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Why classifications are important

This page has information about why we use classifications and what people think about them:

Classification label on a DVD and online
 

Parliament decided that some content should be legally age-restricted or banned because there is a likelihood of harm to the community if this content is freely available.

Find out why our classification system works the way it does

Age restrictions

Why some things are restricted to different age groups.

Movies, TV shows, games, books and other publications can be legally age-restricted if they contain sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, self-harm, dangerous imitable conduct or highly offensive language. The reason we have age-restricted classifications is to protect young people from the potential harms associated with exposure to these things in media entertainment. By imposing these restrictions the classification system helps to ensure that young people are protected from material which may have a harmful effect on their thoughts, attitudes and psychological development. A system of graded age-restrictions allows young people to access a wider variety of entertainment as they develop and mature, while protecting people younger than them.

Why some things are banned

There are some publications that are likely to be injurious to the public good if they are available to anyone, and these publications are classified as Objectionable (banned) by the Classification Office. Most of the publications we ban are image or video files from the internet which promote the sexual exploitation of children or young people. It is very rare for the Classification Office to ban a movie, TV show or game. It is a high test to justify banning something considering New Zealanders' right to "seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form" under the Bill of Rights Act.

Find out more about the classification criteria

Why NZ has its own system

A New Zealand based system ensures that classifications are assigned according to New Zealand's values and laws. It allows members of the public to give feedback and make complaints, and gives them the opportunity to participate in the classification system by submitting things for classification, or making appeals to have a classification changed.

How our system compares to other countries

Glossary

Classification
A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).
Descriptive note
The extra wording on a classification label which warns people of content in the film eg, 'M: contains sexual references and offensive language'.
Injury to the Public Good
An injury to the public good would be anything that upset our values or accepted behaviours such as having respect for others, or not endangering physical and mental freedom, safety or health.
Publication
A publication is anything that can be reproduced or shown that is made up of images, representations, signs, statements or words, or a combination of any of these things. Therefore, the definition of publication is very wide. It includes things such as films, books, video games, sound recordings and computer files. It also includes texts, T-shirts and artworks.

Unclassified online content

A lot of content can be accessed online - what role does the classification system have here?

The ability to access content doesn't automatically mean that the content is okay or safe to watch. Classifications and descriptive notes help people to make informed choices about the content they view online.

The availability of unclassified and potentially harmful content online makes our classification system even more important for providing guidance and protection for New Zealanders. You can now find New Zealand classification information on a variety of online entertainment platforms and websites.

Close up view of a URL on a computer screen

Our research

It is important that the Classification Office is aware of New Zealanders' views about content in films, games and other publications. It's also important that we are aware of New Zealanders' views and perceptions of the classification system itself. We conduct research to gain insight into how people see the system, and what people tell us is that the classification system is important because it gives them guidance and protection from potentially harmful content.

Find out more about our research

Views about the system

A majority of New Zealanders think classifications are useful.

In our 2011 public opinion research Understanding the Classification System: New Zealanders' views, 92% of participants said that classifications were important when choosing movies or games for a child or young person, and 75% said the Classification Office was doing a good or excellent job.

In our 2011 discussion group research, Guidance and Protection: What New Zealanders want from the classification system for films and games, participants felt that the classification system was most important in relation to children, but many also used classifications in their own entertainment choices - including using the classification labels and descriptive notes to avoid content they preferred not to see.

Parents felt that if there was no classification system it would be harder for them to make decisions about movies and games for their children. They appreciated the support the classifications gave them when telling their children they aren't allowed to have a movie or game.

Views about harm to young people

Our research shows that New Zealanders believe some media content can be harmful to young people.

In our 2013 research Survey of Young People's Perceptions of the Classification System, we asked 16-18 year-olds for their opinions about harmful content. There was wide agreement from the participants that some content in entertainment media could be harmful to people their own age and particularly to those younger than them. For example, a majority of participants thought the following things could be harmful for people their age to see in films, DVDs and games:

  • Sexual violence: 84% thought this could be harmful
  • Self-harm or suicide: 81%
  • Violence being rewarded: 75%
  • Use of hard drugs: 73%
  • Violence treated as 'normal': 70%
  • Explicit sex: 57%

The participants indicated a number of specific harms from watching certain content in movies and games, including:

  • They can put ideas in people's heads or encourage people, or imply that it's ok to do this sort of activity
  • They can normalise the activity or make it seem acceptable
  • It can be distressing/not good to see
  • It can affect your emotional state or your way of thinking
  • It desensitises people

Views about age restrictions

A majority of New Zealanders agree with age restrictions.

In our 2011 public opinion research Understanding the Classification System: New Zealanders' views, 69% of participants told us that the classification system was 'about right'. 1% thought the system was 'much too strict', while 4% thought it was 'much too lenient'.

Participants supported the current system in which age-restrictions apply to anyone under the age shown on the classification. When asked whether, for example, under 16's should be able to view R16 films if accompanied by a parent or guardian, 66% of participants said no. When asked the same question in relation to games, 74% said no.

A majority of 16-18 year olds we spoke to support the idea of age-restrictions.

Our 2013 research Survey of Young People's Perceptions of the Classification System, asked 16-18 year old New Zealanders for their opinion on the classification system. 85% of participants agreed that R16 and R18 restrictions were 'quite a good idea' or a 'very good idea', and 90% agreed that age-restrictions were a good idea for people younger than them. The research also found that 47% of participants thought the classification system was 'about right', 40% thought it was 'a bit' or 'much' too strict, and 12% thought it was 'a bit' or 'much' too lenient.

Another way for us to get feedback from young people is through our Censor for a Day events. Twice a year we ask senior media studies students to watch a film and complete a classification exercise. Students generally agree with the need for restricting content for younger people, and often choose the same classification as that assigned by the Classification Office.

Find out more about Censor for a Day

Research by other organisations

Research by other organisations has found that exposure to media content can have potentially harmful effects on young people's attitudes and personal development.

There is a wide variety of research into the potentially negative effects of some media content on young people. This is a complicated area of research that is constantly evolving — if you investigate this topic you'll come across a variety of views about how sex, violence and other things in media might influence or harm young people.

Further discussion

People have lots of different views about classification in New Zealand. Some are happy with the current system. Some think the system should be more restrictive and some think it should be less restrictive - some people strongly disagree with any kind of restrictions due to strongly-held beliefs about freedom of speech. We encourage debate about these issues, and these questions could help form the basis of some discussions both at home and in the classroom.

  • Do you think classifications are important or useful for society as a whole? What about for choosing content for people younger than you? When thinking about this, also consider the role of classifications for people your age and older who don't want to be exposed to certain types of content.
  • How would things work if we didn't have a classification system?
  • Do you think our classifications are too strict or too lenient? Why? Can you think of some examples?
  • Thinking about our young people's research (above), do you think that depictions of things like sexual violence and suicide can be harmful to young people? What kinds of content might be more or less harmful? Why?