The following Campaign for Censorship Reform has been revised and updated (April 30, 2010). Please visit the new Campaign Forum to register your support, or learn more about the amendments being sought to the Films, Videos, and Publications Act.

We are seeking amendments to the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 that will enable the consumer to be able to buy, rent and trade a greater variety of filmed entertainment within New Zealand.

This wildly outdated piece of legislation restricts public access to many films and television programs and unfairly over-regulates and disadvantages the DVD medium in particular. This situation has evolved because the Act was implemented well before the advent of DVD, cable television and the internet, and because subsequent amendments to the Act have failed to fairly accommodate its unique properties as a format.

We are seeking public support in our lobby for changes to the current government, who have expressed interest in revising the legislation.

The purpose of this forum is to inform you, the film-watching adult public, about the legislation, how it is applied, and how it results in shortening the ‘long tail’ of consumer choice.

The issues are numerous and complex, but whether you consider the details or just the basics, we hope you’ll agree that our cause is one that is worthy of your support.

Please feel free to make comments, and if you wish to formally register your support, please submit your e-mail address at the bottom of this page.

A matter of “economic censorship”

This forum is not concerned with censorship decisions that are made by the Classification Office (OFLC) in respect of a film’s content, and we are not anti-censorship. Our concerns are with what amounts to the “economic censorship” of legitimate filmed entertainment for mature audiences.

The primary reason why films are not available on DVD, and in many cases are withdrawn from the NZ market, is because the distributor cannot justify the classification costs to release the film. The cost of classifying a film in New Zealand is approx. $1100 + gst for an average feature film or DVD disc.

Thus the cost of classifying the 16 discs that comprise Seasons 2-5 of The L-Word TV Series, for example, would total $17,600 + gst payable to the OFLC. The distributor of this series made a business decision not to release these titles in New Zealand.

The DVD release of films and TV shows (increasingly) aimed at adult audiences is entirely dependent on a distributor paying this level of mandatory fee, whether it be "Curb Your Enthusiasm", "The Sopranos" or "Comic Strip Presents...", and such titles are subject to this after they have aired on network television. We think it's scandalous.

Prohibitive classification fees are also applicable when DVD editions of classified films contain extra material (including trailers!) that may or may not been classified in NZ.

It is evident that it is the interest of the Chief Censor and his office to maintain the status quo, and he has indicated on many occasions that he wishes to in fact increase his regulatory powers. He recently suggested that Government look at increasing fees, citing in a memorandum to the Minister of Internal Affairs that fees have “not changed since 1 July 1997”.

The Act does have discretionary provision for the Chief Censor to grant “fee waivers” that can reduce classification costs by up to 75%, however this mechanism is designed primarily for film festivals. In this economic climate, even this maximum waiver is becoming marginal for film festivals large and small.

For DVD release, it is simply not practical or reasonable to ask for fee waivers (even if we could justify it) every time we wanted to classify, say, an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine.

As a specialist retailer, these issues have for years been an obstruction for our daily business. We’re tired of explaining why we can’t supply Freaks & Geeks or The Camomile Lawn or Harry Enfield, to name a few. Our customers either go home empty handed, or are forced to source the material from overseas. The likes of have made a killing exploiting over-regulated foreign backwaters like ours.

Being at the coalface of retail, we are sensitive to the demands and expectations of the public, and over the years we've fielded some very "Frequently Asked Questions"...

Why can I not sell or trade the DVDs
I have privately imported?

If you buy a film from overseas and it is not classified and labelled with the NZ classification, it is not legal to sell, trade or lend that item within our national borders, either by TradeMe, or any other means, unless it carries an NZ classification label.

Individuals can apply for a label from the Film & Video Labelling Body (FVLB), but there are no guarantees that a label will be issued, and an administration fee (approx. $27) would be payable in any case. Hence, we regard obtaining such labels as impractical and cost prohibitive for private applicants. The same situation applies for video and music retailers, who can’t order imported items on your behalf because of compliance requirements.

This situation is yet another double-standard that is especially frustrating and confusing for you, the film-loving patron. Such double-standards only encourage widespread ‘under-the-table’ trading (ie. non-compliance), either through ignorance or indignation.

What is the difference between
‘rating’ and ‘classification’?

In simple terms, a rating is a “recommendation” for viewer suitability, a classification is a legally binding “restriction”. In general, ratings are the domain of the Film & Video Labelling Body, while classifications are the domain of the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC).

Why do some films have to be classified by the NZ Censors (at the OFLC) and others do not?

Generally, films that have been classified by the Australian (and also British) classification office as either G, PG, or M, can be ‘cross-rated’ by the Labelling Body (FVLB) as the New Zealand equivalent of that rating. This process is administrative only, and therefore costs distributors and applicants only a nominal fee.

Why do many TV shows that have already played on TV have to be classified by the OFLC?

Whether a television show has been broadcast in New Zealand or not has no bearing whether it is required to be classified. All TV shows on DVD that either have not been classified by Australian or British classification authorities, or have been classified by them as restricted to persons 15-years-and-over, have to be submitted to the OFLC for classification, together with the requisite fee.

The Film and Video Act and the OFLC has no jurisdiction over films that have been broadcast, because television is governed by the Broadcasting Act, which instead operates a ‘censorship’ mechanism in the form of a complaints process through the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

In our research, the BSA reported that the vast majority of the relatively few complaints that they receive are actually to do with “inappropriate screening times” rather than complaints about the content of film. Cable television has almost a free reign to show feature films, trailers and extra material, irrespective of whether it has received a NZ classification or not.

Who is affected by the Film and Video Act?

The Film and Video Act affects Theatres, Video Rental Stores, Retailers, Online Retailers, University Libraries, Public Libraries, and private traders in New Zealand.

It does not affect Broadcast Television, Cable Television, Internet Media (sourced offshore), or

The playing field is grossly uneven. For a visual representation, click here to see our Uneven Playing Field Graph.

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WE BELIEVE the Act and the way that it is administered effectively “treats adults like children” and that the OFLC views far too much material that is costly and unnecessary in this day and age. As a result, it is overburdened with film submissions, which have increased exponentially over recent years.

There are many ways in which these issues can be resolved, and they run the spectrum in both complexity and degree. But we think it important for you, the film-loving public, to be fully informed and have a chance to have your say, because these issues affect you as much as they affect New Zealand business, now and into the future.

Proposed Solutions:

First and foremost, we are seeking amendments that will raise the qualifying threshold for which films must be examined at the OFLC. Which is to say that, films classified as '15' and 'MA15+' in the UK and Australia respectively, be automatically 'cross-rated' to the equivalent classification (RP16 or R16).

More details about this can be found in our 2004 Submission.

However, we think the double-standards that affect DVD trading in NZ have been exacerbated since 2004, and urgent consideration needs to be given to more progressive ideas on how the classification system can adapt. If you would like to read or contribute to this in a separate forum, please proceed to "Ideas on adapting the Classification Laws"

Support Material:

In 2004, we made an extensive submission to the Government Administration Committee who were conducting an official inquiry into the Act. The submission details all of the issues above and how they relate specifically to the Regulations of the Act, and it also summarises with a series of proposed amendments. Download our 2004 Submission (PDF, 444k).

Or if you would like to know more please proceed to the following pages:
» Background and History
» The “Playing Field” Graph
» Unavailable Films

» Andrew Armitage discusses censorship on VBC Radio
» Gordon Campbell on censorship – bring back Worth!