This page provides an overview of the legal criteria that must be applied by the Classification Office when classifying a publication - such as a film, game, book or computer file. Once they are examined under those criteria, publications can be classified as unrestricted, restricted (eg R16 or R18), or objectionable (banned).
The criteria are set out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (The Classification Act). Changes to the criteria would require Parliament to amend the Classification Act. The law was last amended in 2005.
You can view the Classification Act in full on the Government's legislation website.
The criteria are outlined in section 3, section 3A, and section 3B. For more information about the Classification Act, see New Zealand's classification law: The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993
Please note that the Act does not regulate political speech, the expression of opinions, or 'hate speech'. The Classification Office made a Submission to the 2004 Inquiry into Hate Speech.
A summary of section 3(1) of the Classification Act:
A publication can be restricted or banned if it "describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with" matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence, and if its unrestricted availability would be harmful to society.
A summary of section 3(2) of the Classification Act:
A publication is objectionable (banned) if it promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, the following activities:
The meaning of the words 'promote' and 'support'
This means that a publication must advance, encourage, uphold or strengthen, rather than just show, describe or deal with, one of the matters listed above for it to be banned under this section of the criteria.
Certain criteria must be given special consideration when assessing whether a publication should be restricted or banned.
A summary of section 3(3) of the Classification Act:
The Classification Office must give 'particular weight' to the extent, degree, and manner in which the publication deals with the following:
The extent, degree and manner in which a publication deals with the above matters may lead to the publication being banned, even if the publication does not tend to promote or support the activities listed in the previous section (see Criteria that always lead to a ban above).
A publication can be restricted, but not banned, if it contains highly offensive language.
A summary of section 3A of the Classification Act:
Language that is 'highly offensive to the public in general' can lead to an age-restriction being placed on a publication, if it is likely to cause serious harm to young people.
A publication can be restricted, but not banned, if it contains self-harm, degrading or demeaning conduct, or conduct that would be dangerous if imitated.
A summary of section 3B of the Classification Act:
A publication may be age-restricted if it 'describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with' the following:
The material listed above can be age-restricted if it is likely to have a negative effect on young people, such as:
The Classification Office must also consider the dominant effect of the publication on its intended audience, the intended use of the publication, and other matters.
A summary of section 3(4) of the Classification Act:
When deciding whether or not to restrict or ban a publication, the Classification Office must take the following matters into account: