A blog by members of our Information Unit
We provide information to other staff at the Classification Office, to the public, and to industry members - we are not involved in assigning classifications. The content of our blog posts will be wide-ranging - for example we'll be discussing censorship and freedom of speech, pornography, research, or other aspects of our work at the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.
We want discussion to be as free and open as possible, but please be aware that we will not approve any comments that:
Posted on 27 September 2017 by Lily
September 25 marked the start of International Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates our right to read. As RuPaul has taught us, reading is fundamental. So here at the Office of Film and Literature Classification, we decided celebrate some very special banned books. What follows is a list of three books by New Zealand authors that have had some dubious encounters with local censors over the years
Posted on 22 September 2017 by Paul
Restricting access to movies, games and other entertainment media is a lot more difficult than it was in the days before online streaming, and we’re looking to focus more on education and better information to help young people build resilience and the ability to critically engage with the media they choose to view.
Having said this, some kind of restrictions on content are definitely still important, and children especially need to be protected from upsetting and harmful content. So what can parents do? Is the online space really a free-for-all?
Posted on 13 September 2017 by Chief Censor David Shanks
After 90 days in the role of Chief Censor, I have been pausing for a moment to reflect on what the role means, and where it might be headed.
I have had a few people ask me the question about relevance of censorship in a digital age. Today, many of us always have our phones with us. Phones (along with tablets, laptops, and PC’s) provide us and our children with a window into virtually any content imaginable.
Posted on 20 July 2017 by Paul
We’ve just released the final report for our research project about the impact on young people of viewing sexual violence in entertainment media. You may know all about why we undertook the project and what it’s all about by now. The point of this post is to share some personal takeaways and observations from my own experience of interviewing young people for the research project.
Posted on 20 July 2017 by Henry (updated post)
RP labels aren't used very often, so why do we use them and what do they mean? You will sometimes see an RP13, RP16 or RP18 classification label on entertainment media like a movie or show (for example a series on Netflix or on DVD). An RP classification means that someone under the specified age must be supervised by a parent or guardian when viewing entertainment media. A guardian is considered to be a responsible adult (18 years and over), for example a family member or teacher who can provide guidance.
Posted on 15 July 2017 by Kim
Netflix’s To The Bone has received media attention and criticism prior to its release on July 14. The film is based on the experience of the director and follows Ellen, a 20-year- old woman with anorexia, played by Lily Collins. There have been concerns about the film glamorising eating disorders and triggering body image and eating issues in vulnerable young people.
We received inquiries from a teacher and a psychologist who were concerned after seeing the film’s trailer. The trailer shows a gaunt Ellen counting calories, skipping meals, exercising excessively and fainting from starvation, all the while pretending to have her life under control. The people who approached us were worried that eating disorders could be glamorised and could potentially trigger body image and eating issues in vulnerable viewers.
Posted on 10 July 2017 by Chief Censor David Shanks
After fewer than two months in the role as Chief Censor, I have had the privilege of launching the final report my office has produced on the impacts on young people of viewing sexual violence on screen.
I was hugely proud to be able to present this work and to talk about it on a national stage. It is important. It is relevant. And it explores issues that touch so many of us, but are often left in the too hard basket.
Posted on 14 June 2017 by Shiyi
A mod is a modification that is made to a game by changing aspects of the game’s coding. They are files that are easy to download and install. These changes can impact games in various ways: these can be minor changes, such as adding more sophisticated lighting effects into the game; major changes, such as changing the entire story of the game; or somewhere in between. We answer an email asking whether it would be illegal to allow a child to play a restricted game if they used a mod to take out all of the restricted content from it.
Posted on 31 May 2017 by Shiyi
We recently got our grubby little mitts on the technical alpha of Sea of Thieves (which looks excellent), a whimsical game about sailing the high seas and looking for treasure. The game is played ideally with a group of crewmates as much of the gameplay involves mundane tasks (changing the length and angle of the different sails, raising and lowering the anchor, and holding a lantern to see at night). Players can either work co-operatively, or competitively (through combat and attacking other players’ ships). What more could a kid want?
Posted on 27 April 2017 by Lily
SPOILER ALERT: This blog post includes some discussion about the plot of 13 Reasons Why.
The Classification Office has created a new RP18 rating specifically for the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The classification recognises that teens are watching and will continue to watch the series, while signalling the strong content and emphasising the essential role of parents and caregivers in discussing this material with young people in their care. In this blog post a Classification Officer explains our reasons for the new classification.
Posted on 17 March 2017 by Hayden
Put into law in 1993, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act (FVPC Act) requires the Classification Office to examine all sorts of media and classify it for New Zealand audiences. The video games that we classify almost always contain violence. So let’s look at that.
Posted on 24 February 2017 by Paul
Hatred, Dead by Daylight, Postal III - titles many gamers know well. All three games have attracted a lot of attention for various reasons, but mostly due to the levels of violence in each game. So when the Chief Censor called them in for classification recently, we expected some robust debate - not just within the Classification Office itself but with the wider gaming public.
It's helpful for our censors to hear opinions from other gamers, including those most affected by the classification system - young people under age 18. For this reason, we recently invited young gamers to spend time playing and viewing the games at the Classification Office.
Posted on 07 February 2017 by Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker
Safer Internet Day is celebrated globally each year on 7 February to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology among children and young people. Safer Internet Day New Zealand is coordinated by online safety organisation Netsafe. In this blog post, Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker writes about the importance of online safety and Safer Internet Day.
Posted on 14 December 2016 by Lily
"99% of the time I have the job that everybody wants, and then 1% of the time I have the job that nobody wants at all". What's it like to work at the Classification Office? In this post a new Classification Officer ('censor') explains how she got here, what she does and why it's important.
Posted on 08 September 2016 by Henry
Earlier this year we asked Colmar Brunton to carry out focus group research with young people to learn about their views on sexual violence in media entertainment like movies, games and television shows. Some initial findings show that young people's views on the subject are varied and complex — and they often found conversation about the topic difficult.
Posted on 01 August 2016 by Deputy Chief Censor Jared Mullen
Our intuition tells us that it can't be good for kids to be exposed to excessive aggression, gore, torture and brutality. We worry that they might be shocked and disturbed by what they see. We may also fear that our children could copy the behaviours that they see on screen, or perhaps even grow into overly aggressive and uncaring people. Are we being over protective?
Posted on 19 July 2016 by Henry
The other day a group of Classification Office staff were lucky to be introduced to virtual reality (VR) courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment and its Playstation VR technology. We've been paying close attention to VR for a while now, knowing that inevitably we'll have to deal with VR games - but the experience of VR blew us away.
Posted on 05 July 2016 by Sue (Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa, Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe)
We've been talking with young people around the country to find out how they're consuming entertainment media — and to get a feel for what they think of NZ's classification system and how it affects them.
Posted on 04 July 2016 by Henry
Our new Public Understanding survey looks at the changing ways New Zealanders are watching movies and shows, and playing games — it also shows a high level of support for the classification system. This post asks: what does the research say about the future of the classification system?
Posted on 23 February 2016 by Henry
New Zealand's classification system is a public service that most New Zealanders rely on all or some of the time. Our recent research found that 81% of New Zealanders would always, or almost always, be guided by classification labels when making viewing and gaming choices for young people.
Posted on 19 January 2016 by Deputy Chief Censor Jared Mullen
CONTENT WARNING: This article includes discussion of sexually explicit, and in some cases sexually violent, entertainment content.
I am often asked whether, in this day and age, New Zealand media regulators should continue to care about pornography given its almost universal availability - particularly over the web to highly portable hand-held devices. Colleagues, family and friends also quite rightly remind me that New Zealand is a very tolerant country that values freedom of expression and where people dislike being told what to do. They ask whether it is possible or even desirable for regulators to try and restrict the flow of pornography to New Zealanders as a whole and to our young people in particular.
Posted on 17 December 2015 by Henry
When we examine a film, these are the criteria we're looking for: sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence. These criteria were also used by the old Chief Censor of Films office when examining the original Star Wars trilogy, a long time ago in a government office not that far away (from us anyway). So are all these criteria in the movies?
Posted on 11 December 2015 by Deputy Chief Censor Jared Mullen
SPOILER ALERT: Case studies in this article include previously aired episodes of Family Guy, Criminal Minds, Shameless, and the movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Why is it that so many New Zealanders currently wish for more information on television programmes to make wise choices for themselves and their families?
When the Office of Film and Literature Classification asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 New Zealanders whether they would find it useful to see classification labels on television shows as well as movies - over two thirds said yes.
Posted on 04 December 2015 by a Classification officer
SPOILER ALERT: This blog post includes some discussion about the plot of Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is a 13-part Netflix television series based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name. The series is an action crime drama about Jessica, a recovering superhero-turned-alcoholic private investigator who is struggling to come to terms with recent traumatic experiences. Her main antagonist is Kilgrave (otherwise known as the Purple Man in the comics); Kilgrave's superhuman ability is to command the wills of other people.
Posted on 01 December 2015 by Michelle
We recently asked in a UMR survey whether people would find it useful to have the classification labels that are used for cinema and DVD applied to television content. 68% of people surveyed said yes, it would be useful to see these labels on television shows as well as movies.
Most people who said they'd find the labels useful pointed to them being a useful guide for making viewing choices for children.
Don't always get to see TV content before kids see it and can be difficult to judge appropriateness.
[Would use labels] To ensure children in the house did not get to watch unsuitable programs accidentally.
People in our survey mentioned not only the usefulness of classification labels in relation to making safe viewing choices for children; they also said that having classification labels on television shows would help them make informed choices for themselves and give them an idea about what sort of content to expect in a show.
Posted on 02 October 2015 by Michelle
This week is Banned Books Week and a great opportunity for community discussion around the history of book censorship in New Zealand, and how the classification system works today. This post is adapted (and updated) from a paper we presented at LIANZA's 2010 conference.
In this post we'll cover a couple of notable examples of book censorship from the early part of the 20th century, then move on to the era of the Indecent Publications Tribunal (IPT) and the work of our current Classification Office.
Posted on 22 July 2015 by Henry
Providing quality, relevant and updated content for students has long been a focus of ours. Students and young people generally are some of our most important stakeholders - they're big consumers of entertainment media and are directly affected by our classification decisions in a way that adults aren't. We try to do as much as we can to help young people understand the system, and also to encourage them to comply with classifications when choosing content for themselves and people younger than them.
Our original website for students helped us achieve these aims, and we got plenty of positive feedback from students and teachers. But after five years it was time for an update.
Posted on 20 May 2015 by Michelle (updated post)
Have you ever been faced with a pleading 12 year-old who wants to see an M movie and you aren't really sure if you should let them?
While an M classification means the film is unrestricted - anyone can see it - it is more suitable for older viewers. This is different to the red labels which are legal restrictions and the film cannot legally be shown to anyone under the age on the label.
The M classification means the movie might contain violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual or adult themes or nudity that some kids and parents find challenging.
Posted on 30 April 2015 by Henry
The Classification Office was set up under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, which is the basis for New Zealand's classification system. Most people associate our work with age-restricting entertainment content like movies and games, less well known is that we classify images and video clips depicting the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and young people. We're responsible for determining whether or not this material is objectionable (banned), and we use the same classification criteria as we do for movies, games and other publications.
Posted on 02 February 2015 by Henry
Is the impact of watching, say, violent content in a cinema greater than watching it on DVD? Does it have a lower impact if you read it in a book? Or a higher impact in a videogame? What if you were immersed in a virtual reality world?
These are questions that our Classification Officers have to grapple with when classifying something, and we can classify a wide variety of things - anything which comes under the definition of a 'publication' in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act, 1993. This includes movies on a variety of formats, games, books, magazines, computer files, anything with an image, sign, representation or word on it, and anything with information stored on it.
The greater part of our work has always been classifying films for cinema and home viewing formats, but in the past 20 years we've classified jigsaw puzzles, T-shirts, paintings, billboards, playing cards, comics, business signs, bumper stickers, calendars, emails, letters, chat logs and even a drink can.
In this series of posts on the impact of different mediums we'll be taking a look at movies, games and books, but we'll start with something a bit more unusual for us - clothing.
Posted on 24 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).
Posted on 19 September 2014 by Michelle
Violence is one of the things that the Classification Office has to consider when classifying a film, a game, or another sort of publication. There are lots of different ways violence can be depicted, and these differences can impact on both how audiences respond to the film and how the Classification Office classifies it. In an earlier post we presented some of our research findings into young people's perceptions of violent content in films. In this post, we'll have a look at depictions of 'stylised' violence in film.
Posted on 21 August 2014 by Michelle
'Horror' is one of those words that can mean different things to different people. It can be scary. It can be gross or disturbing. Sometimes, it can even be funny.
A variety of content can be regarded as horrific or horrifying, and this doesn't only apply to the genre of horror films. You can have extreme and unrealistic depictions of horror, perhaps in the form of extended and gratuitous torture or death scenes in a film. You can also think of 'horror' in terms of the supernatural - ghosts, zombies, and vampires. 'Horror' often overlaps with other criteria the Classification Office must consider, such as violence and cruelty.
Posted on 22 July 2014 by Henry
Does nudity offend you? It offends a lot of New Zealanders, but it might surprise you to learn that we can't restrict something for nudity alone. We can only restrict or ban something using the classification criteria within the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. In passing the Classification Act, the New Zealand Parliament decided that people's freedom to view or read something should only be restricted if there is a likelihood of harm to society - and something that's offensive isn't necessarily harmful.
Posted on 19 June 2014 by Michelle
We often get inquiries from students about working at the Classification Office. They want to know what qualifications they need and what the job entails. Many are passionate about media, and about censorship, perhaps not surprising seeing as teens are arguably the group most affected in New Zealand by the classification system. They, like many other New Zealanders, often are uncertain about how classifications for films and games are determined, and what the basis is for sometimes not allowing them to see content they'd like to.
This is one of the main reasons the Classification Office runs the Censor for a Day event for senior Media Studies students twice a year.
Posted on 16 May 2014 by Henry
Depictions of drug use, and the effects and ramifications of drug use, can be powerful subject matter for films and other media. The impact of this material can be high, and there are a number of things to consider during the classification process. For example, is drug use glamorised, encouraged or normalised? Are young people shown using drugs? How realistic are the depictions? If a substance is harmful, does the film, game or book as a whole make this clear to the audience or reader?
Posted on 17 April 2014 by Michelle
Recently there have been a lot of news stories from various parts of the world about the 2014 Darren Aronofsky film Noah being banned in several countries including Pakistan, Bahrain and Indonesia. Governments in those and other countries have halted the release of the film due to its religious content. In New Zealand, the film carries an M rating, with the descriptive note 'Contains violence'.
When classifying films, different governments and censorship authorities around the world operate using criteria that is generally associated with the prevailing values of the society they are serving. While in some countries religion forms part of that criteria, it is not part of New Zealand's criteria for classifying films and other publications. There have, however, been some interesting examples of film classification in New Zealand which have raised the issue of religion in some way.
Posted on 14 April 2014 by Henry
In honour of the Royal Tour we think it's a good time to look at New Zealand's historical ties to the UK - on the topic of censorship of course.
Along with their trunks and valises packed with their worldly goods, settlers to New Zealand also carried the rights, obligations, and precedents of English law. The common law system allowed a relatively open environment in terms of freedom of expression, even though these rights were not explicitly protected (unlike the Americans with their Bill of Rights). Of course, these rights were never absolute, and our new colony also inherited limitations to the freedom of expression.
Posted on 28 February 2014 by Henry
The first word ever spoken could have been the result of someone stubbing their toe in a cave, and our ancestors were probably hurling abuse at each other the moment they started communicating. From the dawn of the expletive, no doubt, what was offensive to some was of no concern (or even humorous or endearing) to others.
So what is offensive language? Is it swearing, profanity, or obscenity? Abuse, cussing, and cursing? A derogation, denigration, or deprecation? An execration, imprecation or malediction? A 'no-no'? It could be any of these things, or none of them.
Posted on 11 February 2014 by Henry
Today we're celebrating Safer Internet Day 2014, an event which promotes awareness of the challenges that people sometimes face online, and helps inspire confidence in dealing with these challenges - particularly amongst children and young people. These challenges can take many forms, including cyber-bullying, unwanted contact from strangers, privacy issues, and exposure to potentially distressing content like pornography or violence.
Our recent research into young people's views about classification systems and media content, in particular the literature review component, found that concern about online content is widespread amongst young people. This post focuses on access to movies and video games online.
Posted on 30 January 2014 by Henry
That's not our real name, but it might make more sense than the Office of Film and Literature Classification - because we classify far more games than books.
To date, we've classified 912 computer and console games. That might seem like a lot, but it's only a small proportion of all the games available in New Zealand. This is due to the way NZ's classification law was written in 1993, which put video games into the same category as documentaries, advertisements, and films of sports events, meaning that only games with restricted content have to be examined by our office and issued official classification labels.
This is partly a reflection of the nature of games back in the early 1990's - well before the launch of dedicated 3D consoles like Sony's Playstation, the Sega Saturn and Nintendo64. Twenty years later, the power of gaming hardware has grown exponentially, and so has the level of detail, realism, and sophistication in games.
Posted on 15 January 2014 by Michelle
The Classification Office is not the only authority that can issue classification decisions in New Zealand - the other body is the Film and Literature Board of Review. Sometimes, confusion arises between the role of the Classification Office led by the Chief Censor and the Board.
Any person who is dissatisfied with a classification decision of the Classification Office may seek a review by the Film and Literature Board of Review.
Posted on 09 January 2014 by Michelle
Each year a small number of books are submitted for classification. If a restricted classification is assigned, this effects how the book needs to be handled by libraries, bookstores, and anyone else supplying the book.
Films need to be classified before they are supplied to the public. Books (and magazines) are different - they are generally only classified as a result of complaints from members of the public, or enforcement action by New Zealand Customs, Police, or the Department of Internal Affairs.
Posted on 05 January 2014 by Michelle
Perhaps a well-intentioned relative got you a game that you have no interest in playing, or your stocking was stuffed with a box set of a tv series you already have a copy of. Whatever the reason, if you're going to list your unwanted DVDs and games for re-sale on sites such as TradeMe, you need to make sure they are correctly labelled.
It is a legal requirement that DVDs or games supplied to the public, including those sold second-hand, have the correct New Zealand classification label. It is also part of TradeMe's Terms & Conditions, and they remove listings that don't comply with the law.
Posted on 06 December 2013 by Michelle
It's that time of year when the tills are ringing with the sales of DVDs and games, and summer blockbusters are being released at the cinemas. It's also a time of year when we get questions about what the classification labels mean, and what the rules around enforcing them are.
To make the whole process a lot easier for everyone involved, we've put together a few tips for you.
Posted on 28 November 2013 by Henry
Young people's experience of pornography is a hot topic at the moment, and people tend to have some pretty strong views about it. Many young people think it's potentially harmful, but they also feel this way about violent and horrific content.
In a recent survey, we asked 16-18 year-olds to indicate which types of content could be harmful to people their age, and violence topped the list.
Posted on 12 November 2013 by Henry
A lot of teens think that public organisations like the Classification Office don't rate your opinions about what may be harmful in media content. But we do. We do research to prove it and ask you directly.
In one of our recent studies, young people told us how they defined 'harm', and we agree with them. They said that there are short term harms like a momentary shock - getting a fright - that you get over pretty quickly, usually. Then there're the things that stay with you, and you develop some fears or have trouble sleeping. Not so good. If someone develops suicidal thoughts or feels depressed because of something they've seen in the media, then that's serious.
Posted on 01 November 2013 by Henry
The point of this introductory post is to give you a small taste of what you can expect in future in terms of content, because (like all bloggers) we want you to come back for more.
Is the title of this post trying to shamelessly get your attention? Of course it is - but it's also entirely relevant, so bear with me. Despite us being a very boring and ordinary (and spotlessly professional) public agency, providing a basic set of services to the public, our work does give us the opportunity to talk about stuff that most people find at least a little bit interesting.