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Got a question?

Below are answers to some of the questions students often ask.

Click on a question to see the answer.

Can I watch a restricted film or play a restricted game if I have my parent's permission?

No. Restrictions apply in the home and at school as well as in stores and cinemas. It is illegal to supply a publication to anyone below the age of the restriction. This means parents or teachers cannot give permission for an underage person to access a restricted publication.

Some people, such as teachers, apply to the Chief Censor for an exemption from classification to show a film to underage students. However, they must have a good reason for needing to show that particular restricted film or game. Penalties for supplying a restricted film or game to an underage person can be up to $10,000 or 3 months in prison for an individual, or $25,000 for a company.

How are the restrictions like R18 enforced?

The main enforcement agency for the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 is the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs. Inspectors of Publications deal with public complaints about breaches of the Classification Act. They also work to detect people who are using the internet to distribute banned material. Sometimes they do this by being in chatrooms. The Inspectors work with cinemas and games/DVD/magazine retail outlets to make sure they are obeying the law in relation to restricted publications.

The Police have the same powers as the Internal Affairs Inspectors but are not as involved in the day-to-day enforcement of the Act. Border control activity is undertaken by NZ Customs.

In order to ensure they are complying with the law, many cinemas now require proof-of-age ID for entry to restricted films.

How the classification law is enforced

Do I need ID to get into a restricted film?

Cinemas want to be sure that the people they let into restricted movies (Rs and RPs) are legally allowed to be let in. Although the Classification Act doesn't state that cinemas have to be shown formal ID, lots of cinemas now require proof-of-age ID before they let teenagers into restricted films.

So, if you are going to a restricted film, it's probably a good idea to ring the cinema and see if they want you to bring ID, and what sort they'll accept. If you are going with an adult, the cinema may have a policy where a parent or older person can vouch for your age, but some will still require ID.

Do you classify the internet?

Films and games supplied to the New Zealand public via download or streaming must comply with New Zealand law, and steps must be taken to ensure age restrictions are not breached. Movies or games being supplied via streaming services or online stores are required to display New Zealand classification information for their New Zealand customers.

Any material downloaded from a website onto a computer in New Zealand is covered by the Classification Act, and can be investigated by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs, or by the Police, whether or not the website is hosted in New Zealand.

Chat logs are also subject to the law and chat rooms likely to be of concern are monitored by the Department of Internal Affairs.

The Classification Office has classified clips from YouTube as well as other material from computer files. The majority of computer file submissions have been from enforcement agencies or from the Courts.

How can cellphone images and texts be classified?

The definition of publication in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 covers any electronic image or file that can be reproduced or shown. Anything on a cellphone is covered by the Act and may be investigated by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs, or by the Police.

In 2008 the Classification Office classified some films taken on a cellphone as Objectionable (banned). These were submitted as part of a court case.

How do you classify games?

Classification Officers play through the games and apply the legislation to them like they would do with films. Sometimes we also use cheat sheets and navigation aids provided by the game's distributor.

Unrestricted games (G, PG and M) can display their overseas labels (unless they have already been issued with a NZ label), but if a game was classified MA15+ in Australia or 15 or 18 by the BBFC in the UK it must be classified and labelled to buy/sell it in NZ.

How games are classified

Does music get classified?

Music recordings do not have to be classified and labelled before they are sold, but the Classification Office can classify music if it is submitted the Office.

Most of the labels you see on music (such as 'content may offend' or 'parental guidance recommended') are put there by music retailers or distributors. Music recordings that have been classified (after 2005) will carry the same kind of label as films and DVDs.

If you are concerned about the content of a particular music recording, you can contact the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs. Alternatively, you may, with the leave of the Chief Censor, submit the recording to the Classification Office.

You can see what sound recordings have been classified by searching the NZ Register of Classification Decisions and selecting the medium 'CD sound recording'.

Can cinemas show trailers that have a different classification from the film they're screened with?

Not all trailers are suitable to be screened with all films. The film industry has agreed with New Zealand classification agencies that, prior to screening a children's feature film, they will show trailers for films that are appropriate for the audience. For example, a G rated children's film should only have trailers for G or PG rated children's films before it.

How do you decide when a film should be R13, R16 or R18?

The Classification Office can restrict a film to people of any age, up to the age of 18. However, 13 is the lowest age restriction currently used. This is because it is recognised that by the age of 13, people are usually at high school and are beginning to develop skills which help them to learn to put the things they see in films into context. For example, 13 year olds may be more likely than younger people to recognise that films, generally speaking, are fictional, use actors, and are set in particular times or locations.

Although these skills are being developed, 13 year olds still generally lack the maturity or life experience to put more serious or graphic depictions of things such as sex or violence into context. For this reason, films which are more graphic or intense will be assigned a higher classification, such as R16.

When restricting a publication, the Classification Office also considers the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. This Act affirms, protects and promotes our right to freedom of expression: 'including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form' (section 14). Therefore, any censorship in New Zealand must be within the 'reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society' (section 5).

In practice, this means that if the Classification Office is deciding between two classifications, it must give the less restrictive classification – i.e. a classification which impacts least on the freedom of expression – while still protecting the public good from injury. In other words, if the Classification Office is unsure whether to classify a film R13 or R16, adherence to the Bill of Rights means it should choose R13.

Does TV and radio get classified?

Content in broadcast TV and radio programmes gets assessed by the broadcasters themselves. The legislation broadcasters are governed by is the Broadcasting Act 1989. This Act also established the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA). If people are unhappy with the outcome of a complaint they've made to a broadcaster, they can then bring the complaint to the BSA. The BSA may then make a ruling on whether broadcasting standards were breached.

The one exception is films that have been banned or had cuts made to them by the Classification Office or by the previous office of the Chief Censor of Films. Television stations cannot broadcast banned films or uncut versions of films without special permission from the Chief Censor.

Go to the BSA website

Remember that this applies to broadcast programmes only. If a TV show is released on DVD/Blu-ray or online via a streaming service then this comes under the Classification Act, and TV shows must display the correct New Zealand classification information.

Who are the stakeholders in film classification?

A stakeholder is defined as 'a person with an interest or concern in something' (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2004).

In the case of film classification this can be a wide group of people. For example, stakeholders may include the New Zealand public or the cinema industry as a whole; the makers/distributors of a particular film; interest groups specialising in issues raised by the film (eg teenage counselling services or public health officials); or the film's intended audience.

The potential effect of a classification decision depends on which stakeholders you identify. For example, in the film Out of the Blue, which dealt with the 1990 shootings in the South Island town of Aramoana, any of the following groups could be identified as stakeholders (people having an interest or concern):

  • people involved in the production or marketing of the film
  • the New Zealand public (as filmgoers and taxpayers)
  • people associated with the events depicted in the film
  • the New Zealand Police
  • gun lobby groups with an interest in gun law reform
  • people who would like to see the film but cannot because of its R15 classification.

What impact does the classification of a film have on stakeholders?

Once you have identified who the stakeholders are in a particular film (or other publication), you can explore what impact the decision had on them.

For example, in the film Out of the Blue, a stakeholder group identified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification was people involved in the tragedy, because they were either related to the victims of the shootings or had been injured themselves.

Before making a decision on the classification of Out of the Blue, the Classification Office met with people involved in the tragedy to discuss issues surrounding the film's classification. You can read about the consultation with this group of stakeholders in the record of assistance, which forms part of the NCEA case study on Out of the Blue.

Out of the Blue case study

The Classification Office does not consult with stakeholders over every publication it classifies. However, you can identify who you think the stakeholders in a publication would be and then explore the likely impact of the classification decision on them. Often reading the written reasons for a classification decision will help with this. Written decisions on most films are available from the Information Unit. The exception is films classified prior to 1994 and films that have been cross-rated by the Film and Video Labelling Body (most G, PG and M films). As a matter of policy, we will post written decisions on R18 or banned publications to your parents or teachers on request and they can hand them on.

What is the significance of classification for New Zealand society?

To explore the significance of classification for New Zealand society, you need to understand how classification works. For a film to be given a restricted classification, it must in some way describe, depict, express or deal with one or more of the following things: sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, offensive language or dangerous imitable conduct. Not only must it deal with these things, it must do so in a way that if the film was to be classified as unrestricted (available to anyone) there would be a likelihood of injury to the public good. The reasons for restricting the film must be sufficiently strong to restrict New Zealanders' freedom of expression as laid out in section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Why classifications are important

By reading and thinking about the Classification Act and decisions of the Classification Office you should have sufficient information to decide what you think the significance of the classification system is for New Zealand society and the public good.

Written decisions on most films are available from the Information Unit. The exception is films classified prior to 1994, and films that have been cross-rated by the Film and Video Labelling Body (most G, PG and M films). As a matter of policy, we will post written decisions to your parents or teachers on request and they can hand them on.

Contact the Information Unit

Two girls in a library - one is reaching up for a book on a high shelf, the other is reading a book


If a publication is objectionable it is banned. It is illegal to posses, import or distribute an objectionable publication.