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How classification decisions are made

Ever wondered how classification decisions for films, games and other publications are made? This page explains how things come to the Classification Office for classification, and how the classification criteria are applied.

The key factor in deciding how a publication should be classified is whether or not the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.

Films and games for commercial release

Films and games for commercial release are submitted to the Classification Office via the Film and Video Labelling Body.

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, films are required to carry New Zealand classification labels. In order to obtain classifications, films are first submitted to the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB) in Auckland.

The role of the FVLB is to:

  • Cross-rate films if they receive unrestricted ratings in Australia or the United Kingdom
  • Watch films if they have not been classified in Australia or the United Kingdom. If the FVLB decides that nothing in the film warrants a restriction, it will assign a rating of G, PG or M and an appropriate descriptive note. If, after viewing the film, the FVLB considers it might require a restricted classification, they submit the film on behalf of the distributor to the Classification Office
  • Submit films restricted in Australia or the United Kingdom to the Classification Office, or to the Classification Office where the applicant requests it

The FVLB collects classification fees on behalf of the Classification Office, and issues classification labels at the end of the classification process.

Screenshot of the Film and Video Labelling Body website
Film and Video Labelling Body website

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Assignment of film classifications

Film classifications are assigned using legal criteria set out in legislation.

The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 is New Zealand's legislation for the classification of films, videos, games, books, and other publications (with the exception of television and radio broadcasting).

The criteria in this legislation instruct the Classification Office on what to look for when examining publications. For a publication to be classified as restricted, it must deal with at least one of the following:

  • Sex
  • Horror
  • Crime
  • Cruelty
  • Violence
  • Highly offensive language
  • Self-harm, degrading or demeaning conduct, or conduct that would be dangerous if imitated

The legislation also says that the Classification Office has to consider how the content is presented in the publication. When deciding what classification is appropriate for a film, for example, the Classification Office must consider:

  • Extent - how long the film deals with, for example, violence
  • Degree - how intense are the depictions of, for example, cruelty in the film
  • Manner - how is horror, for example, presented in the film? Is it funny, over the top, scary, realistic, and so on.

More detailed information about the classification criteria

Considering the film as a whole

In addition to how the content is presented, the Classification Office must consider the film as a whole.

Section 3(4) of the Classification Act instructs the Classification Office to consider:

  • The dominant effect of the publication as a whole
  • The impact of the medium in which the publication is presented
  • The character of the publication, including any merit, value, or importance that the publication has in relation to literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational, scientific, or other matters
  • The persons, classes of persons, or age groups of the persons to whom the publication is intended or is likely to be made available
  • The purpose for which the publication is intended to be used
  • Any other relevant circumstances relating to the intended or likely use of the publication
Dictionary definition of legislation

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The classification process

When a publication is submitted for classification, it is assigned to a Classification Officer. The scheduling of publications aims to ensure that workloads are evenly distributed and that Classification Officers do not examine only one type of publication or one type of content.

The Classification Officer examines the publication (in its entirety), and assess it under the criteria laid out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

New Zealand's classification criteria

The Classification Officer examining the publication produces a written analysis of the publication and how it relates to the criteria in the Act. Based on their analysis they will recommend a classification and also whether the publication (films and DVDs only) needs to be cut. Decisions are peer reviewed, and if a publication needs to be cut or banned it will also be looked at by a senior staff member.

Most publications are examined by one person working as part of a team. However, in the case of a film intended for cinema release, they will watch the film with other staff members (including either the Chief Censor or Deputy Chief Censor or a senior classification officer). It is viewed by a group because we can't rewind or re-watch parts of a film in this format. Some other publications may require additional assistance to examine them or to understand issues raised by the publication. For example the Classification Office sometimes calls for expert assistance in the form of translation or scientific assistance on material we are examining.

Flowchart showing the submission process for a film, DVD or game

Flowchart showing the section 12 film and game submission process

Flowchart description

Director submits film or game to Film and Video Labelling Body.

Question 1: Has film or game been rated or classified in New Zealand?
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body issues labels.
Answer: No - go to Question 2.

Question 2: Has the film or game been classified as unrestricted in Australia or the UK?
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body assigns equivalent NZ rating (NB: unrestricted games do not need an NZ rating). Labelling Body issues labels.
Answer: No - go to Question 3.

Question 3: Has the film or game been classified as restricted in Australia or the UK?
Answer: No - Labelling Body views the film and either a) Assigns an unrestricted G, PG or M rating. Labelling Body issues labels; or b) Go to Question 3, Answer Yes.
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body forwards film or game to Classification Office for classification. Classification Office directs Labelling Body to issue classification label. Labelling Body issues labels.

A Classification Officer examining a publication
A Classification Officer examining a publication

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Case studies

Case studies illustrate how the classification law is applied.

As outlined above, the Classification Office uses criteria set out in the legislation to determine what classification a publication should be assigned. The following case studies have been produced to help illustrate how the criteria is applied in practice: