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History of censorship

Pre 1900s

1858

Customs regulations prohibit importation of 'indecent' and 'obscene' material.

1892

Offensive Publications Act includes restrictions on indecent advertisements.

1893

Post Office Act amended so suspected indecent mail can be opened and destroyed.

1896

First film screening in New Zealand.

The first public film screening in New Zealand was in Auckland on October 13, 1896. Professors Hausmann and Gow introduced 'Edison's latest marvel, the Kinematograph', with which they showed a programme of short films – the first public film projection in New Zealand.

Read more about the first film screening

1900-1919

1906

Offensive Publications Act amended so premises can be searched for indecent literature.

1908

Is the Bard blue? newspaper headlines

Lawyer takes Shakespeare to court to make a legal point.

Read more about this challenge to censorship law

1910

Indecent Publications Act replaces earlier censorship acts. Aims to censor smut while protecting worthwhile material.

1915

Conference calls for Government film censorship.

Read more about the introduction of film censorship in New Zealand

1916

Cinematograph-film Censorship Act requires Government censor to preview all films.

Legislation passed to allow Government to censor war footage.

1917

Giorgione's Sleeping Venus painting

Reproduction of Giorgione's Sleeping Venus found indecent, despite protection for art under Indecent Publications Act of 1910.

1920-1949

1926

The Butcher Shop book cover

Novel The Butcher Shop about life in New Zealand banned.

Read more about why this book was banned

1930

All Quiet on the Western Front classification form

Talkies revolution leads to record numbers of films being banned.


Controversy over banning of All Quiet on the Western Front.

Read more about All Quiet On The Western Front

1934

Minister of Internal Affairs given power to appeal censor's approval of a film.

1939

War censorship

Extensive wartime censorship introduced. Censorship during the war extended to all aspects of information: newsreels and newspapers were censored as well as mail sent to troops and by troops. Teams of translators were employed to read any mail addressed to or sent by foreigners living in New Zealand.

See an example of wartime censorship

1943

Love on the Dole poster

Government intervenes over banning of the film Love on the Dole. New appeal board appointed which passes it.

Read more about this film

1949

Age restrictive certificates (R16 etc) made standard practice by new film censor (Gordon Mirams).

1950s, 1960s and 1970s

1951

Banned strike leaflet

Political censorship during waterfront strike.

Read more about one of the harshest times in our censorship history

1954

The Wild One poster

The Wild One banned (banned 5 times before being classified as R16 in 1977).


Teenage sex revelations lead to Mazengarb Enquiry and tougher laws which allow the banning of comics and 'pulp' literature.

Read more about the banning of The Wild One and the comic scare of the 1950s

1955

Rebel Without a Cause poster

Rebel Without a Cause passed on appeal.

Read more about the classification history of Rebel Without a Cause

1960

Lolita book cover

Nabokov's novel Lolita found indecent by Court of Appeal.

Read more about controversial book Lolita

1961

Television comes to New Zealand and the Broadcasting Act sets standards for TV and radio.

The Crimes Act outlaws 'indecent' performances.

Read more about the standards for television and the Crimes Act

1963

Indecent Publications Act sets up Indecent Publications Tribunal (IPT) and redefines 'indecency'.

Read more about the IPT

1967

Segregated Ulysses audience

The film Ulysses is classified R18 but men and women were not allowed to sit together.

Read more about this unusual classification decision

1970

Patricia Bartlett

Patricia Bartlett forms the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, a group which still exists today. Patricia Bartlett campaigned for stricter censorship of theatre, film and sexually explicit material. She was opposed to teenagers having access to sex-education material and the Homosexual Law Reform Bill.


The Little Red School-Book cover

The Little Red School-Book found not indecent after much controversy.

Read more about The Little Red School-Book

1972

Germaine Greer convicted for saying 'bullshit'.

Read more about what happened


Musical Hair acquitted of obscenity charge.


A Clockwork Orange poster

Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange is classified R20 by the film censor despite public protest. The classification was lowered to R18 in 1984. The classification of the film and DVD is still 'R18: contains violence'.

1977

Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act restricts publications carrying contraceptive information.

1980s and 1990s

1980

Life of Brian poster

Monty Python's Life of Brian is classified as R16 by Chief Censor of Films. This decision is hugely controversial with many people calling for the film to be banned.

Read more about the controversy surrounding Life of Brian

1983

Feminist group Women Against Pornography formed.

1985

First explicit sex films passed by Chief Censor of Films, Arthur Everard. These were films for exhibition in specialist 'adult cinemas'.

1986

Labour Party conference calls for sacking of Arthur Everard.

1987

Video Recordings Act sets up the Video Recordings Authority (VRA) to censor restricted and banned level videos intended for home use. Unrestricted level material to be cross-rated from Australia by the new Video Labelling Body.

Read more about the VRA


Establishment of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Pornography announced. The Committee's report is released in 1989 and leads to an overhaul of the censorship system.

1989

Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Pornography releases a report recommending reform of the censorship system (this led to the classification law we have today).

Read more about the report which led to a change in the censorship system

1993

Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 passed (replaces all previous censorship Acts).

1994

Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) opens (replaces all previous censorship bodies).

Read more about the origins of the current classification system

1996

K Road billboard

OFLC classifies four billboards on Karangahape Road in Auckland after they are 'submitted' by a member of the public. The OFLC consults with the City Council, the shop owners, Auckland Girls' Grammar School, and the Auckland Bus Company before making a decision that all of the billboards are objectionable (banned). The owners of two of the billboards appealed the decision.

Read more about the classification of the K-Road billboards

1998

OFLC runs first Censor for a Day programme for secondary school students.

Read about the Censor for a Day programme

1999

Bill Hastings appointed Chief Censor.


Key court case: Moonen v Film and Literature Board of Review

Read more about this court case which changed the way the classification law is applied

2000 to today

2000

Key court case: Living Word Distributors v Human Rights Action Group (Wellington)

Read more about this court case which led to changes in the classification legislation

2003

Manhunt is the first console game banned in New Zealand.

2004

The Passion of the Christ poster

The Passion of the Christ is classified 'R16: Contains brutal violence, torture and cruelty', by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. It is appealed to the Board of Review. The Film and Literature Board of Review issues a new decision lowering the restriction to 'R15: Contains prolonged sequences of brutal violence, torture and cruelty'.

Read a case study of this film

2005

Mihi book cover

The book Mihi: Collected Poems is classified as unrestricted after it is submitted by a member of the public concerned about sexual portrayals in the book.

Read more about Mihi


Amendments to the Classification Act expand the definition of 'objectionable' to ensure nude pictures of children and young persons are included; allows restriction for highly offensive language and dangerous imitable conduct; and increases penalties for possession and distribution of objectionable publications. Many of these amendments are as a result of the Living Word case in 2000.


Underage Gaming Research Report commissioned by OFLC.

Read about the Underage Gaming Research Report on the main OFLC website

2006

Out of the Blue poster

Robert Sarkies' film of the shootings at Aramoana (Dunedin) Out of the Blue classified as 'R15: Contains violence and content that may disturb'.

Read a case study of Out of the Blue


Young Persons use of Entertainment Mediums research report commissioned by OFLC.

Read about the media use research on the main OFLC site


Crimes (Intimate Covert Filming) Amendment Act 2006: This makes it an offence to film someone without their knowledge. This legislation is a result of the Living Word decision in 2000.

2007

Hostel 2 is refused classification for cinema release after the director refuses to cut a scene. The decision is upheld on appeal, and the film is later released on DVD with the scene cut from it.

2008

Viewing Violence: Audience Perceptions of Violent Content in Audio-Visual Media research report jointly commissioned by OFLC and BSA.

Read about the violence research

2010

Chief Censor Bill Hastings resigns his position to become a District Court Judge. Bill Hastings was Chief Censor for 11 years and replaced Kathryn Paterson.

Read more about Bill Hastings' time as Chief Censor

2011

Dr Andrew Jack

Dr Andrew Jack becomes Chief Censor of Film and Literature on 7 March 2011. Dr Jack's previous job was as the Group Manager, Legal and Advisory Services at the New Zealand Customs Service. He has also worked for the New Zealand Police as Chief Legal Advisor.

2013

The Classification Office publishes three research reports looking at young people's views about the classification system and potentially harmful media content. 16-18 year olds were found to be generally supportive of the classification system.

Read more about this research

2015

The offence provisions of the Classification Act are amended. Changes include higher penalties for offences relating to Objectionable (banned) publications.