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New Zealand vs the world: how do our classifications rate internationally?

Posted on 28 November 2014 by Henry

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.

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.

Graphs and pie charts

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