Bill Hastings was appointed Deputy Chief Censor in 1998 on the recommendation of the Jenny Shipley-led National coalition government. He was appointed Chief Censor on the recommendation of the Helen Clark-led Labour coalition government. His initial three-year appointment was renewed in 2002, 2003 and 2006.
Bill Hastings' time as Chief Censor saw some key decisions and reforms to censorship law. The 2005 amendments to the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 were influenced by the 1999 Court of Appeal Moonen decision and the 2000 Court of Appeal decision on the Living Word videos. In 2003 the Classification Office banned its first computer game, Manhunt, and in 2004 classified the controversial film The Passion of the Christ as R16. (The Passion of the Christ was subsequently classified as R13 by the Film and Literature Board of Review.)
During the period Bill Hastings was Chief Censor, there was an emphasis on public information and transparency in decision making processes. Examples of this are the research projects undertaken by the Office and consultation with members of the public on films like Out of the Blue, and The Passion of the Christ. Bill Hastings called in a number of unrestricted films for classification after parents had expressed concern about their ratings, for example Scooby-Doo, Happy Feet, and Land of the Lost. A number of these decisions can be found in the case studies section of this website.
He also undertook a large number of public speaking and education commitments, including extensive touring of the Censor for a Day Programme for senior secondary school students.
Bill Hastings' personal life was criticised by some conservative lobby groups who felt that as an openly gay man he would be too permissive in his role as Chief Censor. However, in contrast to this, in the time Bill Hastings was Chief Censor there was an extremely small proportion of appealed decisions overturned by the Film and Literature Board of Review. Of the classification decisions changed by the Board between 2000 and 2010, only one, Me, Myself and Irene, had its restriction raised. All other decisions were upheld, and in a few cases the restriction was lowered by the Board.
On 21 June 2010, it was announced that Bill Hastings was to be appointed a District Court Judge. His Honour Judge Hastings was sworn in at Wellington on the 9th of July 2010.