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What I learnt at Censor for a Day

Posted on 08 June 2021 by Oli

When I was young, cellphones were big bricks with a single-digit panel. Thomas the Tank Engine lived inside the TV cabinet on a VHS. The internet had barely arrived, and the only way to communicate to whānau overseas was to make a very expensive phone call. Now, although just in my late 20’s, I realise my upbringing was hugely different to what rangatahi are living today.

We know times have changed, young people have access to information like never before. As a new staff member at the Classification Office, I was interested in seeing how we engage and work with rangatahi.

Alongside Putaruru College and Western Heights High School, I attended the Censor for a Day programme in Rotorua. I was instantly surprised that words like porn and sex, said freely by the facilitator up the front, got a more sensible reaction from the students than a few of the adults there.

The facilitators had me, and the students hooked from the start as they carefully explained Aotearoa’s classification system, the history, the requirements, and where we are today. The links to harm were clear when the facilitators used examples like depiction of suicide in 13 Reasons Why and the March 15 terror attack livestream.

I listened to the students discuss different examples of content and why some had more impact than others. Although there were different ideas and answers, every student had valid reasoning as to why we should be sensitive to particular harms, signalling the importance of content warnings.

We watched a pre-release of Those Who Wish Me Dead (rated R16) and used our new understandings of the classification criteria to come up with a suitable classification rating. I was inspired by what the students thought about the film and their recommendations for a rating and descriptive note. It helped me understand that while we restrict when necessary, it’s so vital that we engage with rangatahi and learn from their lived experiences. It is also crucial that we empower them to make informed choices about the content they consume.

At lunch, Zack, a student at Western Heights High School, talked to me about the importance of descriptive notes.

“We have access to so much content on our phones; understanding how it affects us and our mates is vital,” he said.

“Young people face a big challenge in knowing what sort of content is right for them.”

I felt reassured that rangatahi today are actively thinking carefully about what they watch and how it not only might impact them but their friends and whānau as well.

When I spoke with Media Studies teacher Carli Last from Putararu College, she said, “media literacy is so important to young people, especially when they have access to all types of content on their phone.” After listening to the students and talking to Zack, I completely agree.

The students left absolutely buzzing about the day, with better understanding of how to critically think about the media they consume – as did I! If you’d like your school to participate in the Censor for a Day programme we have more information over here about how to get involved.


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