A total of 1319 books are banned in New Zealand and a further 728 are age restricted in some way. About one third of these have been listed since 1987.
Many are of a sexual nature, deal with violence, horror and crime and might have only been fully read by one book censor in New Zealand who decided they shouldn't be available to the rest of us.
Some of the titles belonging to 'objectionable' or restricted books included Confessions of a Pimp , Horny Housewife , Inside Linda Lovelace and A Lesbian Happening.
It was up to the Office of Film and Literature Classification and the Censorship Compliance Unit to assess books, films, DVDs and even T-shirts and determine whether they should be banned or restricted.
It has to include sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in some way for us to ban or restrict it, the office's advisor Michelle Baker said. Items that include offensive language and self harm, risk taking and suicide issues can't
be banned, but could be restricted.
Baker said the office hardly reviewed its decisions, unless someone requested it to do so. Books published about homosexuality before it was made legal in 1986 could have been banned at that time and remain so, unless someone had requested they
Books are usually brought to the office's attention by police, customs or the public. The author, publisher, complainant and interested parties are given 14 days to make a submission, while one of the office's 15 censors started reading the book.
Book Censorship Penalties
A person found possessing an 'objectionable' book can be sentenced to up to five years in prison, or fined up to $50,000.
A person who exhibited or displayed a banned book can be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail.
Someone who made a restricted book available to people under the age of restriction can be fined $10,000 or sentenced to three months' jail, and an organisation could be fined up to $200,000.
Andrew Jack is New Zealand's new Chief Censor. His appointment follows the resignation in July of Bill Hastings.
Previously Dr Jack was Customs' legal and advisory services group manager. He is also New Zealand Police's chief legal adviser.
Dr Jack has a strong legal background and experience in dealing with law enforcement, Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy said in announcing the appointment: The role of Chief Censor is a difficult and demanding role with responsibility
for classifying publications that may need to be restricted or banned. It involves balancing the freedom of expression with potential harm caused to the community.
He will start a three-year term on 7th March 2011.
NZGamer.com recently got the chance to sit down with Deputy Chief Censor Nic McCully for an in-depth discussion on the classification
of videogames in New Zealand.
Nic is far from an ultra-conservative old man who has never touched a console in his life. She owns a Nintendo, has attended E3 and reads NZGamer.com.
Taking over from her predecessor, Bill Hastings (who just got a new job as a District Court judge), Nic is now the Acting Chief Censor and is in charge of the classification of all books, games, videos, movies and published material that is shown
and sold in New Zealand.
NZGamer: Could you briefly run us through the process of how you would rate a game, as opposed to a movie?
Nic: There is a bit of a difference. Ratings are generally done by the labelling body – what we do is we classify. So, games that are unrestricted overseas (games that are G's PG's or
M's) don't go to the labelling body. You don't need a label in New Zealand for those games, its only the restricted games that have been restricted overseas. But the labelling body rates product, and they rate the product by saying so, this
game got an M in Australia, lets give it an M here . What we do is we classify – so a game will be sent to us as being MA15+ or whatever, but we will get it – then I schedule it to a classification officer and I also have an expert
games player who comes in and sits beside my classification officer and he will play the game for however long we need to, to see what we need to see. So once examination takes place, the Classification Officer would apply the criteria of the
Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. But the criteria to be applied are the same ones we use for films or books – there is no difference, it's the same set of criteria.
NZGamer: New Zealand has only banned a very small number of games, I think it's four? Manhunt, Reservoir Dogs, Manhunt 2 and Postal. How high is the ban standard here? Especially as there
seems to be quite a high standard in other countries.
Nic: Well everything is a bit different, take Australia – it bans things because they don't have an R18 rating. In New Zealand we are banning games because we say they are injurious
to the public good. In Australia they are banning games because its above the MA15 guidelines and once they are above that there is nowhere to go.
NZGamer: Injurious to the Public Good - what does that mean?
Nic: It means that we have deemed the level of violence or cruelty in those games to be at such a high extent or strong degree and in such a manner that it would be injurious. The Act
itself works in a number of tiers. The first one when a publication tends to promote or support various things it's automatically out – we have very little say over that. So, things in section 3(2) – the exploitation of children, the
use of violence to compel a person into sexual conduct, the use of excrement or urine – which is what Postal 2 had problems with – acts of torture or the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty – Manhunt fell into this
category. Once we decided it promoted and supported that, the Act says that's it, it's banned. Kate: It's the promotion and support of these activities that is problematic. So if you can say, well OK, it's got these activities but its saying they
are bad, then it's OK. Nic: You could argue that a lot of games have extreme violence in them, but they don't necessarily support it. Manhunt was different because not only were the clips videoed, like little snuff films, but there was an
escalation – it was getting you to perpetrate those acts.
The New Zealand's film and publication censorship is implemented by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), currently headed by Bill Hastings.
Its legal remit is via the Film, Video and Publications Classification Act 1993. This evolved from the Video Recordings Act 1987, which was passed as an urgent response to the video format that emerged in the early to mid-1980s, but was outside the reach
of the existing film censorship law, the Films Act 1983.
OFLC Classification Labels:
Film and DVD labels are colour- coded, much the same as traffic lights:
Green means anyone can view a film.
Yellow means that anyone can view the film, but the film may contain material, such as violence or sexual themes, which may offend or upset some people. Parental guidance is advised before children view the film.
Red means that the film is legally restricted and can only be viewed by the audience specified. There are no exceptions to this restriction.
All labels have a rating or classification symbol and usually a note briefly explaining the nature of the film that may be of concern to viewers - for example, whether the film contains violence or sex.
G - Unrestricted: Anyone can be shown or sold this.
PG - Unrestricted: Parental guidance may be needed for younger viewers.
M - Unrestricted: More suitable for viewers over 16 years.
R13 - Restricted: It is illegal for anyone to show or sell this to someone under 13 years of age.
R15 - Restricted: It is illegal for anyone to show or sell this to someone under 15 years of age
R16 - Restricted: It is illegal for anyone to show or sell this to someone under 16 years of age.
R18 - Restricted: It is illegal to show or sell this to someone under 18 years of age
R - Restricted: There is a special restriction. Refer to the words on the right of the label for the full conditions.
RP16 - Restricted: It is illegal to show or sell this to someone under under 16 years of age unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
RP13 - Restricted: It is illegal to show or sell this to someone under under 13 years of age unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
A guardian is considered to be a responsible adult (18 years and over), for example, a family member or teacher who can provide guidance.
The Labelling Body is a private organisation representative of producers, distributors and exhibitors that exercises statutory functions independently of the Classification Office.
Before issuing a label, the Labelling Body will cross-rate, rate, or refer the DVD to the Classification Office. The Labelling Body will cross-rate any DVD rated G, PG or M in Australia, or U, PG or 12A in the United Kingdom.
The Labelling Body will rate any DVD title not previously rated in Australia or the United Kingdom. Once a DVD title has been rated or classified, a person may supply an unlimited number of identical copies to the public provided each is labelled.
The Labelling Body will refer a DVD to the Classification Office if it has been classified MA15+ or higher in Australia, or 15 or higher in the United Kingdom, or if the Labelling Body is of the view that the DVD has content that would be restricted
under New Zealand law.
The Film, Video and Publications Classification Act 1993 requires any person who wishes to sell, hire, exchange or loan, in the course of any business, any film, video or DVD, to obtain a label for that film, video or DVD from the Film and Video
Failure to do so is an offence which carries a maximum fine of $3000 for an individual or $10,000 for a company.
$30.38: The fee for any DVD rated G, PG or M in NZ, G, PG or M in Australia, and U, PG, 12 or 12A in the UK.
$236.25: The fee for any DVD over two hours to be rated G, PG, or M.
$275: The fee for any DVD to be classified by the OFLC waived by 75 per cent.
$1100: The fee for any DVD to be classified by the OFLC.
An application for the discretionary waiver requires evidence that the DVD is old, has artistic or cultural value or importance, is relatively unavailable and that the supply of the DVD is unlikely to produce commercial gain.
Bill Hastings, the New Zealand censor is about to go before a panel to be interviewed for his own job.
Hastings is seeking a third, three-year term in the top job at the Office of Film and Literature Classification which he was appointed to in 1999. It's a role that walks a fine line between what's injurious to the public good and freedom of
expression. Controversy is never far away - the latest is Hastings' involvement in the R15 classification of the Aramoana mass murder film Out of the Blue .
Why does he want to continue? There are still a few things left to do. That includes seeing through the completion of the New Zealand Censorship Decisions Database going back to 1916. Almost a century of decisions - bans, cuts and the
reasons given - that need to be preserved. He's keen also to prepare the office for new media technologies, already coming fast and furious. Plenty to keep him busy in a job he obviously loves.
The main enjoyment I get is feeling that I've done something. Whenever you ban some piece of child pornography or depiction of sexual violence, it's not going to change the world necessarily, but you've done a little bit to make it better.
He didn't always feel that way. Hastings' first foray into hands-on censoring - part-time in 1989 at the Video Recordings Authority - was a disaster. I quit after three weeks. It was horrible. I had heard of 'B grade' videos, but not C, D, and
E grade videos.
But he showed an aptitude for the task. As a practising barrister and lecturer in international law at Victoria University, Hastings was horrified there was no overt or systematic reference to legal principles. So he wrote up a sheet - a checklist
of classification criteria that applied the law at the time. The same principles are applied today - except that the consideration sheet is now 36 pages.
Hastings also sat on the Indecent Publications Tribunal, joining in 1990. We met every six weeks and there were bags and bags of crap novels and crap magazines to read before the hearing. Here he came into contact with the late Patricia
Bartlett, the Catholic pro-censorship campaigner and founder of the Society for Promotion of Community Standards.
Actually, I had a lot of time for Patricia Bartlett. We [Hastings and other tribunal members] took tea with her. She had odd ideas, but they were always consistently odd.
In 1991 the tribunal presided over the landmark Penthouse case which ushered in a sea change in New Zealand censorship - allowing images of consensual, non-violent adult sexual activity and banning demeaning depictions. The single models that
weren't having sex, but were just looking out with their drug-addicted dead eyes into the void - we began to ban those. Depictions of sex began to become more natural - as natural as these things can be in a Penthouse magazine.
Bartlett was not impressed. She complained about the foreign influence in New Zealand censorship, a clear reference to the Canadian-born Hastings, who came to New Zealand in 1984 after finishing a Masters of Law at the London School of Economics.
While Hastings wants another chief censor's term, a small, but vocal group wants him gone. The Society for Promotion of Community Standards says he and his deputy Nicola McCully have become desensitised to the injurious nature of hardcore porn and
graphic violence. The attack is part of the society's ongoing campaign against Hastings, particularly citing Hastings gay lifestyle.
Hastings points out that as chief censor, he's more involved in management and doesn't do a lot of censoring. That falls to the six men and 10 women in the office's classification unit.
The restriction on having a censor serve no more than two terms was removed in 1999 in favour of giving censors job security and keeping institutional memory.
If anything, Hastings says censors become a bit trigger happy. We're always having to find that balance between getting so fed up some days, you just want to ban everything, with the freedom of expression which is contained in the Bill of
All censors also get access to a psychologist and there are weekly debriefing sessions with colleagues. The key to coping with toxic imagery is to acknowledge it's there. There are images in my head which I'll never be able to get rid of which
the rest of New Zealand doesn't have to see because they've been banned. My technique is to see them sealed in little watertight compartments that don't leak and leach into my mind to affect everything else that I do.
It also helps to put what's being viewed in perspective - something that came home during the classification of Out of the Blue . He says the film wasn't as traumatic as some he's seen, but it was nonetheless moving and had impact. We
talked to people who were families of victims as well as people who had survived being shot. I was talking to some, for example, who had their 6-year-old son murdered - this job is nothing compared to that.
Do the personal attacks by the society affect him? Hastings says he has to develop a thicker skin. He remembers the hurt of his mother after she read some vitriolic letters to the editor about him - "Billy, why do they hate you so much?"
Then there was the dread about his kids seeing a newspaper billboard - "Morals campaigners out to get gay chief censor."
Hastings does get incensed by what the society says - not by the personal references, but by the half truths and warped logic. That, for example, what he is doing is part of the homosexual agenda "to have sexually explicit and degrading films
available as widely as possible". Or that there is "a very strong link between paedophilia and homosexual lifestyle".
Many of the society's attacks go back to the banning of two Living Word videos by the Review Board in the late 90s. The fundamentalist Christian videos promoted a thesis about gay men being paedophiles who became parents and teachers so they could
have sex with children to avoid getting Aids. The ban was eventually overturned by the Appeal Court, which led to some definition changes in the censorship law and an inquiry into hate-speech legislation.
Hastings says such videos wouldn't be banned today - mainly because they represent such a dated view.
Looking to the future where the internet bypasses censorship controls, Hastings sees the office's role as arming people with the information they need to be their own classification office. I don't know if
this will ever happen, but you can see a rosy sunny day when we don't need this office any more because everyone will know about, or not demand, the stuff that harms them."