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Chief Censor: Porn, jobs, money – the real story

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Chief Censor David Shanks

The future of censorship has been in the news again.

A Stuff article titled “Classification Office refocuses future due to lack of pornos and an evolving digital future” has attracted some attention lately.

This article is long on potentially confusing comment and light on facts. Let me put the record straight.

Most people don’t realise that we are both government and industry funded. The Classification Office has received just under $2M in government funding since it was established in 1994. This reflects the work we do for government officials – examining and classifying material that has been seized by the Police, Customs or other authorities. 

This material is often extreme. Child rape, animal mutilation and graphic executions are the start of it. Nobody in their right mind wants to see this stuff but someone has to make an official assessment of it in order to prosecute. We do that.

The other side of our operation is classifying commercial film and DVD releases. This is funded through industry. The film and DVD industry pays less than half of one percent of its revenue to have their product classified in order for it to be exhibited or sold in New Zealand.

Back in the 1990’s and up until around 2010 a lot of material was being sold in NZ ‘direct to DVD’ – yes, including a fair amount of ‘adult entertainment’. Porn. It seems quaint to think it now, but back in those days the Classification Office would routinely review porn DVDs to make sure they weren’t too abusive. As everyone knows this has changed and increasingly people obtain porn - and a lot more besides! - online. Accordingly, commercial revenue has dropped from around $1.3 million in 2009 to around $600-700k today.

It is this decline in commercial revenue that we highlighted in our most recent Statement of Intent (here). When we drafted this Statement we could see that our expenditure was going to exceed income to the point where we would have used up all our reserves by 2020.

We have restructured to address this, and we are now in a stable financial position.

During the restructure, I wanted to provide my classification staff with as much choice as possible in the process, and met with all of them individually. In the end, we had no forced redundancy, everyone who left chose redundancy freely. Many of these people had put in many years of service doing a tough job that many people could not handle. At least one person expressed relief to me that they would no longer have to view prosecution material.

I salute them.

Now as an office we are in a position to recruit some new people with fresh talent, skills and perspectives. This is vital because in truth the future of censorship and classification is not ‘murky’ – as described in the article – but is highly changeable and dynamic.

The old approaches to regulation will not work in this environment. The future involves parents, children and young people who are better informed and equipped to deal with the digital environment. It involves an industry taking greater responsibility themselves, using digital tools to efficiently inform the public. I have been talking to my counterparts in Australia and the UK who are doing some very innovative things in this area, presenting ideas that could improve the picture for both industry and all New Zealanders.

The opportunity to make a change is now.

A child plays on an iPad on a table

“It’s time to make a change to censorship” – Chief Censor David Shanks | Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

David Shanks is New Zealand's Chief Censor at the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

David Shanks publicly presenting our Young New Zealanders Viewing Sexual Violence research
David Shanks publicly presenting our Young New Zealanders Viewing Sexual Violence research

This material is often extreme. Child rape, animal mutilation and graphic executions are the start of it. Nobody in their right mind wants to see this stuff but someone has to make an official assessment of it in order to prosecute. We do that.

Chief Censor David Shanks

Chief Censor's Blog

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