Censorship film and literature classification 


The purpose of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act is to prevent harm to the New Zealand public by restricting access to publications which contain harmful material. The Office of Film and Literature Classification is responsible for classifying publications in New Zealand.


What kinds of publications can be classified under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act?

Films, DVDs, music recordings, books, magazines, sound recordings, images (e.g. photographs), computer games and publications downloaded from the internet can all potentially be classified under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. Film posters can also be classified or restricted.

You can read more about the types of material classified under the Act on the Office of Film and Literature Classification’s Censorship website for students.

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What kinds of publications are not classified under the Act?

Radio and television broadcasts are regulated by the Broadcasting Act and enforced by the Broadcasting Standards Authority although if a film has been banned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (Classification Office), or the Classification Office requires that portions of the film are to be cut, then the same will apply to the television broadcast of the film. 

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Who decides whether a publication should be banned or restricted?

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (Classification Office) is responsible for classifying publications under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act. They can classify films, DVDs, computer files and games, books, magazines, newspapers, sound recordings, pictures and more.

The Classification Office can classify a publication as: 

  • objectionable, which makes it an offence for anyone to possess, trade in or distribute the publication (even if the offender was unaware that it is banned);
  • restricted to people over a particular age, so that it is an offence to distribute the publication to someone under that age (even if the offender was unaware that the publication is restricted);
  • unrestricted, meaning that a person of any age can access the publication. The Classification Office may assign warnings to an unrestricted publication - e.g. recommending parental guidance or that it is more suitable for a mature audience.

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How does the Classification Office decide on the ratings of films, DVDs and games?

All films, DVDs and games must be labelled by the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB) before it can be made publicly available.

The distributor of the publication has to submit it to the Film and Video Labelling Body to be labelled with a rating.

If the publication has been given a restricted rating in Australia or the United Kingdom then the FVLB will forward it to the Classification Office. The Classification Office will assess and classify it according to criteria set out in the Act before passing it back to the FVLB so that it can be labelled with the assigned rating.. 

If the publication has been classified in Australia and the United Kingdom as unrestricted - i.e. it received a G, PG or M rating - then it does not need to be viewed by the Classification Office and the FVLB will label it with the same rating.

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Are all books and sound recordings classified?

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (Classification Office) will only classify a book or sound recording if it has been submitted for classification by the distributor, the Police, the Courts, New Zealand Customs, the Censorship Compliance Unit or a member of the public.

More about the classification of books and music is on the Classification Office's Censorship website.

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How do I use classifications to help me decide whether a film or game is suitable for young people?

Every film and game should have a colour-coded label which contains information that lets people know what, if any, legal restrictions apply in terms of who can view the film.

The following classifications are for films which are unrestricted (anyone can view them):

G - General Audience (colour-coded green). It won’t contain any content that is inappropriate or likely to be upsetting to young children.    
PG - Parental guidance may be needed for younger viewers (colour-coded yellow). It might contain violence, offensive language or sexual material. It is aimed at an adult audience.  
M - More suitable for viewers over 16 years of age, and it is also colour-coded yellow. It might contain violence, offensive language or sexual material. It is aimed at an adult audience
 

Restricted publications are colour-coded red -    
This is often called an 'R' rating. A restricted film or game is likely to include violence, cruelty, horror, crime, self-harm, offensive language, or sexual material that might be harmful to children and young people. It may contain depictions of violence or sex that are more graphic and realistic, or scenes which are disturbing. If a publication is restricted then it is illegal for anyone to allow an under-aged person to watch, read or play it even in their own home.

For more information on film classifications go to the website of the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

You can see a list of films which have been recently labelled on the Film & Video Labelling Body website.

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Who enforces the classification of publications under the Act?

Classification law is enforced by:

  • the Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit - they can investigate complaints from the public, monitor compliance with labelling and display, seize potentially objectionable material, monitor chat, social networking and file-sharing sites.  
  • the New Zealand Police - they have a specialist unit which focuses on objectionable material related to child exploitation.

The above enforcement agencies can also submit publications to the Classification Office for classification.

More information about enforcement is on the Office of Film and Literature Classification website.

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How do I complain about a publication that I think should be banned or restricted?

To make a complaint that a book, film, sound recording or other publication should be classified, or has not been appropriately classified, you can contact the Information Unit of the Office of Film and Literature classification. 

You can call 0508 CENSOR (0508 236 767) or you can contact the Office via the other contact details below:

The Information Unit
Office of Film and Literature Classification
PO Box 1999
Wellington
Phone: (04) 471 6770
Fax: (04) 471 6781
Email: information@censorship.govt.nz.

The unit also deals with inquiries, for example about submitting a publication for classification.

Otherwise, to complain about:
  • editorial content of a newspaper, magazine or periodical in circulation in New Zealand, including their website, contact the New Zealand Press Council. You can also complain to them about material on a digital news site, such as a news blog, if it is a member or associate member of the Council.