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How the system is enforced

Who enforces the system

New Zealand classifications are not enforced by the Classification Office. Enforcement, or making sure that people abide by the classification law, is the job of three agencies: the NZ Police, NZ Customs, and the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). Members of the public also play a part in enforcing the law by complaining to the Censorship Compliance Unit if they think the law is being broken. This page introduces you to the three censorship enforcement agencies.

But first, what are the classification offences, and the penalties for breaking the law?

Offences and penalties

It might surprise you to know that anyone - including a parent, guardian or teacher - who gives or shows a restricted publication to an underage person can be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months for doing so.

If a retailer supplies a restricted publication to someone underage, they can be fined up to $25,000.

Penalties involving Objectionable (banned) publications are much higher. The penalty for knowingly possessing an Objectionable publication is a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, and the penalty for knowingly making or distributing an Objectionable publication is a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

Offences and penalties in the Classification Act (PDF, 784KB)

Banner showing customs and police uniforms, and a screenshot from the DIA website
NZ's classification law enforcement agencies: Customs, DIA and Police

How agencies enforce the law

The three agencies that enforce the classification law do so in different ways.

Hands on a laptop keyboard

Censorship Compliance Unit

The Inspectors of Publications at the Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit investigate complaints from members of the public, monitor compliance with labelling and display requirements, and help to ensure that the decisions of the Classification Office are adhered to. They also work with overseas agencies - sharing intelligence in order to stop people using the internet to share objectionable material. Find out more

Police car

NZ Police

Censorship enforcement by the NZ Police is often linked to other criminal investigations, for example, sexual abuse allegations or drug investigations. The Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ) team is a specialist Police unit. It works as part of an international taskforce, the Virtual Global Taskforce, to protect children from online child abuse. Find out more

Customs officer scanning a package

NZ Customs

NZ Customs is responsible for border control - what comes into the country by boat, plane, mail or other means. This includes stopping objectionable publications coming into the country. Objectionable publications are 'prohibited imports' under the Customs and Excise Act. Find out more

Crowd of people

NZ public

You can play a part in ensuring that the New Zealand classification law is respected. Contact us if you think someone might be breaking the law and we can give you advice or pass your concern on to an enforcement agency.

New Zealand's Parliament buildings and the Beehive in Wellington
Members of Parliament are responsible for deciding what our classification laws say


The dictionary meaning of publication is 'a book or journal that is published' but the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act defines publication more widely:

publication means

  1. any film, book, sound recording, picture, newspaper, photograph, photographic negative, photographic plate, or photographic slide:
  2. any print or writing:
  3. a paper or other thing that has printed or impressed upon it, or otherwise shown upon it, 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements, or words:
  4. a thing (including, but not limited to, a disc, or an electronic or computer file) on which is recorded or stored information that, by the use of a computer or other electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or shown as 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements, or words