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New Zealand's classification law: The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act, 1993

The classification system in New Zealand operates under the Classification Act, passed in 1993. The Act regulates how films, games and other publications are classified.

This page contains information about:

  • The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 ('the Act')
  • The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Regulations (and Fees Regulations) 1994 ('the Regulations')

You can read the Act and its associated Regulations on the New Zealand Government's legislation website.

The Act provides the legal framework for New Zealand's classification system. The purpose of the classification system is to prevent harm to the New Zealand public by restricting the availability of publications containing harmful material.

Cover of the Classification Act

Also in this section

Useful links

Publications can be restricted or banned

The Act allows the Classification Office to restrict or ban any 'publication'. The definition of a publication includes:

  • Films, video cassettes, DVDs or games
  • Computer files, or something which stores electronic data such as a CD, DVD, Blu-ray or hard drive
  • Books, newspapers, magazines, or any other print or writing
  • Sound recordings
  • Pictures, photographs, or anything with words, images, or symbols printed on it - such as a billboard, artwork or item of clothing

What can be classified

Films and restricted games must carry classification labels

A publication must carry a classification label if it comes under the definition of a 'film' - such as a film print, DVD, Blu-ray or VHS tape.

However, there are exemptions to this requirement for some types of films that do not contain restricted content. The exemptions include documentaries, advertisements and games - this is why unrestricted games (those of a G, PG or M level) do not require classification labels.

Exemptions from labelling requirements

Other publications

Publications other than films and restricted games do not have to be labelled before being supplied to the public.

Suppliers are responsible for ensuring that all material is supplied to the public appropriately, even if classification labels are not required. Publications that may be restricted or objectionable can be submitted directly to the Classification Office by:

  • Suppliers and distributors
  • The Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs
  • New Zealand Customs Service
  • The Police
  • The Courts
  • Members of the public (the permission of the Chief Censor is required)
Classification label poster
The official classification label poster is provided free of charge by the Classification Office

Useful links

The Act does not cover broadcasting

Something broadcast on television or radio does not come under the jurisdiction of the Classification Act. Broadcasting in New Zealand is regulated by the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Complaints about broadcasts should be directed to the broadcaster in the first place, and then to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

BSA website

Classification criteria

The Act's classification criteria describe what can be restricted or banned.

The Classification Office evaluates publications using the criteria in sections 3, 3A and 3B of the Classification Act.

Under section 3, a publication may be restricted or banned if it 'describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with' matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence. If a publication is restricted or banned, this means that it is likely to be harmful to society if made freely available. Publications which promote or support, or tend to promote or support certain activities, such as the sexual exploitation of children, must be banned.

Under sections 3A and 3B, the Classification Office can also impose an age restriction on a publication containing highly offensive language, self-harm, degrading or demeaning conduct, or conduct that would be dangerous if imitated.

The Act does not regulate political speech, the expression of opinions, or 'hate speech'.

The classification criteria

Our Submission to the 2004 Inquiry into Hate Speech (PDF, 274KB)

The meaning of objectionable in the Act
The Classification Act defines the 'meaning of objectionable' in section 3

Useful links

The classification and labelling process

The Act sets out the process for getting publications classified and labelled.

People or organisations who wish to submit a publication for classification or labelling must follow the processes in the Classification Act and its accompanying Regulations.

Among other things, the Act and its Regulations specify:

  • The different ways in which members of the public, officials, or industry members can submit a publication for classification
  • The fees for classification
  • How films and games are to be labelled

Learn more about submitting a film, game or other publication to the Classification Office:

Classification submission form
Classification submission form

Responsibility for classification, labelling and enforcement

The Act gives responsibility for classification, labelling and enforcement to four organisations:

Film and Video Labelling Body

The Film and Video Labelling Body supplies labels, and rates unrestricted films

The Labelling Body is responsible for:

  • Assessing films, assigning ratings (G, PG or M) and issuing labels to unrestricted films
  • Assigning equivalent ratings and issuing labels for unrestricted films that have previously been classified in Australia or the United Kingdom
  • Forwarding restricted films and games to the Classification Office if they have not been previously classified in New Zealand (or have been restricted in Australia or the United Kingdom)
  • Issuing labels to films and restricted games that have been classified by the Classification Office or a previous New Zealand censorship authority

All films and restricted games supplied to the public must be submitted to the Film and Video Labelling Body in order to obtain a New Zealand classification label. Where the film or game requires restriction (for example if it has been classified MA15+ in Australia), the Labelling Body will forward the film or game to the Classification Office for classification. Labels can only be issued once a film or game has been rated or classified.

The Labelling Body also maintains a database of titles which have been issued New Zealand classification labels at fvlb.org.nz

The Labelling Body is an industry-run organisation. While the Labelling Body itself is not a government agency, it must perform its functions according to the Act and Regulations.

For more information about obtaining a classification label, see How to submit films and games for classification.

Office of Film and Literature Classification

The Office of Film and Literature Classification classifies publications which may need to be restricted or banned.

The Classification Office is a government agency with two primary functions:

  • To classify publications such as films, books or computer files which may need to be restricted or banned
  • To provide information about classification decisions and about the classification system as a whole

Restrictions imposed by the Classification Office are legally enforceable.

For more information, see About the Classification Office.

Alternatively, contact the Information Unit.

The Film and Literature Board of Review

The Film and Literature Board of Review decides on appeals of decisions made by the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Anyone who disagrees with a recent decision made by the Classification Office can apply to have a film reviewed by the Film and Literature Board of Review (the Board). The Board of Review is an independent body administered by the Department of Internal Affairs.

A classification assigned by the Board replaces the original classification decision assigned by the Classification Office.

Owners of a publication and enforcement authorities are legally entitled to have a publication reviewed, but members of the public must first be given leave by the Secretary of Internal Affairs.

The Board may also grant an interim restriction order, to prevent a publication being made available until the classification is finalised.

To learn about applying for a review, see Getting a classification changed.

The Censorship Compliance Unit

The Censorship Compliance Unit has overall responsibility for enforcement of the classification system.

The Censorship Compliance Unit is part of the Department of Internal Affairs and has primary responsibility for enforcement of the Classification Act and its Regulations. Members of the Compliance Unit are called Inspectors of Publications.

The Compliance Unit also takes complaints from members of the public about possible breaches of the law. Police also act as Inspectors of Publications.

For information about the role of the Censorship Compliance Unit and enforcement of the Classification Act see Classification enforcement, offences and penalties.

Offence provisions and penalties

The Act contains offence provisions outlining penalties for breaching the law.

The Classification Act and its Regulations have a number of provisions involving classification and labelling requirements, the availability of restricted material, and the prohibition of objectionable content. The offence provisions outline the penalties which may arise for breaches of these provisions.

Offences relating to making, possessing and distributing objectionable content are serious criminal offences - distributing objectionable material, for example, can result in a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions (PDF, 877KB)

Example page of our Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions in the Classification Act
Example page of our Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions in the Classification Act

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