital relationships.

In its decision made in April 1926, the Censorship Appeal Board of Customs, comprised of two librarians and a bookseller, concluded:

The Board considers this a bad book all round – sordid, unwholesome and unclean. It makes evil to be good. We are of the opinion that it should be banned.

At the time, the editors of the Christchurch Sun and The Press, who had both read the book, expressed their confusion as to why it was banned and guessed that this was because while the content was perhaps equally offensive as many other books in circulation, the difference with this one was that it was set in New Zealand. Decisions made prior to 1963 are no longer in force today, and The Butcher Shop is available in a number of public libraries.

Moral panics of the 1950s

Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One'

Themes of juvenile delinquency, rebellion, and moral panics were prevalent features of 1950s society both in New Zealand and in other parts of the world. There was a lot of concern in New Zealand at the time about the moral state of the nation's youth, as rock and roll and films like Marlon Brando's The Wild One brought on the era of 'milk bar cowboys'. The 1950s were notable in New Zealand's censorship history for the creation in 1954 of a Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents, which became known as the Mazengarb Committee after its chairperson. The establishment of the Committee followed the well-publicised Parker-Hulme murder case in Christchurch and the 'Petone incident' involving a teenage gang meeting for underage sex (both in 1954).

At this time, comics and 'pulp' literature aimed at teenagers were flooding into the country – the concerns over moral delinquency can in part be attributed to these publications, which resulted in the banning of a number of them on the basis that they were "so harmful to children and adolescents that their sale should not be permitted" (Paul Christoffel, Censored: a short history of censorship in New Zealand, Research Unit, Department of Internal Affairs 1989, p22).

The report produced by the Mazengarb Committee lead to legislative changes targeted at comics and graphic novels.

The 1954 Indecent Publications Amendment Act deemed all literature that placed undue emphasis on sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence to be Indecent. This test of 'undue emphasis' was not defined, and led to a lot of confusion amongst retailers. In their book In The Public Good, Shuker and Watson discuss this situation, and note that as in other countries, anti-comic campaigners in New Zealand "argued that children would identify with and possibly copy what they saw in the comics", tying into the existing concerns around juvenile delinquency.

Lolita

Cover image of the book 'Lolita'

In 1959, Vladimir Nabokov's infamously controversial novel Lolita was banned by New Zealand Customs, against the advice of their own Literary Advisory Committee. Following the ban, the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties imported the book into New Zealand in order to challenge the ban through the Supreme Court. The appeal lost on the grounds that the book 'placed undue emphasis on matters of sex'. The Supreme Court decision was then appealed to the Court of Appeal, where the ban was upheld by majority decision.

In 1964, after having been banned by numerous courts, Lolita was again submitted for classification to the newly established Indecent Publications Tribunal (the IPT). The IPT was established by the Indecent Publications Act of 1963 and was responsible for the classification of books, magazines and sound recordings. Its decisions were published in the Gazette, and provide insight into how the Tribunal applied the criteria of the new legislation. Provisions in today's legislation mean that decisions made by the Tribunal are still in force today (while decisions pre-dating the IPT are not).

Under section 10 of the 1963 Act, the role of the Indecent Publications Tribunal was to 'determine the character of the book' using the criteria set out in the legislation. This criteria directed the Tribunal to consider such things as:

Using these new criteria, the IPT examined and classified Lolita as 'not indecent', meaning anyone was legally able to access it. The majority decision of the Tribunal noted that:

It is important in our view that the central figure, a middle-aged man in the grip of his obsession for a child of twelve, is represented as a pitiable, remorseful creature. There is nothing romantic or admirable about him, and his course of conduct leads him to disaster. Far from condoning that conduct, the author throughout implicitly reprehends it…If we thought that Lolita was a pornographic book written to corrupt, our decision would be different.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Cover image of the book 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

Another prominent book from this era that often comes up in discussions of censorship is Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H.Lawrence. The book soon became notorious for its story of the physical relationship between a working-class man and an aristocratic woman, its explicit descriptions of sex, and its use of (at the time) unprintable words. It was the subject of a trial in Britain which tested the scope of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act (where ultimately the publisher was found to be not guilty of producing an obscene publication) as well as a trial in Japan where the publisher was found guilty; it was also banned at one time in Australia, Canada and the United States.

The book was submitted to the Indecent Publications Tribunal by the same publishers (Penguin) who had fought and won the obscenity trial in Britain. The Tribunal acknowledged that the novel had been the subject of 'judicial consideration' in other countries, but noted that "such decisions as there have been in other jurisdictions have only a limited application to New Zealand since the Indecent Publications Act 1963 is a considerable advance on any legislation in this field hitherto enacted here or elsewhere" (this was in 1964, only a year after the legislation was created). The legislation showed innovation by allowing the Tribunal to not just pass or ban a publication, but to consider restricting it to persons over a certain age, or to a particular class of person, or restrict it for a particular purpose.

In its decision on Lady Chatterley's Lover, the Tribunal noted that the book contained "accounts of several acts of sexual behaviour described in language which is exceedingly frank and to some readers must be repellent". They also pointed out that while the test for other jurisdictions was whether the book was an undue exploitation of sex or whether it offended against community standards, the test under New Zealand law of the time was whether the book dealt with matters of sex in a manner which was "injurious to the public good". By majority decision the Tribunal classified the book as 'not indecent'.

The 1970s

The 1970s were an equally interesting time for censorship, as social values, media and legislation came head to head over a number of publications.

The Little Red School Book was referred to the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1972. The Tribunal received a number of submissions on the classification of this book, with some people concerned that the book was "intended to be totally destructive of the school system and anti-authoritarian" while others feared the book would "incite schoolchildren to violent revolutionary action". On the other hand, there were arguments made that it "intended to be constructive and to improve the school system for all concerned, pupils, teachers and parents" by informing young people how they could act within the system, advising them "to try dialogue before direct action". Upon weighing of these factors, as well as considering the book's discussion of sex, the Tribunal classified it as 'not indecent', meaning it could be made available to anyone.

The 1963 Indecent Publications Act did not allow the Tribunal to give age restricted classifications to pictorial publications which were likely to appeal to children. This was a hangover from the 1954 amendments to the previous legislation, which presumed that all comics were likely to be read by children and should therefore be judged accordingly. Section 11(3) of the 1963 legislation stated that:

Where the Tribunal decides that any picture-story book likely to be read by children is indecent in the hands of children under a specified age, that picture-story book shall be deemed to be indecent in the hands of all persons.

This section led to the banning of a number of graphic novels and comics that might have otherwise received age restricted classifications, given that they were targeted at, and had content suitable for, older teens and adults. An example of this is the decision dated 14 December 1973 which banned 20 comics. In its decision the Tribunal noted that:

In a large number of these comics sex, violence, horror, and crime are depicted in gross and explicit detail… the Tribunal considers that their explicitness… makes all of the comics equally unsuitable for children. ….The treatment of sex and violence where these subjects occur is likely to have ill-effects upon children and these books would therefore warrant some form of restriction… The Tribunal however, is not free to impose restrictions on the circulation of comic books when they are likely to be read by children…. The Tribunal has no alternative but to classify all these comic books as indecent.

It was also in the late 1970s that books dealing with the production, cultivation and consumption of drugs began to be submitted to the IPT for classification.

In September 1978 eight books with such titles as Marijuana Growers Guide, Ancient and Modern Methods of Growing Extraordinary Marijuana, and The Complete Psilocybin Mushroom Cultivators Bible were classified as Indecent – banned – by the Tribunal due to the way they dealt with matters of crime in relation to the production, manufacture, possession, use and supply of controlled drugs, and the cultivation of prohibited plants.

The 1980s

The 1980s saw the IPT classify a number of books dealing with guns and weapons.

In August 1983 the Tribunal issued a decision on a group of books which had been submitted by Customs. The Comptroller of Customs informed the committee that these books had been seized over the course of the previous 12 months, and were being submitted in order to give Customs and the Police guidance and assistance when dealing with similar publications.

One of the books, The Improvised Munitions Handbook, was an official publication of the United States War Office, produced in 1969 "for official use only" - remember that this was a book that was seized by Customs on its way into New Zealand. On page 5 the book stated that:

This manual contains simple explanations and illustrations to permit construction of the items by personnel not normally familiar with making and handling munitions.

The book also included methods for fabricating explosives, detonators, propellants and similar objects from items which were obtainable without very much difficulty by any member of the public.

Home Workshop Guns for Defense and Resistance Volume 1 gave illustrations for making a submachine gun, while Volume 2 illustrated how to make a hand gun. The final book in the submission from Customs, Bare Kills, gave complete step by step instructions on how to kill with bare hands. In its decision on the books, the Tribunal concluded that:

Publications which could very easily lead members of the public to criminal offending can properly be classified as indecent.

The Indecent Publications Tribunal is replaced by the Classification Office

Image of the Classification Act

In 1989 the Minister of Justice appointed a Committee of Inquiry into Pornography. The Committee reported back with 202 recommendations for changes to the structure of New Zealand’s classification system. Some of these were realized in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993, and in 1994 the new Office of Film and Literature Classification replaced the three classification agencies that were operating (the Chief Censor of Films, the Video Recordings Authority and the IPT). This is the organisation and legislation responsible for the classification of books, films, and other publications today.

While the content of comics and books that were banned in the past might in some cases not be classified as objectionable under today’s legislation, an IPT classification remains in force until someone seeks to have it reclassified. And while some publications may receive different classifications were they submitted today, it is likely that others would not. Some social values shift and evolve more than others as time passes – sexual content which was previously banned might now receive an R18 or even R16 classification - comics which are targeted at teenagers (not children) can now be made available to their target audience through age-restricted classifications such as R13 and R16.

However there are other values or social mores which shift less rapidly or not at all. For example, the book The World of the American Pit Bull Terrier was submitted to the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1991 by the Chief Executive of the SPCA. The Tribunal noted that the dominant effect of the book was to actively promote and encourage dog fighting, and used "exhaustive text and wide-ranging illustrations to discuss activities which very clearly [were] offences under the Animals Protection Act 1960". Among other content, the Tribunal's classification decision makes references to:

Due to the way the book dealt with horror, crime, cruelty and violence, the Tribunal placed a ban on the book which remains in force today. Over the past few years the Classification Office has classified and banned cock-fighting magazines and explicit scenes of the killing of animals such as pigs, monkeys and turtles filmed purely for shock or entertainment value. The arguments used to ban these publications featuring animal cruelty echo those used by the Tribunal.

In the last five years the Classification Office has reconsidered 20 IPT decisions: 12 of the books were given new classifications, however the classification of the remaining 8 remained the same. One of these was American Psycho, which kept its R18 classification.

Classification today

The Classification Office uses the criteria set out in section 3 of the Classification Act to determine whether a publication should be classified as unrestricted, restricted, or Objectionable (banned). A publication is banned if its availability is likely to be injurious to the public good – this is a departure from earlier tests of indecency or offense.

Books are not required to be classified before they are supplied to the public in the same way that films are. For this reason, most of the books we classify come to us through the enforcement agencies of Customs and the Department of Internal Affairs, or as a result of a complaint by a member of the public. Each year the Office classifies a few books – usually around 5 or 6.

Lost Girls

Cover image of the book 'Lost Girls'

Lost Girls is an explicitly sexual graphic novel written by Alan Moore and drawn by Melinda Gebbie. Early chapters were serialised in a comics anthology in the early 1990s. The finished work appeared as a three-volume set in 2006 and were collected as one volume in 2009. The single-volume publication was submitted for classification.

The three main characters in Lost Girls are the heroines of classic works of fiction from the 19th and early 20th century: Alice, from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Wendy Darling from the play and novel Peter Pan. Lost Girls is set in the period immediately before the outbreak of World War I. The story follows the three (now adult) characters as they meet by chance at an Austrian hotel.

The book was submitted by Auckland Libraries in 2014 due to uncertainty as to whether the book contained objectionable material (it includes depictions of incest, sexual violence and the sexual exploitation of children). Auckland Libraries wanted clarification as to whether it could legally possess the book and supply it to patrons.

In its decision the Classification Office stated:

In the framework set by New Zealand's Bill of Rights, classification decisions must be reasonable and demonstrably justifiable. The potential for injury to the public good if the availability of the book is unrestricted lies in its explicitly sexual subject matter, particularly the inclusion of images of incest and the abuse and exploitation of children and young people, considered under s3(2) [of the Classification Act]. This material is difficult and challenging. Nevertheless, as stated earlier, it would be impossible for this graphic novel to so thoroughly explore sexual desire and sexual pleasure without tackling the issues around the age-old human fantasies, such as incest or bestiality, that lie on the borderline of ethical sexual behaviour. Individual parts may well have a promotional aspect that has the potential to appeal to some adults. However, the publication as a whole does not promote or support, or tend to promote or support, any of the activities listed in s3(2).
The book has been acclaimed for its literary and artistic significance. In Lost Girls, Moore and Gebbie have produced a work that has a serious purpose: they intend it as "good" pornography that re-asserts pornography’s potential as art and therefore, its socio-political possibilities as an antidote to repression and violence.
Given these considerations, to ban Lost Girls would be neither reasonable nor justified.

The book was not banned, however it was restricted to adults:

There is a consensus amongst the public of New Zealand that children and young people should not be exposed to explicit sexual material intended for adults until they reach a level of maturity and experience that would allow them to cope with such material. In particular, young readers should not be exposed to images and text that they would be likely to find extremely shocking and disturbing.

High profile recent decisions: To Train Up A Child and Into the River

The classification or censorship of books has come a long way over the past 100 years or so, but books can still be controversial – and whether or not they should be restricted or banned is very much a live issue in New Zealand today.

The classification of books in New Zealand has received a lot of attention lately due the Interim Restriction Order (a temporary ban on distribution) placed on the book Into the River by the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review (an appeals body that operates independently of the Classification Office). We've written a detailed case study about the classification history of Into the River Link to our website for students (opens in a new window) on our website for students, and you might also be interested in an interview we gave for Auckland Libraries' blog Auckland Libraries' blog (opens in a new window) . At the time of writing, the Interim Restriction Order is still in effect as the Film and Literature Board of Review decides on a new classification for Into the River.

Another book which has gained a lot of attention is To Train Up A Child. You can read more about why we classified this book as unrestricted on our main website.

If you have any questions about the classification of books or the history of book censorship we'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us by phone on 0508 236 767, or by email at info@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

OUR NEW WEBSITE FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

A hand holding an iPhone displaying a page from our new website for students

22 July 2015

Visit www.censor.org.nzVisit our website for students (opens in a new window).

Why do we have a website specifically for students?

Providing quality, relevant and updated content for students has long been a focus of ours. Students and young people generally are some of our most important stakeholders — they're big consumers of entertainment media and are directly affected by our classification decisions in a way that adults aren't. We try to do as much as we can to help young people understand the system, and also to encourage them to comply with classifications when choosing content for themselves and people younger than them. Our original website for students helped us achieve these aims, and we got plenty of positive feedback from students and teachers. But after five years it was time for an update.

What's different about the new site?

Our new site has been built with a responsive designLink to Wikipedia website (opens in a new window) — students told us they wanted to access our website from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and now they can. On the new site students can easily get the information they need in the classroom and on the go.

The look and layout of the site is also completely different. We've replaced the old sections with new What, How and Why sections, allowing media students to get answers to their questions in a clear and accessible way. Students can quickly find out what we classify, how we classify and also why we classify. The information in the Why section Link to our website for students (opens in a new window) is brand new — it looks into the history and purpose of different aspects of our unique classification law, and explains why classifications (including age-restrictions) are important and useful for New Zealanders.

Our Resources section Link to our website for students (opens in a new window) has been updated as well, with refreshed case studies, a page featuring the complete findings for our latest Censor for a Day event, a classification quiz, and a redesigned censorship history timeline.

Let us know what you think

Whether you're a student, teacher, or you're just interested in classification (or web design) we'd love to hear your feedback on the new site. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us by phone on 0508 236 767, or by email at info@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

THE MEANING OF THE M LABEL

Image of M classification label

29 May 2015 — updated blog post

One of the most common classifications is also the least understood

 

Have you ever been faced with a pleading 12 year-old who wants to see an M movie and you aren't really sure if you should let them?

While an M classification means the film is unrestricted — anyone can see it — it is more suitable for older viewers. This is different to the red labels which are legal restrictions and the film cannot legally be shown to anyone under the age on the label.

The M classification means the movie might contain violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual or adult themes or nudity that some kids and parents find challenging.

A lot of blockbusters based on books popular with the 10+ age group are classified M, including most of the Harry Potter movies, The Hobbit trilogy and The Hunger Games. It can be a hard call for a parent, older sibling or other adult to decide what is appropriate.  

Here's what we suggest. Have a look at the descriptive note on the classification — the bit on the label that says things like 'contains violence and offensive language'. It should give you an idea about some of the stronger content in the film.

A number of websites can give you more detailed information, such as the Internet Movie Database — movies in the database have 'parent guides' with comprehensive content advisories (take a look at the parent guide for The Hunger GamesLink to the IMDB website (opens in a new window)). Movie reviews at Common Sense MediaLink to the Common Sense Media website (opens in a new window) are another good example.

Think about the format that is most appropriate for the child to watch the movie in. It might suit your family better to watch a movie at home on DVD or online, where you can switch it off, mute a scene or walk away if the movie is too much — rather than seeing it on a huge screen at the cinema with surround sound.

For more information about M classifications, please feel free to contact us or read this item in the news section. Happy viewing!

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

HEAVY PENALTIES — LAW CHANGES AIM TO PROTECT CHILDREN BY CLAMPING DOWN ON CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE MATERIAL

30 April 2015

Image of the Classification Act

The Classification Office was set up under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, which is the basis for New Zealand’s classification system. Most people associate our work with age-restricting entertainment content like movies and games, less well known is that we classify images and video clips depicting the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and young people. We’re responsible for determining whether or not this material is objectionable (banned), and we use the same classification criteria as we do for movies, games and other publications.

Parliament recently passed some important amendments to the Classification ActLink to the NZ Government legislation website (opens in a new window) and these come into force on May 7, 2015. The purpose of these changes is to strengthen and clarify parts of the law that deal with child sexual abuse material.

The maximum penalty for possessing objectionable material has risen from 5 to 10 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for making, distributing, supplying, importing or exporting this material has risen from 10 to 14 years. These offences can apply to all kinds of objectionable material, including a banned movie or book for example. However the Classification Act states that child sexual abuse material is an 'aggravating factor' for the purposes of sentencing — in other words, cases involving this type of objectionable material may lead to relatively higher sentences for offenders. The increase in penalties is designed as a deterrence for people who might engage in this type of offending.

There is now a presumption of imprisonment for people who are repeatedly convicted of offences involving objectionable material, but only in circumstances where this material:

  • promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, the exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes:
  • describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with sexual conduct with or by children, or young persons, or both:
  • exploits the nudity of children, or young persons, or both.
From the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Objectionable Publications) Amendment Act 2015

The amendments also clarify the meaning of 'possession' in relation to an electronic publication (in other words a computer file):

A person can have an electronic publication in that person’s possession...even though that person’s actual or potential physical custody or control of the publication is not, or does not include, that person intentionally or knowingly using a computer or other electronic device to save the publication (or a copy of it).

From the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Objectionable Publications) Amendment Act 2015

Whenever someone views something on the internet there will be a record of them doing so, and the files they have viewed can be retrieved. The section above makes it clear that viewing objectionable image or video files online counts as 'possession' of those files, even if someone doesn't click 'save/download' in order to store them for later viewing. This section applies to any computer files, but its purpose is to ensure that those intentionally viewing objectionable child sexual abuse material online cannot claim as a defence that they do not have possession of this material.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about these law changes, or about other aspects of the classification system.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

CLASSIFYING CLOTHING — HOW DOES THE MEDIUM EFFECT THE CLASSIFICATION? (PART 1)

2 February 2015

Image of woman wearing t-shirt with word 'censored' on it

Note that we've asterisked some instances of offensive language in this post.

Is the impact of watching, say, violent content in a cinema greater than watching it on DVD? Does it have a lower impact if you read it in a book? Or a higher impact in a videogame? What if you were immersed in a virtual reality world? These are questions that our Classification Officers have to grapple with when classifying something, and we can classify a wide variety of things – anything which comes under the definition of a 'publication' in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act, 1993. This includes movies on a variety of formats, games, books, magazines, computer files, anything with an image, sign, representation or word on it, and anything with information stored on it. The greater part of our work has always been classifying films for cinema and home viewing formats, but in the past 20 years we've classified jigsaw puzzles, T-shirts, paintings, billboards, playing cards, comics, business signs, bumper stickers, calendars, emails, letters, chat logs and even a drink can. In this series of posts on the impact of different mediums we'll be taking a look at movies, games and books, but we'll start with something a bit more unusual for us — clothing.

We've classified a small number of T-shirts over the years. Two examples are Dodgee Mother F*cker (2005) and Vestal Masturbation (2008). The titles alone give you some idea of why they upset people. Dodgee Mother F*cker was submitted to us after a child brought the garment to the attention of their horrified parent. Across the front of the T-shirt (a size 10) were the words "Dodgee", in a large and cursive script, and "Mother F*cker" in smaller print. A submission from the clothing company explained that the design is a play on the Dodgers baseball team logo (also pointing out proudly that "In 8 years of sales, we have never received a complaint, only commendations of the originality of the design!"). As the T-shirt contained no sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence, we only had the option of age-restricting it for highly offensive language (read our post on offensive language below to learn why). But how do you effectively age-restrict clothing? If it were made R13 you would have to be 13 to buy it, but you could still see it walking down the street towards you. In our decision, we noted that teenagers were likely to recognise the T-shirt's use of vernacular from movies and music, and with this context they would recognise the intended humour behind use of the language. Children and younger teens, however, were "more likely to be disturbed or shocked by the literal meaning of the words 'Mother f*cker'". We also expressed concern that the T-shirt's display might encourage younger viewers to use this language and be harmed by the associated stigma of using it. Still, "The dominant effect of the T-shirt is little different from numerous others bearing logos or text. Many of these are printed with images or slogans that contain provocative humour or socially transgressive text, including offensive language". The decision concluded that:

The offensiveness of the term to many people is likely to be greater if a child or young teenager were to wear the T-shirt. However, the purchase of garments for children and young teenagers is generally a matter for parental guidance. The Classification Office believes that it is unlikely that parents will buy this T-shirt for their children.

The language on the T-shirt also raises the wider concern of public offence if the garment is worn by older teenagers and young adults. Public display is inherent in the wearing of a T-shirt. Anyone wearing this particular garment risks public disapproval. In this case, social control is a more effective means of regulation than the enforcement of a Classification Office decision.

The Classification Office decided that "the availability of the T-shirt, while likely to cause offence to some people, is unlikely to injure the public good" and that "Free and democratic societies such as New Zealand generally tolerate considerable freedom to express one's self through clothing, including clothing that offends". The T-shirt was therefore classified as Unrestricted. Note that our classification system allows something to be restricted or banned if its unrestricted availability is likely to be injurious or harmful to the public — it's not enough for it simply to be offensive (learn more about the classification criteria on our website).

The T-shirt called Vestal Masturbation (2008) was a different story. The front of the T-shirt depicts a nun, kneeling, who is nude apart from a traditional Catholic nun's wimple and veil. The placement of her hands indicates that she is masturbating, while her expression implies sexual pleasure. Under the image are the words "Vestal Masturbation", and above the image are the words "Cradle of Filth", the name of a heavy metal band. On the back are the words "Jesus is a C*nt", in broad, bold lettering, which is "eye-catching and unavoidable because of the size and stark nature of its type". The impact of the medium was an important consideration — in our written decision we pointed out that:

Public display is inherent in the use of a T-shirt. When worn in public, a T-shirt in effect acts as a public statement, a mobile advertising poster, placard or billboard. It is easily portable and travels into every variety of public and social context. The fact that images and slogans are printed on this garment means that the very act of wearing it may cause offence to some people.

We noted that the ability of the T-shirt to be worn in public allowed its "messages of misogyny and religious vilification [to] be widely disseminated", and that the intended use of the T-shirt, for some, would be to "deliberately shock random members of the public."

The Classification Office decided to ban the T-shirt, stating that:

The publication is considered to degrade, dehumanise and demean the woman depicted, and women more generally, to such an extent and degree that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good. The publication also represents Christians as inherently inferior by reason of their religious beliefs to such an extent and degree that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.

A ban was possible because the content on the T-shirt dealt with matters of sex, one of the 'gateway criteria', unlike Dodgee Mother F*cker (see above), which only contained offensive language.

We hope this gives you some idea of the issues involved in classifying clothes, we'll take a look at other types of 'publications' in future posts in this series.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

NEW ZEALAND VS THE WORLD: HOW DO OUR CLASSIFICATIONS RATE INTERNATIONALLY?

28 November 2014

Image from cover of our Comparing Classifications research

Have you ever wondered how New Zealand's classifications compare to those overseas? It's a difficult question — even Google can’t answer it — but we think it's an interesting one, and so a few years ago we started work on finding the answer. We first published our findings in the 2013 Comparing Classifications report, and we've recently published an update using the same methodology (using movie and game classifications from 2012 and 2013).

When we started work on this project there seemed to be significant obstacles in the way of making a fair comparison. Classification systems are just so different. Aside from the differences in classifications used, the most obvious difference is that some systems are run by government agencies, some by industry organisations, and some are a kind of mix. These are real differences, but for the purposes of making a comparison on how an individual title was classified in different places, the important thing is what the classifications mean 'on the ground' — in other words, is little Jimmy allowed to walk into a store and buy this game in X country? What if he's with his parents? What if he were just a bit older or younger? When you look at it this way, it doesn't matter what type of organisation is assigning the classifications. In the United States, for example, the Constitution prevents federal or state governments from assigning legal age restrictions. The thing is, parents tend to want age restrictions — and so the entertainment industry regulates itself, including doing regular checks to ensure that cinemas and stores aren't giving young people access to restricted titles.

So how did we compare the classifications in different countries? By turning classifications into quantifiable data. We created a range of 'strength scores', from least to most restrictive, and measured classifications according to these strength scores. This means the more restrictive a classification is, the higher its strength score; and if classifications in different jurisdictions mean the same thing they're given the same score. It might not be perfect, but it's the most objective way we found to compare different systems.

So how do our classifications stack up to those in other countries? The simple answer is that we're kind of in the middle. We compared classifications in New Zealand with classifications in five other countries and (using the strength score system) we were the third most restrictive for movies and for games.

Image of a chart comparing classification strength scores for six jurisdictions
Stats from Comparing Classifications: feature films and video games 2012 & 2013

The research gets into a lot more detail than this, featuring individual country comparisons, and information about why countries give certain types of movies and games significantly different classifications. We even list the titles which were the most heavily restricted overall.

We'll look into these findings more in future blog posts, but for further details you should head to our research page to view the full report.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

BRUTAL YET BEAUTIFUL: STYLISED VIOLENCE IN FILMS

19 September 2014

Image from Sin City 2 of a woman embracing a man, in black and white, with red blood running down the man's face

Violence is one of the things that the Classification Office has to consider when classifying a film, a game, or another sort of publication. There are lots of different ways violence can be depicted, and these differences can impact on both how audiences respond to the film and how the Classification Office classifies it. In an earlier post we presented some of our research findings into young people's perceptions of violent content in films. In this post, we’ll have a look at depictions of 'stylised' violence in film.

Stylised violence is the sort of violence that is hyperreal, or unrealistic. The sounds and images are manipulated, and often the violence looks staged. It uses devices such as heightened colour, sound effects or unusual shots. Though it can seem less real, this doesn't mean it is less intense.

Image from Kill Bill of a woman holding a samurai sword

An example of this sort of stylised violence can be seen in the film Kill Bill Part 1 (2003). In the film, the imagery is largely brightly coloured but there are also some black and white sequences. Split screens are used for some scenes, and there is a lengthy cartoon section drawn in a Japanese anime style. When classifying the film as R18 'contains graphic violence and offensive language' the Classification Office noted:

The longest fight scenes, which take place in and around the House Of Blue Leaves, involve The Bride taking on an army of yakuza men and women, and then O-Ren herself. Although these scenes are filmed conventionally with human actors, the violence in these sequences is more akin to the anime section as it is even more stylised than the rest of the feature. The Bride takes on large groups of villains at once and performs incredible physical feats. At one point the camera pulls back to show the groaning masses of wounded yakuza she has left lying on the floor.

The overriding impression of the violence in the feature is of over-the-top, unrealistic but gory fight scenes. The one-dimensional characters are frequently only introduced in order to be killed in a spectacular manner. There is an abundance of blood but very little realistic viscera, and few portrayals of characters' pain.

In the process of classifying the 2005 film Sin City (R18 'contains graphic violence') the Classification Office sought input from members of the public through a consultation. Participants were asked whether the style in which the film was shot affected the impact of the violence it depicted. Although participants generally agreed that much of the violence was stylised and not portrayed realistically, the most common view amongst participants was that the style of the film increased the impact of the violence it depicted.

In the Office's classification decision on the 2014 film Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the impact of the stylised depiction of violence on the classification is discussed:

If shot in full colour, live action, this would accentuate the violence and make it of high impact. This is not the case however. Realism and authenticity is not the intention of the filmmakers. Being a 'graphic–novel' adaptation, a very animated film–noir style presentation is used, faithfully reproducing the look and feel of the artwork from the novel. All of this material is shown in a black and white cinematic presentation, meant to set a dark and lurid tone to the stories. Some colour is used at times to highlight certain images, particularly blood. By contrast some blood imagery is stark white, set against the dark background or in silhouette. The effect this has is to heavily reduce the realism of the material. Thus the manner of the violence reduces its impact significantly.

Whilst the sexual material and violence is high in extent, the manner and style of the film, heavily reduces its realism. Older teenagers will be astute to this lack of realism and be able to contextualise these depictions as functional to the action thriller genre.

As the above quotes from classification decisions show, the way violence is presented onscreen has a direct impact on the classification assigned to a film. Violence can be depicted in a number of ways, some of them artistic and creative. As with other classification criteria such as sex or horror, our classification system focuses not so much on what is presented, but how it's presented.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

THE HORROR!!

Image of a stack of horror DVDs

21 August 2014

'Horror' is one of those words that can mean different things to different people. It can be scary. It can be gross or disturbing. Sometimes, it can even be funny.

A variety of content can be regarded as horrific or horrifying, and this doesn't only apply to the genre of horror films. You can have extreme and unrealistic depictions of horror, perhaps in the form of extended and gratuitous torture or death scenes in a film. You can also think of 'horror' in terms of the supernatural – ghosts, zombies, and vampires. 'Horror' often overlaps with other criteria the Classification Office must consider, such as violence and cruelty.

The word 'horror' may appear on the descriptive note attached to the classification on a film. Descriptive notes, in conjunction with classifications, are designed to help people make informed choices for themselves or others about what films to watch. It’s interesting to note that films which fall into the horror genre may not always contain the word 'horror' on the descriptive note, and instead may warn of violent or other content in the film.

As with all the classification criteria included in section 3-3D of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993, when classifying horror content in a film the Classification Office must take into account the extent, degree and manner of the horror elements. For example, does the film have a lot of horrific blood and gore? Are things depicted on screen or are they instead implied? This contextual consideration of horror means that you can have horror films, or horror in films, with different classifications.

As film technology advances and the things that audiences look for in horror films changes, the types of horror films submitted to the Classification Office may change, but it seems likely that the genre will be around for many years to come.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

CONTAINS NUDITY

Image of Rodin's nude sculpture The Thinker

Nakedness and the Classification Act

22 July 2014

Does nudity offend you? It offends a lot of New Zealanders, but it might surprise you to learn that we can't restrict something for nudity alone. We can only restrict or ban something using the classification criteria within the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. In passing the Classification Act, the New Zealand Parliament decided that people's freedom to view or read something should only be restricted if there is a likelihood of harm to society — and something that's offensive isn't necessarily harmful*.

Could something be classified G if it has nudity but no sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence?

Yes, but films, games, or other publications with naked people are more often for mature audiences, and so an unrestricted classification such as PG (parental guidance recommended for younger viewers) or M (suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over) is more likely.

Why is there a 'contains nudity' descriptive note?

Some people find nudity concerning or upsetting and like to be warned about it. Having said that, nudity won't always be flagged in a descriptive note — particularly for a restricted publication. Some recent films classified M with a descriptive note 'nudity' are The Great Beauty, Ursula's Victory, and Goodbye, First Love.

Is the way we classify nudity unusual?

Not particularly. In Australia, nudity in films can in principle appear at any classification level so long as it is justified by contextLink to the comlaw.gov.au website (opens in a new window), and 'nudity with no sexual context' is treated similarly in the UKLink to the BBFC website (opens in a new window). The American MPAA's rating system is generally more restrictive of anything involving sex or nudity, and they've recently been in the news for clamping down on film posters which show a bit too much skin (see hereLink to the AV Club website (opens in a new window) and hereLink to the IGN website (opens in a new window)).

Our website has information about the classification criteria if you'd like to learn more.

*NB: 2005 amendments to the Classification Act clarified that images of nude children or young people can be restricted or banned if they are 'reasonably capable of being regarded as sexual in nature'.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

CENSOR FOR A DAY

Image of students at a Censor for a Day event

19 June 2014

We often get inquiries from students about working at the Classification Office. They want to know what qualifications they need and what the job entails. Many are passionate about media, and about censorship, perhaps not surprising seeing as teens are arguably the group most affected in New Zealand by the classification system. They, like many other New Zealanders, often are uncertain about how classifications for films and games are determined, and what the basis is for sometimes not allowing them to see content they'd like to.

This is one of the main reasons the Classification Office runs an event for senior Media Studies students twice a year. Censor for a Day has been running since 2000 in different centres around the country. Students are given a walk through the legislated criteria used by the Classification Office to classify films, games, books and other publications. They are then shown a pre–release film (one that hasn't yet opened in New Zealand), and are asked to apply the legal criteria to determine the classification they think is the best fit for that particular film. We end the day with a group discussion about the students' experience of classifying the film.

We usually try to choose a film that will have some appeal to the students, but we also need one that covers things such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence or offensive language — it'd be a very short discussion if we showed a PG film! It often comes down to what's available, and we've been very lucky in the films that have been generously donated by various film distributors. You can see what films we've used over the years in the Censor for a Day archive on our student website.

Being asked to apply legal criteria to classify a film, and to put aside your own values or beliefs, can be a big ask for people sometimes. However, the calibre of responses from students generally reflects a careful, analytic process — they show understanding that the purpose of the classification system is to protect people in our society, particularly young people, from harmful content in films and other publications. They show that they value the freedom of expression provided to them by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, but they are also protective of their younger siblings, cousins and friends and are concerned about them being exposed to content in films and games which they are perhaps not mature enough to cope with.

We hope that by running Censor for a Day students gain information that is not only useful to their school studies, but also to their everyday movie–watching lives. In turn, these events are a valuable opportunity for Classification Office staff to gain insight into what young New Zealanders think about both the classification system and the content they're seeing in the films they're watching and the games they're playing. It is important that we are aware of these things in order to ensure that the classification system is meeting the needs of young New Zealanders.

Our current schedule has us visiting locations every second year. You can find out where out next events will be held, and also find more information about the event itself (including reports on how students have classified films at Censor for a Day) in the Resources section of our student website.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

PSYCHOACTIVE CENSORSHIP? DRUG USE IN FILMS, GAMES AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Image of cannabis leaf

16 May 2014

Depictions of drug use, and the effects and ramifications of drug use, can be powerful subject matter for films and other media. The impact of this material can be high, and there are a number of things to consider during the classification process. For example, is drug use glamorised, encouraged or normalised? Are young people shown using drugs? How realistic are the depictions? If a substance is harmful, does the film, game or book as a whole make this clear to the audience or reader?

The public's views about drug use are important to us, as is evidence of any harms from psychoactive substances (or harms from media depictions of substance use and abuse). Our survey of young New Zealanders (2013) found a high level of concern about the depiction of 'hard drugs' in films, with 73% of 16-18 year olds saying that the use of hard drugs in films could be harmful for people their age to see in movies or games. Young people were more likely to consider this harmful than, for example, 'explicit sex' (57%) or 'realistic violence' (46%). The survey also showed that 38% of participants thought films showing people using hard drugs should be given an R16 or RP16 restriction, 31% thinking they should be R18, and 8% thinking it was never ok to show this material in films. Reasons given for why things like sex, violence or drug use in films and games could be harmful included:

High impact depictions of drug use in video games is rare compared with films. We've classified around 1000 games in total and only 11 games have been given a descriptive note including 'drug use'. Games where drugs are central to the narrative or gameplay are even rarer, an example being NARC (classified R18 in 2005). Our written classification decision for the game says:

In order to proceed through the game the player must commit criminal acts, such as dealing in drugs and using them, [however] the publication does not promote or encourage criminal acts. NARC presents police officers engaging in criminal behaviour such as drug taking and dealing, and criminal violence including the ability to kill civilians and police with an array of weapons. While the player has the freedom to commit such crimes however, there are often serious repercussions for doing so, such as loosing 'respect', being arrested by police, and failing missions.
In the end the ability for characters to consume drugs can be seen as an outrageous game feature to set this game apart from other games aimed at an adult audience. There is also the risk of children and young persons becoming desensitised or inured over the long term to this kind of criminal and violent behaviour, and trivialising it through presenting this behaviour as amusing or exciting. The Classification Office considers that adults are more able to put this kind of material in the context of an entertaining but violent console game.

Depictions of drug use often lead to films, games or other publications being age-restricted. In general, for something to be banned it would have to clearly promote or encourage criminal acts in an instructional way. For example, by showing how to prepare, produce or supply an illicit substance. A number of books have been banned because of this, relating to drugs such as cannabis or methamphetamine.

This is a brief overview of how depictions of criminal activities in relation to drugs are considered in our classification decisions – and we’re happy to provide more information if you have any questions. You can also learn how we considered sex, violence, drug use and other content in summaries of some recent classification decisions.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

GOOD FRIDAY – A GOOD DAY TO GO TO THE MOVIES?

Image of movie poster for the 2014 film Noah

17 April 2014

Religion and film classification in New Zealand

Recently there have been a lot of news stories from various parts of the worldLink to The Guardian website (opens in a new window) about the 2014 Darren Aronofsky film Noah being banned in several countries including Pakistan, Bahrain and Indonesia. Governments in those and other countries have halted the release of the film due to its religious content. In New Zealand, the film carries an M rating, with the descriptive note 'Contains violence'.

When classifying films, different governments and censorship authorities around the world operate using criteria that is generally associated with the prevailing values of the society they are serving. While in some countries religion forms part of that criteria, it is not part of New Zealand's criteria for classifying films and other publications. There have, however, been some interesting examples of film classification in New Zealand which have raised the issue of religion in some way.

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979, R16)

Image of the movie poster for Monty Python's The Life of Brian

The classification of the 1979 film Life of Brian was hotly debated both in New Zealand and overseas. Christian groups in New Zealand called for the film to be banned before the it had arrived in New Zealand. Chief Censor of Films Bernard Tunnicliffe received more letters about Life of Brian than any other film submitted for classification at that time.

Life of Brian was classified according to criteria set out in the Cinematograph Films Act 1976 and on 18 February 1980 was classified as restricted to those aged 16 years and over (R16). Many correspondents who had requested a ban on the film were upset with the R16 classification.

A petition was launched in July 1980 requesting that the Minister of Internal Affairs withdraw the film from public release. While the petition gathered 12,352 signatures it was unsuccessful in convincing the Minister to stop the exhibition of the film. There were also members of the public who supported the R16 classification of Life of Brian. One parent wrote to the Chief Censor telling him that they initially thought that the film should be classified lower than R16 because they thought that their 12 year old daughter would have enjoyed most of it, however they "commend(ed) (his) refusal to ban it and the rating (he) awarded it". Another letter to a newspaper editor from Monty Python fans in Lower Hutt pointed out that they were "…distressed by the number of Christians that object to the film and believe that…if the film upsets them, they shouldn't go and see it…Life of Brian is purely meant for enjoyment and the only one restriction should be made only — those with a sense of humour need go".

The Passion of the Christ (2004, R15)

Image of the movie poster for The Passion of the Christ

In early 2004 the Classification Office was inundated with letters and emails of complaint and support over its decision to classify Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ as R16 with the note 'Brutal violence, torture and cruelty'.

Even before the film arrived in New Zealand the Classification Office had received inquiries about how it would be classified. Some church groups expressed an interest in helping to classify the film, others expressed the opinion that a secular government-funded office would be anti-Christian and thus shouldn't be allowed to classify it.

Because of the religious nature of the film, the Classification Office could not answer many the resulting inquiries and complaints in a way that was meaningful to the correspondents – that is, most of the correspondence was about religious aspects of the film, rather than the film’s violent content upon which the R16 classification was based.

People wanted the film banned for a number of reasons which have no relation to the classification criteria. For example, because it was inaccurate, unorthodox, or because they thought certain scenes had been invented to conform to a Roman Catholic point of view. Jewish correspondents were worried that it might incite hatred towards Jews. While most Christian complainants felt that the R16 classification was too high, others complained that the film was too violent, and should have a higher classification. A large number of people also wrote in supporting the decision.

The distributor of the film appealed the decision to the Film and Literature Board of Review. Upon undertaking their own examination of the film, the Board lowered the restriction to R15, with the descriptive note 'prolonged sequences of brutal violence, torture and cruelty'.

You can read more about New Zealand's criteria for classifying films, games and other publications here.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

CENSORSHIP AND THE MOTHER COUNTRY

The UK's influence on censorship in early New Zealand

Image of official British military censorship stamp from World War One

14 April 2014

Ye olde censorship

In honour of the Royal Tour we think it's a good time to look at New Zealand's historical ties to the UK — on the topic of censorship of course.

Along with their trunks and valises packed with their worldly goods, settlers to New Zealand also carried the rights, obligations, and precedents of English law. The common law system allowed a relatively open environment in terms of freedom of expression, even though these rights were not explicitly protected (unlike the Americans with their Bill of Rights). Of course, these rights were never absolute, and our new colony also inherited limitations to the freedom of expression.

You could trace New Zealand's current classification system back to 1727, when Edmund Curll was convicted for publishing Venus in the Cloister or The Nun in her SmockLink to the Wikipedia website (opens in a new window). Mr Curll was locked up for 'disturbing the King's peace', as there were no specific obscenity laws at the time, but the conviction set a precedent for dealing with similar cases. This was followed in 1787 with a Royal Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice, aimed at "excessive drinking, blasphemy, profane swearing and cursing, lewdness, profanation of the Lord's Day, and other dissolute, immoral, or disorderly practices."

In addition to sanctioning  men for "obscenely exposing his Person [in public]...with Intent to insult any Female," England’s Vagrancy Act 1824 banned "every Person wilfully exposing to view, in any Street, Road, Highway, or public Place, any obscene Print, Picture, or other indecent Exhibition."

It was the Obscene Publications Act 1857 which made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence in the UK (the meaning of 'obscene' was not defined). The new law was "intended to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in any well-regulated mind."

In the 19th and early 20th century, censorship decisions in New Zealand were mostly dealt with by this tangled history of Imperial laws. It wasn't until 1892 that we passed a censorship law of our own, the Offensive Publications ActLink to the New Zealand Legal Information Institute's website (opens in a new window) (although this was essentially an updated version of the UK’s decades old Obscene Publications Act mentioned above).

The curious birth of film censorship in the UK

Film censorship in the UK was a bit of an accident — an unintended consequence of the Cinematograph Act 1909. I say unintended because the law was essentially about health and safety issues — rather than the content of films, people were understandably concerned about nitrate film's terrifying habit of bursting into flamesLink to the NZ Film Archive's website (opens in a new window). The new law set safety regulations and required that cinemas be inspected and licensed by local authorities.

A year later a court case established that local authorities, when issuing licenses, could make additional requirements which had nothing to do with combustible nitrate film. As a result of this case, councils across the UK suddenly began censoring films. But the idea of hundreds of would–be censors banning things all over the countryside was too much for the British film industry to take, so they got together and came up with a plan to deal with the chaos. So came the birth of the British Board of Film Censors in 1912 (still operating today as the British Board of Film ClassificationLink to the BBFC's website (opens in a new window) or BBFC). Thanks to the efforts of the film industry, the BBFC started examining films and saving local councils the trouble of censoring everything themselves. (Local authorities in the UK can still censor films within their jurisdiction, but this power is rarely used.)

Homegrown film censorship

The call for film censorship in New Zealand reached fever pitch at a conference in 1915 attended by 45 organisations. The conference found that "the class of moving pictures at present exhibited in New Zealand constitutes a grave danger to the moral health and social welfare of the community," and called for the introduction of a government-run film censorship system.

They got what they wanted, and the New Zealand Government abandoned the idea of creating an industry-led system like that in the UK. Our Cinematograph–film Censorship Act 1916Link to the New Zealand Legal Information Institute's website (opens in a new window)was markedly different from the law in the UK, in that it allowed a government–appointed film censor the power to refuse exhibition of any film which "in the opinion of the censor, depicts any matter that is against public order and decency, or the exhibition of which for any other reason is, in the opinion of the censor, undesirable in the public interest." The fundamental difference of an industry vs government–run film censorship system has remained ever since.

So did we really cut the apron strings with British censorship? Well, not quite. Regulations under New Zealand's current censorship law (the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993Link to the NZ government legislation website (opens in a new window)) state that a film which is classified U, PG or 12/12A in the UK doesn't need to be rated or classified in New Zealand, we can just adopt an equivalent rating to the UK classification. So while the influence might not be great, in some ways we're still following the UK's lead.

Go to A brief history of censorship in New Zealand.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

I KNOW IT WHEN I HEAR IT

What's offensive language and how do we classify it?

Image of 'no swearing' road sign

28 February 2014

The first word ever spoken could have been the result of someone stubbing their toe in a cave, and our ancestors were probably hurling abuse at each other the moment they started communicating. From the dawn of the expletive, no doubt, what was offensive to some was of no concern (or even humorous or endearing) to others.

So what is offensive language? Is it swearing, profanity, or obscenity? Abuse, cussing, and cursing? A derogation, denigration, or deprecation? An execration, imprecation or malediction? A 'no-no'? It could be any of these things, or none of them.

Our 2007 study Public Perceptions of Highly Offensive Language , found that words used to express fear, pain, or anguish in films were not considered highly offensive, whereas words directed at people aggressively or as terms of abuse were seen as more offensive. Participants also felt that offensive language could be harmful to children and young people by encouraging its use in inappropriate settings.

Participants in our joint project with the Broadcasting Standards Authority, Viewing Violence , thought that language could intensify the degree of violence in clips they were shown, and that offensive language seen as pointless or gratuitous was considered to be more offensive than if the same words were used for dramatic effect or realism.

In Young people's perceptions of the classification system and potential harm from media content , young people told us that offensive language in films could heighten the impact of violence, and that hateful speech or terms of abuse could be particularly harmful. Overall, they felt that the use of offensive language in films and games doesn't generally harm society as a whole, but can have negative consequences if young people (particularly children younger than them) mimic this language in inappropriate settings.

So can we give an age-restriction to a film for offensive language alone?

We can. A film can be restricted if it contains language that's 'highly offensive to the public in general', rather than being offensive only to someone in particular. The language must also be offensive to such an extent or degree that it would be likely to cause serious harm to people under the age of the restriction. For example, if a child sees offensive language use as normal and acceptable, they might be encouraged to use this language in a way that could be socially detrimental.

This is the gist of section 3A of the Classification Act Link to the NZ government legislation website (opens in a new window) . It means a film or other publication, such as a book, can be restricted for offensive language — even if there's no sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence.

The likely harm to young people from offensive language is related to the context in which the language is used, and so specific words won't automatically lead to a restriction. Our research shows that very few words are thought to be offensive regardless of how they're used (though New Zealanders definitely think that some words are more offensive than others Link to the Stuff website (opens in a new window)).

The number of times an offensive word is used can add to the impact of the language, but there isn't a specific number that automatically leads to a restriction. For example, 10 f-bombs do not make a film R16. What matters is how those f-bombs are dropped. (The frequent use of the f-word in The Wolf of Wall Street Link to the Entertainmentwise website (opens in a new window) could be described as carpet bombing.)

If you want to read more about offensive language there’ve been some interesting news articles lately:

Some other studies of ours that deal with the classification of offensive language are What people think about film classification systems, Understanding the classification system : New Zealanders' views, and Guidance and protection : What New Zealanders want from the classification system for films and games

We'd love to hear from you if you have any questions via email, Facebook or Twitter (see links below), or if you'd like some examples of films that were restricted for language. There are summaries of reasons for most of our classification decisions that are available on request. But be warned — they may contain highly offensive language.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

NZ CLASSIFICATIONS ONLINE

Close up image of website address on computer screen

11 February 2014

Today we're celebrating Safer Internet Day 2014Link to the Safer Internet Day website (opens in a new window) , an event which promotes awareness of the challenges that people sometimes face online, and helps inspire confidence in dealing with these challenges — particularly amongst children and young people. These challenges can take many forms, including cyber-bullying, unwanted contact from strangers, privacy issues, and exposure to potentially distressing content like pornography or violence. Our recent research into young people's views about classification systems and media content, in particular the literature review component, found that concern about online content is widespread amongst young people. We could discuss all of these issues in more depth, but this post will focus on something closer to home (for us at the Classification Office), which is access to movies and video games online.

People generally associate movie and game classifications with the physical environment of retail and rental stores, or in cinemas, along with the popcorn, crying babies and 3D glasses. But what influence do our classifications have when people view movies online, and when they download console and PC games from online stores? In fact, online distributors are increasingly using our classifications when supplying content to New Zealanders. This is great news, because our 2011 public opinion research found that most New Zealanders were supportive of the classification system, and considered classifications very important when choosing movies and games for young people.

Some examples of online distributors who now use kiwi classifications for movies and/or games are: iTunes, Xbox live, Playstation Network, Steam, Quickflix, and Ezyflix. If you can't find a classification you can also search for titles on our website. So whether you're choosing movies or games for yourself, or for someone else, look for our classification information — it's there to help.

If you want to learn more about staying safe online, there's lots of helpful info on the NetsafeLink to the Netsafe website (opens in a new window) and Department of Internal AffairsLink to the Department of Internal Affairs website (opens in a new window) websites. You can find further information about online content and the classification system on our website.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

THE OFFICE OF FILM AND VIDEO GAME CLASSIFICATION

Image of man and boy playing video game

30 January 2014

That's not our real name, but it might make more sense than the Office of Film and Literature Classification – because we classify far more games than books.

To date, we've classified 912 computer and console games. That might seem like a lot, but it's only a small proportion of all the games available in New Zealand. This is due to the way NZ's classification law was written in 1993, which put video games into the same category as documentaries, advertisements, and films of sports events, meaning that only games with restricted content have to be examined by our office and issued official classification labels. This is partly a reflection of the nature of games back in the early 1990's – well before the launch of dedicated 3D consoles like Sony's Playstation, the Sega Saturn and Nintendo64. Twenty years later, the power of gaming hardware has grown exponentially, and so has the level of detail, realism, and sophistication in games.

For the most part, we only examine games which have been classified MA15+ or R18+ (or have been banned) in Australia. There are sometimes exceptions to this, for example if there is public concern or complaints about an unrestricted game. Some examples include Dead or Alive: DimensionsLink to our website for students (opens in a new window) and Naughty Bear.Link to our website for students (opens in a new window)

The criteria used to classify games are the same as for films, sound recordings, books, magazines, computer files and other publications. But the impact of different mediums is always considered, and we recognise that playing a game is a completely different experience to reading a book or watching a film. The classification process is also unique – often requiring a game player in addition to a Classification Officer (who will need to take notes as a basis for the written classification decision).

Written decisions for games describe how things like graphical realism and interactivity can have an impact on the gaming experience. The decision for the game Grand Theft Auto V (classified R18) has some good examples of this:

The game depicts acts of torture and the infliction of extreme violence and extreme cruelty. The strongest material is when Trevor tortures a man at the behest of a corrupt government official in order to gain intelligence that will be used in an assassination attempt. The tortures are mildly interactive, in that the player gently toggles the controller in a specified way to perform the onscreen actions, though at this point the intention is merely to progress narrative rather than to provide a challenging exercise.

More than half of the games we've examined so far are classified R16, making this by far the most common classification, and around 20% are classified R18. Only seven games have been classified as Objectionable (banned). You can read more about how games are classified on our website.

There are written classification decisions available for most games, so let us know if there's a decision you're interested in. You can also read summaries of some recent game decisions on our website – including Dark Souls II and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

DON'T AGREE? SEEK A REVIEW

Image of a 'news' button on a computer keyboard

15 January 2014

The Classification Office is not the only authority that can issue classification decisions in New Zealand – the other body is the Film and Literature Board of Review. Sometimes, confusion arises between the role of the Classification Office led by the Chief Censor and the Board.

What is the Film and Literature Board of Review?

It's a 9-member, part-time Board appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Justice and Minister of Women's Affairs. The Department of Internal Affairs provides administrative services to the Board.

What does the Board do?

Any person who is dissatisfied with a classification decision of the Classification Office may seek a review by the Film and Literature Board of Review.

The Board Link to the Department of Internal Affairs website (opens in a new window)is independent of the Classification Office. The Board's President has a unique power – he or she can issue an interim restriction order which prevents a publication being supplied, distributed, or exhibited to someone under 18, or exhibited in a public place, until a review has been held and a classification determined by the Board.

The Board of Review does not actually 'review' the Office's decision. It must undertake its own examination of the publication using the criteria set out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. It then issues a new classification decision which may be less restrictive, more restrictive or the same as the decision made by the Classification Office.

The Classification Office publishes the Board's decisions in the NZ Register of Classification Decisions.Link to the NZ Register of Classification Decisions (opens in a new window)

More information on appealing a Classification Office decision can be found on the Getting a Classification Changed page of our site.

Past decisions of the Board

Since 2000, the Board has reviewed 117 Classification Office decisions. It has tended to assign classifications that are the same (106), or less restrictive (8), than those of the Classification Office.

The Board's decision on the film 127 Hours, which lowered the classification from R16 to RP16, is one of the many interesting decisions featured as a case study on our student website for Media Studies students. You can read the 127 Hours case study here.

The Board has only assigned a higher classification three times since 2000. It made Me, Myself & Irene R15 (the Classification Office had made it R13), it raised the Classification Office’s decision on Baise-Moi from R18 to 'R18 and restricted to film festival screenings', and it classifed the New Zealand book Into the River as R14. The Classification Office had assigned the book an unrestricted classification.

If you have any questions, we're here to help!

You can phone us on 0508 236767 and email us on info@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

WHAT TO DO ABOUT RESTRICTED BOOKS

Image of a bookshelf

9 January 2014

Each year a small number of books are submitted for classification. If a restricted classification is assigned, this effects how the book needs to be handled by libraries, bookstores, and anyone else supplying the book.

Films need to be classified before they are supplied to the public. Books (and magazines) are different – they are generally only classified as a result of complaints from members of the public, or enforcement action by New Zealand Customs, Police, or the Department of Internal Affairs.

I’m concerned about a book I’ve found in a library or a bookstore

In the first case, have a chat to a staff member at the library or bookstore. It may simply be that the book would be better located in a different section. If you think the book may need to be restricted due to matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, offensive language or self harm, then you can either contact the Censorship Compliance Unit at the Department of Internal AffairsLink to the Department of Internal Affairs website (opens in a new window) or seek leave from the Chief Censor to have the book classified.

I work in a library/bookstore – how do I handle restricted books?

An age restriction on a book means that it's illegal to supply it to an underage person. Parents or guardians can not give permission for an underage person to have a restricted book. In practical terms, an age–restriction on a book means that if it's stored on open shelves, there would be no way to ensure an underage person did not have access to it. Instead, you might consider keeping the book behind the counter or in the stacks. In many cases when a book is given an age restriction, the classification decision will include display conditions such as the requirement that the book carry an official classification label (these are the same labels you see on DVDs). If this display condition has been made, then labels must be obtained from the Film and Video Labelling BodyLink to the Film and Video Labelling Body website (opens in a new window).

Even if there hasn't been a requirement made for a classification label, the restriction must still be enforced. In this situation, libraries/booksellers may find it useful to apply their own label to the book which indicates its restriction.

Recent classification decisions on books

Title Classification decision What the decision means
Into the River R14 Parental advisory explicit content (Film and Literature Board of Review decision)  No official label required, must not be supplied to anyone under the age of 14
Fifty Shades of Grey M sex scenes (Classification Office decision) No official label required, can be supplied to anyone but is recommended for a mature audience
Kate & Wills Up the Aisle: A Right Royal Fairytale M (Classification Office decision) No official label required, can be supplied to anyone but is recommended for a mature audience
Stripped Bare: The Body Revealed in Contemporary Art R18 Nudity and sexual content that may offend (Classification Office decision) Official label required, must not be supplied to anyone under the age of 18
100 Most Infamous Criminals R13 (Classification Office decision) Official label required, must not be supplied to anyone under the age of 13

 

If you have any questions, we're here to help!

You can phone us on 0508 236767 and email us on info@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

SELLING THOSE UNWANTED DVDS AND GAMES YOU GOT FOR CHRISTMAS

Image of stack of DVD cases

Perhaps a well-intentioned relative got you a game that you have no interest in playing, or your stocking was stuffed with a box set of a tv series you already have a copy of. Whatever the reason, if you're going to list your unwanted DVDs and games for re-sale on sites such as TradeMe, you need to make sure they are correctly labelled.

It is a legal requirement that DVDs or games supplied to the public, including those sold second-hand, have the correct New Zealand classification label. It is also part of TradeMe's Terms & Conditions, and they remove listings that don't comply with the law.

Throughout the year we get heaps of inquiries about the classification labelling requirements for selling these items second hand, so here's what you need to know.

Does your DVD show a New Zealand classification label?

If it does, you can legally sell it in New Zealand. If your DVD was purchased in New Zealand, then you should be fine to sell your DVD as it should have had the correct label on it when it was bought. However, if the DVD was bought from overseas, then it may not have the required label.

You can read more about, and see images of, the New Zealand classification labels here.

If your DVD does not show a New Zealand label, you will need to get a label for it, unless it falls under the exempt categories listed in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. You can read more information on the types of films that are exempt here.

Selling a game? Only restricted games need New Zealand labels

Again, if your game was purchased in New Zealand you shouldn't have to worry about getting a label to resell it. Unrestricted games (like puzzle games, family games) don't need a New Zealand label, but restricted games do ( games like those in the Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, Grand Theft Auto series). If you're not sure if your game is restricted, you can search for it on the NZ Register of Classification DecisionsLink to the NZ Register of Classification Decisions (opens in a new window)

Getting a classification label

Image of New Zealand restricted labels: R13, R16 and R18
New Zealand restricted labels:
R13, R16 and R18

Classification labels are supplied by the Film and Video Labelling Body: enquiries@fvlb.org.nz or phone (09)3613882 Physical address: Level 1 33 Bath Street, Parnell, Auckland 1052 Postal address: PO Box 37754, Parnell, Auckland 1151.

 

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING: FILMS, DVDS & GAMES

Image of a woman purchasing a DVD

It's that time of year when the tills are ringing with the sales of DVDs and games, and summer blockbusters are being released at the cinemas. It's also a time of year when we get questions about what the classification labels mean, and what the rules around enforcing them are.

To make the whole process a lot easier for everyone involved, here are a few tips:

If you're a customer buying a restricted DVD or game:

You should know that it's against the law for a store to sell a restricted DVD or game to an underage person. It's also against the law for a store to sell a restricted DVD or game to an adult if it's clear that the adult is getting it for someone who's underage.

Take a look at the information for parents and caregivers on our website if you want to know more.

If you're a retailer selling DVDs or games:

Staff need to know what the classifications mean. This includes understanding that the 'M' classification is not a restriction, and anyone of any age can purchase an 'M' DVD or game. Restrictions need to be enforced, and the store will be liable if restricted items are sold to underage people. At the same time, we advise a commonsense approach. If your store has a photo–ID policy for teenagers buying restricted items, this should be made clear to customers so it's easy for them to comply.

Have at look at our information for buying and selling DVDs and games on our website.

If you're a teenager buying a DVD or game, or going to the movies:

It's against the law for cinemas to let underage people see restricted movies. Cinemas often have a photo-ID policy, so remember to take your ID with you if you’re going to see a restricted film. If you don't have any, maybe give them a call and find out what other forms of ID they'll accept.

Check out the FAQ's on our student site.

If you have any questions, we're here to help!

You can phone us on 0508 236767 and email us on info@classificationoffice.govt.nz. Please note that the Classification Office will be closed from 24 December 2013 to 6 January 2014.

Michelle works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT VIOLENCE

Stylised image of woman screaming

Young people's experience of pornography is a hot topic at the moment, and people tend to have some pretty strong views about it. Many young people think it's potentially harmful, but they also feel this way about violent and horrific content.

In a recent survey, we asked 16-18 year-olds to indicate which types of content could be harmful to people their age, and violence topped the list:

Then we asked them whether this content should be age-restricted, and what age restriction should apply. The graph shows that they were firmly in favour of a high age restriction for these types of violent content:

Image of chart showing young New Zealander’s views about violent media content
Stats from Survey of Young People's Perceptions of the Classification System

In group discussions we found that young women are particularly concerned about depictions of sexual violence. Some potential harms they identified are: reliving trauma (for victims of sexual violence), being upset or shocked, and becoming fearful of contact with men. Young men were also concerned about depictions of sexual violence — one of them put it this way:

I think there're two ways to look at it. There's the one where people have been sexually assaulted, so they'll feel uncomfortable watching it because it'll bring back those dark memories...or, there's the people who almost get off on it, they get that excitement, buzz — maybe we shouldn't be feeding that. (p45)

Discussion group participants also thought that depictions of self-harm or suicide were potentially very harmful for people their own age, for people younger than them, and for society as a whole. One said that:

Suicide and self-harm are some of the most harmful things that people around my age can see. I feel that children are so strongly influenced by what the media displays to them and this can lead people to act in the same way. (p46)

Our literature review (p9) found that the way violent or horrific content is perceived and understood can lessen or heighten its impact. For example, a gory horror film is more likely to frighten young children than adolescents, while other more 'adult' content may have little impact on children and young adolescents who don't fully understand the disturbing nature of what they are seeing.

How and why young people watch violent films is also interesting. For example, gender differences were explored in the research Viewing Violence. For 14-17 year-old males, a common reason for watching horror films was to show how 'hard' they were to their friends; whereas females were likely to embrace the feeling of being scared, to express their fear, and to comfort each other. Young people were unlikely to watch these films alone.

Many young people find violent, horrific or frightening content distressing and potentially harmful to themselves and those younger than them. If you're interested in finding out more about this you can take a look at our new research. If you have any questions or comments about violent content we'd love to hear from you, so get in touch via email, phone, Facebook or Twitter.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

"NOBODY CARES WHAT WE THINK"

A post for teens

Image of R18 label with 'explicit sex scenes' note

A lot of teens think that public organisations like the Classification Office don't rate your opinions about what may be harmful in media content. But we do. We do research to prove it and ask you directly.

In one of our recent studies, young people told us how they defined 'harm', and we agree with them. They said that there are short term harms like a momentary shock — getting a fright — that you get over pretty quickly, usually. Then there're the things that stay with you, and you develop some fears or have trouble sleeping. Not so good. If someone develops suicidal thoughts or feels depressed because of something they've seen in the media, then that's serious.

Most people can distinguish between real life and fantasy. That's great, but evidence shows that watching too much violence (for example) can still have negative effects, like thinking or acting aggressively. Young people thought this too — that violent attitudes can be encouraged, glamorised, or normalised. A number of other harms are outlined on page 44 of our survey report.

There's been heaps in the news lately about the potential harms of watching pornography. Teens in our discussion groups were keen to share their views with us about this. Some harms included 'thinking about women as sex objects', and worse still, 'treating women as sex objects'. Read pages 50-54 in this report to find out what others your age think. Do you agree with what they told us? A number of other studies around the world have asked young people about porn as well, and we summarised the evidence in another report.

We base our age restrictions on evidence and the likelihood of harm, and we're listening to young people about what these harms might be. So think about this when you're next choosing a game or a movie, and check the red labels — they're there for a reason.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX (AND HORROR, CRIME, CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE)

The point of this 'introductory post' is to give you a small taste of what you can expect in future in terms of content, because (like all bloggers) we want you to come back for more.

Is the title of this post trying to shamelessly get your attention? Of course it is — but it’s also entirely relevant, so bear with me. Despite us being a very boring and ordinary (and spotlessly professional) public agency, providing a basic set of services to the public, our work does give us the opportunity to talk about stuff that most people find at least a little bit interesting.

A large part of what we do revolves around sex. I think it's safe to say that most people have, at some point in their lives, at least briefly thought about this topic. Some people can’t stop thinking about it. Sex as represented in art or other forms of media has always interested people in one way or another. What I find fascinating, and what some of our future posts will look into, is the 'one way or another'. Some people's interest is in the material itself — millions of people view pornographic films, images, and stories as a form of entertainment. Others are interested in the ramifications of pornography's wide availability, and they write letters to the editor or start campaigns to get rid of it. Others (a much smaller group) sit in parliaments or courtrooms around the world and decide what should or shouldn't be done about it.

Then there's an even smaller group — a group so small you could blink and miss us — that are in the business of making legal decisions about what should and shouldn't be available to people of different ages, while respecting people's fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to choose to view what they like. In our case, the New Zealand Parliament has created a legal framework outlining how this job should be done. While it's a very functional framework, it's also a bit like a trapeze on which our staff perform a balancing act every day — between protecting the public from harm, and honouring our country's commitment to freedom of speech.

These are some of the things we'll be talking about in future, but the scope of our blog is broad and various people will be contributing. In future our posts might offer advice to parents, or discuss how aspects of our classification law are applied in practice, or we might comment on something in the news. Our next posts will relate to young people's views about media content and age restrictions — because we have a stack of new research to share on the topic.

So I hope you'll stick around for the conversation. This is the point of our blog posts, and our presence on Facebook and Twitter: it's to start a conversation — because we need to know what you think if we’re going to get the balance right. Like any trapeze artists, we don’t want to fall off.

PS: I'll save horror, crime, cruelty and violence for another post.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members — they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Back to top

Back to top