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Office of Film and Literature Classification

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The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC, Te Tari Whakaropu Tukuata, Tuhituhinga) is the government agency in New Zealand that is responsible for classification of all films, videos, publications, and some video games in New Zealand. It was created by the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPC Act), replacing various film classification acts [1], and is an independent Crown Entity in terms of the Crown Entities Act 2004. The head of the OFLC is called the Chief Censor, maintaining a title that has described the government officer in charge of censorship in New Zealand since 1916.

The FVPC Act gives the OFLC jurisdiction to classify "publications" which include films, videos, DVDs, computer games with restricted content, books, magazines, comics, manga, sound recordings, pictures, newspapers, photographs, photographic slides, "any print or writing", any "paper or other thing" that has images or words on it (including apparel, playing cards, greeting cards, art, store-fronts and billboards), and electronic digital image, text and sound computer files. The OFLC also approves film posters and slicks. Only computer games with restricted content, and all films, videos, and DVDs, must carry a label before being offered for supply or exhibited to the public.

Any person may submit any of the "publications" listed above for classification by the OFLC, with the permission of the Chief Censor. The Secretary for Internal Affairs, Comptroller of Customs, Commissioner of Police and the Film and Video Labelling Body may submit publications for classification without the Chief Censor's permission. The Courts have no jurisdiction to classify publications. If the classification of a publication becomes an issue in any civil or criminal proceeding, the Court must submit the publication to the OFLC. Any person who is dissatisfied with a decision of the OFLC may have the relevant publication, but not the OFLC decision, reviewed by the Film and Literature Board of Review.


The FVPC Act gives the OFLC the power to classify publications into three categories: unrestricted, restricted, and "objectionable" or banned. Unrestricted films are assigned a green or yellow rating label. Restricted films are assigned a red classification label.

New Zealand has used a colour-coded labelling system since 1987. The colours are intended to convey the messages conveyed by a traffic light: a green label means that nothing in the film, video or DVD should inhibit anyone viewing it; a yellow label means proceed with caution because the film, video or DVD may have content younger viewers should not see; and a red label means stop and ensure that no one outside of the restriction views the film, video, DVD or computer game. The New Zealand classification system currently uses the following labels:

Label Name Definition
OFLC-GGeneralSuitable for general audiences (awarded by the Film and Video Labelling Body and the Office of Film and Literature Classification)
OFLC-PGParental GuidanceParental guidance recommended for younger viewers (awarded by the Film and Video Labelling Body and the Office of Film and Literature Classification)
OFLC-MMatureSuitable for (but not restricted to) mature audiences 16 years and over (awarded by the Film and Video Labelling Body and the Office of Film and Literature Classification)
OFLC-R13R13Suitable to persons 13 years of age and over (awarded by the Office of Film and Literature Classification only)
OFLC-R15R15Suitable to persons 15 years of age and over (awarded by the Office of Film and Literature Classification only)
OFLC-R16R16Suitable to persons 16 years of age and over (awarded by the Office of Film and Literature Classification only)
OFLC-R18R18Suitable to persons 18 years of age and over (awarded by the Office of Film and Literature Classification only)
OFLC-RRestrictedRestricted to a particular class of persons, or for particular purposes, or both, specified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification

Red labels have been available for non-film publications such as magazines and video games since 2005.

Classification law

The OFLC classifies material based on whether it is likely to be "harmful" or "injurious to the public good". Specifically (from the FVPC Act): "a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good." In 2000, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand decided in Living Word Distributors Limited v Human Rights Action Group (Wellington) [2000] NZCA 179 (a case involving two videos produced by Jeremiah Films) that the collocation of the words "sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence" tends to point to activity rather than to the expression of opinion or attitude. On this interpretation, the OFLC had jurisdiction to restrict or ban publications describing or depicting sexual activities, but not those describing only an attitude or opinion about sex. The same interpretation required publications to describe or depict horror activities, criminal activities, cruel activities and violent activities, rather than just an opinion or attitude about those things, for the OFLC to be able to classify them.

The Court of Appeal explicitly ruled that the phrase "matters such as sex" is strongly indicative of sexual activities and does not include sexual orientation. This made it more difficult for the OFLC to restrict or ban, for example, publications that simply exploited the nudity of children or that portrayed classes of people as inherently inferior but that did not show any of the specified types of activity, notwithstanding the fact the FVPC Act directs the censors to give "particular weight" to these things when deciding whether or not to restrict or ban a publication. It also made it difficult for the OFLC to restrict publications simply containing offensive language or to ban videos of persons taken without their knowledge or consent, such as "upskirt" videos, on the ground of invasion of privacy, again because neither type of publication shows any of the specified types of activity. In 2005, Parliament amended the FVPC Act, and commenced amendment of the Crimes Act, to restore the OFLC's jurisdiction over all of these matters except for publications that simply portray classes of people as inherently inferior.

Under the FVPC Act, material that promotes, supports, or tends to promote or support the following is, by its nature, deemed objectionable, is banned:

  • Sexual exploitation of children
  • Coercion
  • Extreme violence
  • Bestiality
  • Necrophilia
  • Urophilia
  • Coprophilia

The Censorship Compliance Unit of the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs is responsible for the enforcement of the FVPC Act.

List of Chief Censors

  • William Jolliffe 1916-1927
  • W A Tanner 1927-1937
  • W A von Keisenberg 1938-1949
  • Gordon Mirams 1949-1959
  • Douglas McIntosh 1960-1976
  • Bernard Tunnicliffe 1977-1983
  • Arthur Everard 1984-1990
  • Jane Wrightson 1991-1993
  • Kathryn Paterson 1994-1998
  • Bill Hastings 1999-


The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS) has repeatedly criticised the OFLC for not banning films such as Baise-moi, Irréversible, Takashi Miike's Visitor Q and Lies which it classes as highly pornographic and violent. It also alleges that the agency has a policy of banning or restricting films which attack homosexual lifestyles. In fact, the OFLC cannot, by law, ban expressions of opinion. The Society also criticised the OFLC for giving an R16 classification to Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. This was lowered to R15 by the Film and Literature Board of Review in an appeal brought by the film's distributor, Hoyts. The Society is opposed to "sexual promiscuity" and often its criticism of the OFLC refers to the fact the Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, is gay. The Society has alleged that Mr Hastings is a participant in a 'gay agenda' aimed at promoting homosexuality and promiscuity through giving liberal classifications to films that it believes should be banned.

SPCS has recently targeted films scheduled for exhibition in the Beck's Incredible Film Festival and the New Zealand International Film Festivals. SPCS criticisms fail to note that New Zealand censorship laws have required censors to consider artistic and literary merit since the debate over Stanley Kubrick's first cinematic adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1960.

Having apparently exhausted its avenues of appeal over censorship decisions, in 2006 the SPCS began to criticise the financial management of the OFLC. It complained to the Auditor General that the OFLC was inefficient and mis-managed taxpayer funds. The Auditor General dismissed the SPCS' complaint, stating that "no evidence of waste was found during the course of the audit" of the OFLC.[2]

In June 2007, Exit International Director Dr Philip Nitschke described the decision by the Classification Office banning The Peaceful Pill Handbook as "very disappointing" while recognising "that the Censor was under intense political pressure over this decision"[3]. The book was banned because it promotes and encourages criminal activity by offering instruction in how to smuggle and manufacture controlled drugs in violation of a number of statutes, not because it advocates reform of the law to permit the seriously ill and elderly access to pentobarbital.[4]

See also

  • Angela Carr: Internet Traders of Child Pornography and Other Censorship Offenders in New Zealand: Department of Internal Affairs: Wellington: 2004 (available from the Department of Internal Affairs [5]
  • David Wilson: Censorship In New Zealand: The Policy Challenges Of New Technology. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 19 2002.[6]
  • David Wilson: Responding to the challenges: recent developments in censorship policy in New Zealand. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 30 2007. [7]


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