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How our system compares to other countries

Systems differ

A variety of classification systems operate in different countries.

Social, cultural, legal and historical factors affect how a country treats its citizens' access to information. Censorship in some countries is greatly influenced by political or religious convictions or idealogies.

On this page you'll find examples of how the classification of entertainment media works in some other countries, and what it means for some specific films. On this page you will find information about:

Map of the world
Classification happens all over the world

Australia

The Australian classification system is similar to New Zealand's in that it's run by a government agency under legislation. There are some important differences however: in New Zealand, we make classification decisions based on the idea that the availability of some content is likely to be 'injurious to the public good'. In other words, some content in a film, game or book (etc.) might harm a young person, or harm society as a whole. Instead of restricting or banning content due to injury or harm, the Australian Classification Code talks about content that might "offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults".

Australia is also different in the types of classifications it uses. They have only two restricted classifications (MA15+ and R18+) whereas we have six in New Zealand (RP13, RP16, R13, R15, R16 and R18). This means that there is a lot of variation in how individual movies and games are classified in the two countries.

Australian Classification website

Australian classification symbols
Australian classification symbols

Further discussion

Enter the name of a film into the search engine on the Australian classification website and click through the results to find information about the classification decision. Does it differ from New Zealand's classification? If so, which do you agree with? Why?

Search the Australian classification site

United Kingdom

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, non-governmental body which has classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/ DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984. Unlike in New Zealand, local councils in the United Kingdom can disagree with BBFC decisions. They can decide to screen films the BBFC has banned or vice versa, and even alter the categories used for films - this is very unusual however.

British Board of Film Classification website

Further discussion

Who do you think should apply classifications to entertainment media such as films and video games: the person who produces the publication, the distributor or supplier, an industry regulator like the BBFC, or a government appointed regulator like the New Zealand Classification Office, or somebody else? Why?

Singapore

The Singaporean Media Development Authority (MDA) is responsible for 'Content Standards and Classification' of:

  • Arts Entertainment (live shows)
  • Films and Videos
  • Video Games
  • Internet
  • Publications and Audio Materials
  • Television and Radio

Singapore has six film and video classifications including R21 - a restriction to people 21 and over (the highest age restriction in New Zealand is R18).

The MDA has a wider range of regulatory powers than the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification - including television broadcasts and live shows. Find out more about the MDA on their website.

Media Development Authority website

Singapore's classification symbols
Singapore's classification symbols

Further discussion

It's unusual for film classification authorities to also regulate live shows such as a theatre productions - what do think about this, is it a good idea?

Do you think an R21 classification is a good idea or should adults 18+ have access to any content so long as it isn't banned?

USA

In the 1950s the American Supreme Court deemed that motion pictures are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment of their Constitution - this meant that state governments could no longer restrict or ban films. However many people were still concerned about the content in films, and so in 1968 the industry association, the MPAA, created the rating system still used today (with a few changes).

Unlike classifications in New Zealand, MPAA ratings recommending or restricting content to different age groups cannot be legally enforced, however the MPAA is partnered with the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) which enforces the R and NC-17 restrictions. Most cinemas in the United States are members of NATO.

The Wikipedia page on the MPAA Ratings System gives an overview of the history and present application of the system.

Wikipedia page on the MPAA Ratings System

Do you agree/disagree with the criticisms presented on this page? Why?

If you are curious about the nitty gritty of the Films Rating Board's work, then read the rules they follow in their code of practice:

MPAA Classification and Rating Rules (PDF, 1.21MB)

Ratings.com Twitter feed, 18 February 2015
Screengrab from Ratings.com on Twitter, 2015

Further discussion

What do you think about the ratings in the picture above? How do they compare to other countries? What do you notice about them that is different from New Zealand film classifications?

Ontario, Canada

Canada has a variety of film classification systems operating in different provinces. This is different from places like Australia and the United States which use the same system across their various states.

Ontario (Canada's most populated province) has the Ontario Film Review Board. Parental/guardian choice is a significant part of the Ontario approach to classification. There's only one fully restricted category, compared to three that are often used in New Zealand. Instead, the OFRB says that an adult can accompany underage children to films if the classification is 14A or 18A.

Ontario Film Review Board website

Ontario's classification categories

Ontario classification poster - 'It's Your Choice'
Ontario classification poster

PEGI

PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) is different from our classification system and the other systems on this list in that it was designed from the beginning to be used by a variety of different countries. It is now recognised by many countries in Europe, and in some countries (like the United Kingdom) the PEGI ratings are legal restrictions.

The PEGI system is also different to New Zealand's in the way content in a game is assessed. PEGI describes its system for classifying games like this:

PEGI uses a combination of content declaration and game review to determine the appropriate PEGI rating for each game. Initially, the publisher of a game will complete an online declaration form that is sent to the administrator of the system. The completed form is then reviewed and used as a basis for checking the content of the game. The content declaration aspect of PEGI is a significant strength as only the developer/publisher of a game has a complete overview of the content in the game. The overview allows the administrator to focus on sections or aspects of the game that will be most likely to affect the rating.

By comparison, in New Zealand, we use the same classification criteria for every kind of publication, and submit each publication to the same kind of examination against the criteria. In other words, we watch a film, read a book or magazine, play a game, etc. People who submit games to the NZ Classification Office often supply codes and walk-throughs so that we can get to different levels of the game quickly.

Pan-European Game Information website

PEGI labels and symbols
PEGI labels and symbols

Further discussion

In the New Zealand Classification Office research programme, we have asked members of the public what their ideal classification labelling system would look like.

OFLC public research findings

What does your ideal classification labelling system look like? Think about who would use it and why, and how people like to receive warning messages/alerts. We would like to know what you think.

Give us your feedback anytime
You can use Twitter, Facebook, email or phone.

Our Comparing Classifications research

How some films and games have been classified in other countries.

The Classification Office has been gathering information about classification differences around the world for some years, and has a series of comparative reports you might be interested in studying. Do you think our system is too strict or too lenient? Find out how New Zealand compares to other countries:

Clip from Poster for The Hangover Part III
The Hangover Part III

NZ: R16
Australia: MA15+
UK: 15
USA: R
Ontario: 14A
Singapore: M18

Image of American 'standee' for Ted
Ted

NZ: R13
Australia: MA15+
UK: 15
USA: R
Ontario: 14A
Singapore: M18

Wallpaper for Fast and Furious 6
Fast and Furious 6

NZ: M
Australia: M
UK: 12A
USA: PG13
Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG13

Artwork from Starhawk game
Starhawk

NZ: R16
Australia: MA15+
UK/PEGI: 16
USA: Teen
Ontario: Teen
Singapore: General