The classification process
When we classify films, shows and video games, we weigh up potential harms with New Zealanders' rights to freedom of expression.
The first step in the classification process is obtaining the publication. The Classification Office receives publications from a number of different sources.
Submissions can be made by:
The Film and Video Labelling Body
Before a producer or distributor can release a film in cinemas, a DVD or a video game in New Zealand, they contact the Film and Video Labelling Body of New Zealand (FVLB) to arrange consumer labelling. The FVLB determines an appropriate age rating (G, PG or M) and content warning note for the label.
If a film has received an unrestricted rating in Australia or the United Kingdom, or if the FVLB decides that nothing in the film warrants a restriction, it will assign a rating of G, PG or M and provide an appropriate descriptive note.
If the film has been restricted in Australia or the United Kingdom, or the FVLB considers that it might require a restricted classification, it submits the film to the Classification Office on behalf of the distributor.
Members of the public
People can apply to the Chief Censor for leave to submit a publication for classification if they feel it needs to be restricted or banned, or if they think an unrestricted film needs a higher label (for example changing from G to PG).
There are special reduced fees available for people who do not have a commercial or professional interest in a publication.
If the Chief Censor does not grant leave for the publication to be classified, the reason for refusing leave will be explained and the fee refunded.
To make a classification request, click here.
Streaming providers that are legally required to display NZ ratings and classifications can apply to the Classification Office for approval to self-rate their titles.
The self-rating method must be approved by the Chief Censor and involves an annual audit process to ensure ratings are consistent with our Business Rules and the expectations of NZ audiences.
Providers are also able to submit content to FVLB and the Classification Office through the usual process to receive a rating or classification.
New Zealand officials who may submit publications for classification includes court officials, members of the New Zealand Police and Customs Service, and officials from the Department of Internal Affairs.
These officials have an automatic right of submission, which means that they do not need to seek the leave of the Chief Censor to submit a publication for classification to the Classification Office.
To make a classification request, click here.
The Classification Act says that courts may refer publications for classification.
Section 29 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (the Classification Act) says when it's unclear if a publication is objectionable or restricted, the court should refer the question to the Classification Office.
The Classification Office has exclusive jurisdiction to determine the question. The Classification Office applies sections 3, 3A and 3B of the Classification Act to reach its determination.
The Chief Censor
The Chief Censor occasionally exercises their powers under the Classification Act to "call in" a publication for classification. This happens when we identify a particular risk of harm to the public.
Assessing the publication
When a publication is submitted for classification, it is assigned to one of our Classification Advisors. Publications are prioritised according to urgency and an even distribution of workloads.
In some cases, such as films intended for cinema release, more than one staff member will review the publication (including either the Chief Censor or Deputy Chief Censor, or a Senior Classification Advisor).
We sometimes consult with stakeholders who have relevant expertise or experience, for example when making decisions that affect young people or which involve new technology.
The Classification Advisor examines the publication in its entirety and assesses it against the legislative criteria. Based on their analysis they will recommend a classification and also whether the publication (if it's a film or DVD) needs cuts.
The classification criteria
All publications in New Zealand (including films, video games, books etc) are classified using the same criteria.
When classifying publications, Classification Office staff follow legal criteria set out in in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 balancing this at all times with the right to freedom of expression as contained in section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990
The criteria in detail:
The five main criteria
A publication can be restricted or banned if it its unrestricted availability would be harmful to society and it “describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with” matters such as:
Criteria given special consideration
The Classification Office must give “particular weight” to the extent, degree and manner in which the publication deals with the following:
- Torture, serious physical harm and acts of cruelty
- Sexual violence, coercion, or conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain
- Conduct (sexual or otherwise) which is degrading, demeaning or dehumanising
- Sexual conduct involving children or young people, or which exploits the nudity of children or young people
- The promotion or encouragement of criminal acts or acts of terrorism
- Representations of people who belong to a particular group, culture or community as inherently inferior due to a characteristic which is a prohibited ground of discrimination under section 21(1) of the Human Rights Act 1993.
The extent, degree and manner in which a publication deals with the above matters may lead to the publication being banned, even if it does not promote or support the activities listed in the previous section.
Self-harm and other criteria
A publication can be restricted, but not banned, if it contains self-harm, degrading or demeaning conduct, or conduct that would be dangerous if imitated.
Material can be age-restricted if it is likely to have a negative effect on young people, such as:
- Causing them to be greatly disturbed or shocked.
- Increasing the risk of them killing or harming themselves or others.
- Encouraging them to treat or regard themselves or others as degraded, demeaned or dehumanised
Criteria that always lead to a ban
A publication is objectionable (banned) if it promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, the following activities:
- The sexual exploitation of children
- Sexual violence or coercion
- Torture or extreme violence
- Sexual conduct involving the body of a dead person
- The use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or sexual conduct.
The words ‘promote’ and ‘support’ describe publications that advance, encourage, uphold or strengthen one of the matters listed above, rather than just show, describe or deal with them.
Highly offensive language
A publication containing language that is “highly offensive to the public in general” can be restricted, but not banned, if it is likely to cause serious harm to young people.
The Classification Office does not regulate political speech, the expression of opinions, or ‘hate speech'.
Considering the publication as a whole
In addition to how the content is presented, the Classification Office must consider the publication as a whole. We must take into account:
- 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 person 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.
Making a decision
The recommendation is peer reviewed and affirmed by senior staff who have delegated authority to make decisions on behalf of the Chief Censor.
Once a decision has been made to classify a publication, the Classification Office gives written notice of its decision to the submitter, including the reasons for the decision and the classification given.
If the publication receives a restricted classification we may restrict the publication to certain classes of people (e.g. on the basis of age), or for a specified purpose (e.g for scientific or artistic purposes).
The decision is is entered into the New Zealand Register of Classification Decisions and made available on our website.
Where the decision relates to a commercial film, video game, or DVD, we direct the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB) to issue a label for physical media. You can find out more about classification labels here.
Not all films need to be classified.
Exemptions cover any news and current affairs films, as well as documentaries. Films which are entirely of a religious, educational, scientific, political or historical nature, or that depict only travel, commercial advertisement, natural scenery or a recording of an event (e.g. a wedding) are also exempt. This list is not exhaustive and exemptions are not intended to be of a 'blanket' nature.
These exemptions don't apply to films that are likely to be age-restricted. Find out more about exemptions here.
Reconsiderations and reviews
Anyone unhappy with a classification decision we’ve made can request a review of the content by the Film and Literature Board of Review (provided it’s a recent decision).
In certain circumstances, the Classification Office may reconsider previous decisions it has made:
- Where an owner, maker, publisher or distributor requests a review three years after the original decision.
- Where the Chief Censor grants leave to a member of the public who has requested a review three years after the original decision.
- Where the publication has been altered significantly or there are special circumstances, the Chief Censor may grant leave a review a classification within three years of the original decision.
To request a reconsideration, click here.
Classification information in other languages
Key information about New Zealand's classification system is available to download in a variety of different languages.
There are interpreting services and services for deaf, hearing impaired, speech impaired and deafblind people wishing to communicate with government agencies.
Request or change a classification
Submit something to be classified, ask about getting a classification changed or request an exemption.