Story: Censorship

Page 1. Censorship in the 2010s

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Censorship is the official suppression of communications for moral or political reasons.

Censorship of publications

In New Zealand the censorship of publications is carried out under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. Publications include:

  • films, video cassettes, DVDs, Blu-ray discs and computer games
  • computer files and other electronic data storage systems
  • books, newspapers, magazines and other print media
  • sound recordings
  • pictures, photos, symbols or words on billboards, artworks or clothing.

The act provides for a classification system that can restrict access to material considered potentially harmful. Films and restricted games must carry a classification label. Other publications do not require labels, but are classified if they are submitted directly to the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Banned books

In November 2011 the Censorship Compliance Unit seized a copy of Bloody mama, a gangster novel by Robert Thom, from a Wellington bookshop. Bloody mama was banned as indecent in 1971, but the bookseller maintained it was very tame by 21st- century standards. In 2011 New Zealand had 1,319 banned books, the majority banned prior to the 1990s by the old Indecent Publications Tribunal. Banned books are usually only reassessed if a request is made to the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which replaced the tribunal in 1994.

Broadcasting, newspapers and advertising

Broadcasting on radio and television does not come under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, but is regulated by the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcasters are responsible for the appropriate classification of programmes, which must carry classification symbols and, where necessary, warnings about content. The Broadcasting Standards Authority oversees the broadcasting standards regime.

Issues arising from material in newspapers and magazines published in New Zealand are generally dealt with by the New Zealand Press Council.

The Advertising Standards Authority deals with any complaints over the material in advertisements.

All three of these bodies act on public complaints about content, rather than classifying material before it is broadcast or published.

The Film and Video Labelling Body

When films, videos and games are received by a New Zealand distributor they are then sent to the Film and Video Labelling Body. This is made up of representatives from the film industry and the general community. If the film has not already been classified, the Labelling Body decides whether it should be restricted or not.

Unrestricted films can be viewed by anyone but are given one of the following ratings:

  • G – suitable for a general audience
  • PG – parental guidance recommended for younger viewers
  • M – suitable for a mature audience.

If the film has already been classified as unrestricted in Australia or the United Kingdom, the Labelling Body gives it the equivalent New Zealand rating. This is called cross-rating.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (the Classification Office) is a Crown entity responsible for classifying restricted films and games. The Classification Office can also ban or cut objectionable material.

To decide whether material is objectionable, the office considers whether a publication ‘deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good’ as set out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Act 1993. Considerations include looking at the extent, degree and manner in which a publication depicts:

  • torture, cruelty, sexual violence or degrading treatment
  • sexual conduct or nudity involving children or young people
  • the promotion of criminal acts or terrorism
  • the representation of any particular class of people as inherently inferior.

Restricted material can only legally be made available to people who are of or above the age decided by the office. Therefore a film or game labelled R18 can only legally be accessed by people who are at least 18 years old.

The Film and Literature Board of Review

If someone is dissatisfied with the classification given to a particular publication they can appeal to the Film and Literature Board of Review. The board has the power to re-examine and reclassify the publication.

Censorship enforcement

The New Zealand police have the power to enforce the Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act 1993. All police have the official role of ‘inspectors of publications’. Publications include books, DVDs, posters, music recordings, photos, paintings, T-shirts and computer files.

The Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs investigates public complaints, monitors compliance with classification decisions and seizes potentially objectionable publications.

The New Zealand Customs Service aims to prevent objectionable publications being imported into New Zealand. Travellers or importers are required to declare any publications they are bringing into the country that may be considered objectionable.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Censorship - Censorship in the 2010s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2022)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014