Censorship in New Zealand

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Censorship in New Zealand has changed over the years to reflect the demands for a more liberal application of the law on contentious publications.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) is the government agency 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 and is an independent Crown Entity. 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.

Patricia Bartlett was a New Zealand conservative Catholic pro-censorship activist of the 1970s and 1980s and founded the Society for Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS). This organisation is still actively seeking tighter restrictions on the release of some publications.

Policy shift: 1986 - present[edit]

After Parliament passed the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986, New Zealand censorship regulatory bodies could not rely on previous case law and tribunal decisions based on the illegality of gay male sex. Accordingly, later that same year, in Howley v Lawrence Publishing, the Court of Appeal found that censorship regulators should base their decisions on social scientific and medical research.[1] As a consequence, film, video and publication censorship became increasingly standardised. This led to the passage of the Film Publications and Videos Act 1993, which merged the previously separate Indecent Publications Tribunal, Chief Film Censor and Video Recordings Authority into a single agency, the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification.

During the eighties and nineties, an increasingly proactive LGBT New Zealand community fought several test cases that expanded Howley's precedent to encompass all government censorship regulatory bodies. The Society for Promotion of Community Standards lost all of these cases, whether before the Indecent Publications Tribunal, High Court, Court of Appeal or the later Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Today, most lesbian and gay erotic media products that contain sexual imagery are labelled R18, available only to those eighteen years of age and over. While fetishist erotic media is similarly regulated, any media that depict paedophilia, necrophilia, zoophilia and drug manufacture information are prohibited in New Zealand.[2]

There has also recently been a call to lift tight regulations of the reporting of suicide in the country. There have been tight restrictions on the reporting of the topic since the 1950s. The stated reason behind the “need” for this act has long been the concern that reporting incidents of suicide could prompt vulnerable individuals to copy the action. There is strong evidence against this[citation needed], however, and even stronger evidence suggests that, by restricting the publication of an issue of legitimate public concern, government not only limits free speech, but also hinders the education of the nation about suicide.

Selected cases[edit]

The film All Quiet on the Western Front was banned in New Zealand as anti-war propaganda in 1930. It was eventually allowed to be shown with a few cuts made.[3]

The "Censorship and Publicity Regulations" was passed in 1939 and used to prevent the dissemination of information deemed contrary to the national interest during World War II. For example, the newspaper of the Communist Party of New Zealand, The People's Voice, was seized in 1940.[4] The Battle of Manners Street in 1943 was a riot involving American and New Zealand servicemen. No report of the event was permitted in local newspapers.[5]

During the 1951 Waterfront dispute, it was illegal to publish material in support of the watersiders or their allies.[6]

In 1960 the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was banned by the Supreme Court.[7] In 1964, after having been banned by numerous courts, Lolita was again submitted for classification to the newly established Indecent Publications Tribunal (the IPT). The IPT was established by the Indecent Publications Act of 1963 and was responsible for the censorship of books, magazines and sound recordings. Under section 10 of the 1963 Act, the role of the Indecent Publications Tribunal was to 'determine the character of the book' using the criteria set out in the legislation. When the IPT examined and classified Lolita, using these criteria, they determined that the book be classified as 'not indecent', meaning anyone was legally able to buy it.

The film Ulysses, based on the James Joyce novel, was rated R18 in 1967 and only screened to segregated audiences because it uses the word 'fuck'.[8] The "segregated audience" ruling was lifted in 1972, but still rated R18.

Notable controversies[edit]

The film Baise-moi, which contained violence and real rather than simulated sex by the actors, was the subject of a number of complaints laid by the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards.[9] After an extended classification and appeal process, the film was ultimately classified in 2003 by the Court of Appeal as R18 and restricted to theatrical exhibition or exhibition to participants in tertiary media or film studies courses.

Censorship is often called for by Christian influenced groups, but in 2000 a complaint was made against two Christian videos that represented homosexuals and bisexuals as "inferior". The case was upheld.[10] Family First New Zealand have called for the banning of violent video games, most notably Grand Theft Auto IV, among others.[11]

T-shirts have been censored in New Zealand, and in 2007 one that advertised an album for Cradle of Filth, a British extreme metal band, was banned by Bill Hastings, the chief censor in New Zealand. According to Hastings, it was one of the most graphic T-shirts he had ever seen. The shirt displayed an image of a mostly nude Roman Catholic nun masturbating, along with the text "Jesus is a Cunt".[12]

In 2008 The Peaceful Pill Handbook, a book explaining how to carry out euthanasia, was initially banned in OFLC since it was deemed objectionable.[13] In May 2008, an edited version of the book was allowed for sale if sealed and an indication of the censorship classification was displayed. Philip Nitschke, its author, had deleted content that might have directly assisted the suicide of others, which is an offence under New Zealand's Crimes Act 1961.[14]

In 2014, the 2010 Queenstown suppressed indecency case gave rise to a discussion over the use of suppression orders protecting celebrities when a member of the New Zealand Parliament, Maggie Barry, described a groping by Australian entertainer and convicted sex abuser Rolf Harris during a studio interview she conducted in her previous broadcasting career.[15] Retired parliamentarian Rodney Hide taunted her in a newspaper column, urging her to use her parliamentary privilege to breach the name suppression order.[16]

In 2015, the book Into the River was placed under an interim restriction order under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993, banning it completely from being sold or supplied.[17]

Chief Censor[edit]

The Chief Censor is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. Bill Hastings was the Chief Censor from 1999 through to 2010 when he stood down to become a District Court Judge and Chair of the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. Deputy Chief Censor Nicola McCully filled the role[18] until Dr Andrew Jack was appointed to the position for a three-year term starting in March 2011.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reported as Collector of Customs v Lawrence Publishing Co Ltd [1986] 1 NZLR 404
  2. ^ "Censorship In New Zealand: The Policy Challenges Of New Technology - Ministry of Social Development". Msd.govt.nz. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  3. ^ Censorship: A Resource for Media Studies Level 3 NCEA (PDF). Office of Film and Literature Classification. 2006. p. 19. ISBN 0-477-10017-1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Nancy M (1986). The Home Front. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. 2. p. 893. 
  5. ^ "The Battle of Manners Street, Wellington, 1943". Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1966). 
  6. ^ "War on the wharves - 1951 waterfront dispute". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 20 November 2007. 
  7. ^ Haight, Anne (1970). Banned books: informal notes on some books banned for various reasons at various times and in various places (3rd ed.). New York: R.R. Bowker. ISBN 978-0-8352-0204-6. 
  8. ^ Scott Wilson. "Censorship in New Zealand Part One - The Free Radical Online". Freeradical.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  9. ^ "'Baise Moi' NZ Ban interests Aussie P.M. | Scoop News". Scoop.co.nz. 2002-05-23. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  10. ^ "Human Rights Commission :: Home". Hrc.co.nz. 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  11. ^ [1] Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ NZPA (2 July 2008). "Offensive T-shirt banned". The Press. 
  13. ^ "The Peaceful Pill Handbook banned". Office of Film & Literature Classification. 10 June 2010. Archived from the original on 4 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "Notice of Decision under Section 38(1)" (PDF). Office of Film & Literature Classification. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "Maggie Barry: I was groped by Rolf Harris - National - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  16. ^ "Rodney Hide: Forget Rolf, Maggie. We have our own sexual predator to name and shame - National - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  17. ^ Simon Collins (7 September 2015). "'Will I be burnt next?' - Into the River author Ted Dawe on book banning". New Zealand Herald. 
  18. ^ Guy, Nathan (21 June 2010). "New Chief Censor to be appointed". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 4 July 2010. 
  19. ^ "New Chief Censor appointed". ONE News. 22 December 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Watson, Chris; Roy Shuker (1998). In the public good? Censorship in New Zealand. Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press. ISBN 0-86469-305-2. 

External links[edit]