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.

In addition to the recommendations we have made in our 2004 Submission (PDF, 444k), this separate forum proposes various progressive yet sensible ideas on how to restore fairness to the classification system, to ensure it remains relevant and applicable going into the future.

We invite members of the industry and other parties that are affected by the legislation to offer comments and creative ideas on how the legislation can better serve the industry, government and consumer alike.

1) Downloadable labelling

As long as it remains a classification system that requires a film’s rating to be identifiable to the consumer, we believe the way forward is to consider the idea of ‘downloadable’ labels.

The current model of having to apply for labels to the FVLB is variously frustrating for the industry and effectively prohibitive for private applicants.

We believe it is both possible and timely to democratise the labelling process, without jeopardising the integrity of a well-recognised and respected system.

The significant advantages of a downloadable version of labels are:

» Labels can be title and edition specific (ie. these details could be printed on the label itself, incl. the FVLB URL)
» Redress the legal double-standards of importation & re-selling within NZ
» Encourages engagement and compliance to the retailer and consumer.
» Reduces the need for the hundreds of different label permutations.
» Enables instant processing for suppliers.
» Accessibility to the consumer/applicant.
» Enables “Boxed Sets” to be labelled individually (for rental and loan purposes)
» Cost-efficient model that would reduce administration resources.

If the industry were to embrace downloadable labels across the board, this would significantly reduce the burden and workload of the FVLB. In a reduced capacity, the FVLB could still retain the function of maintaining a database and liaising with applicants from both the industry and public sectors, and perhaps have a greater role in working with the industry to protect copyrights.

The process of granting labels would move away from ‘examination’ to approving editions based on international database information. This way, the Labelling Body could continue to flag titles which do not meet the criteria for ‘cross-rating’ and refer them in the normal manner to the OLFC. Such titles would be denied labels and become “unclassified” on a temporary or permanent basis.

Another possibility is to ‘authorize’ applicants in a retail capacity (music/video stores, TradeMe, etc.) that can then issue labels cost-effectively to public applicants.

However it was implemented, we believe that a more democratic model would encourage much stronger engagement with it at consumer level.

2) A new classification for “unrated” films

As an extension of the downloadable label model, we think there is serious merit in the idea of introducing a classification label that represents a ‘default’ restriction to an adult audience over 18 years of age.

Suggested names for such a default could be NR-18 (Not Rated), NC-18 (Not Classified/No Children), UR-18 (Unrated), UC-18 (Unclassified), or even the default for broadcasting practise, “AO”.

For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use NR-18, as the “R” component reinforces the idea of “restriction” and is most closely aligned with consumer recognition of the existing “R-18”.

We would anticipate that the default restriction could apply when a title has not been classified by the OFLC, but has been classified by an overseas classification authority (OCA) in either Australia, the UK, or possibly Canada.

Further qualifying criteria might be that the film is known (according to OCA classification reports) not to contain material, which according to the FVPC Act, is likely to be considered ‘objectionable’ (eg. sexual violence, bestiality, necrophilia, etc.)

This criteria could be authenticated and administered by a labelling authority such as the FVLB, or indeed the OFLC itself, for an administration fee. Titles that did not meet the default criteria would then be subject to the customary examination process at the OFLC.

In essence, the default classification of “NR-18” would provide for a large sector of entertainment made for mature audiences that is not likely to be ‘controversial’ and therefore should not have to be subject to a censorship examination process.

Such a classification would provide adequate consumer guidance and protection for minors, while allowing consumers the comparable freedoms enjoyed on YouTube, Amazon, Sky Television, and whatever else is sure to eventuate.

When put in the context of the reality of the marketplace, it is a practical concept, not a radical one, and entirely respects the established principle of censorship labelling.

3) Merging the FVLB into the OFLC

Elaborating on section D) in the 2004 Submission, the way ahead for the OFLC is clearly not to classify more and more material. By its own admission, it is overburdened and inefficient, and it is often obliged to make decisions that are arbitrary and ultimately ineffectual.

The FVLB examines far less material and is thus able to be reasonably efficient in its function as ‘rubber stamper’ for the industry and ‘gatekeeper’ for the government.

However, given the myriad of complex issues that have emerged in the wake of the technological revolution, we believe it would be prudent for the OFLC to evolve into an umbrella organisation, as it exists in Australia and the UK.

The amendments that we have recommended be made to the regulations of the Act would inevitably result in significantly reduced remittances to the OFLC, however the resources of the OFLC could then be channelled into assuming the administrative functions currently performed by the FVLB.

The OFLC would then be more streamlined to focus what we have asserted are the three key purposes of censorship in the modern age; 1) Protecting minors from unsuitable material; 2) Protecting adults from ‘objectionable’ material; and 3) Providing consumer guidance.

At present, the OFLC seems to be consumed with functions way outside of these criteria; reclassifying films already classified by an OCA, viewing films that have already played on television, viewing extra material and bonus features on DVD, etc.

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Other Issues (Open Forum)

The ‘colonisation’ of Australian labelling in NZ

While it is mandatory for all DVD product to be labelled in New Zealand, there are an array of anomalies which collectively confuse the consumer and weaken its effectiveness. The public have become used to equally relying on the Australian rating system for consumer guidance, for the following reasons:

» NZ labels only partially cover Australian ratings on Australian printed slicks, which in some cases carry conflicting consumer advice.
» The Australian rating is ubiquitous in the NZ online environment, as cover images are often embedded with the Australian rating label.
» The NZ rating is not displayed on rental product in the consumer home due to generic slip-casing and the absence of an NZ rating on the disc itself.
» NZ labels are almost entirely absent from the process of using online DVD rental services (ie. browsing online and receipt of actual disc).
» Australian product is freely imported into New Zealand by private collectors

There is, of course, an argument for the wholesale adopting of the Australian Classification System, however such a blunt instrument would still not resolve or address many of the others issues outlined in this campaign.

Q & A from the main forum:

Q (From Dan T): "So, with the few changes you proposed what exactly will keep me from importing copies of Maladolescenza and selling it to teenagers on TradeMe? or renting it to people under 18?"

A: Under the proposed default 'NR-18' classification, the film example you have used would still be subject to the classification process because, as stated above, the default would apply where "the title had been classified by an overseas classification authority (OCA) in either Australia, the UK, or possibly Canada." Whether it was classified or not, one could not legally trade it or rent it to persons under 18.