Chapter 8

The present position

8.6Presently entertainment content is dealt with in the following ways. First, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has oversight of both news and entertainment content that is broadcast to the public. The Broadcasting Act 1989 provides that “the observance of good taste and decency” and “the maintenance of law and order” are among the standards to be observed by all broadcasters.548  The BSA codes expand on those standards. In particular they require warnings where content is likely to disturb or offend; they require broadcasters to be mindful of the interests of children and to observe watershed viewing times; and they require care and discretion when dealing with violence.549
8.7The Broadcasting Act further provides that if a film has been classified under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, a broadcaster must not broadcast the film contrary to the classification.550  Complaints may be made to the broadcaster and the BSA if these standards are not met.551  The BSA has a special power in relation to a programme series. If it decides that a particular programme in a series is objectionable, it can require information about further programmes in the series, and can require that a particular programme not be shown, or that the series be cancelled.552
8.8If news is to be removed from the BSA’s jurisdiction as we recommend in this report,553  the BSA would continue to have jurisdiction over programmes which do not fall into the category of “news”. However, as we have seen earlier, the BSA’s jurisdiction under the Broadcasting Act is tightly constrained. It can deal only with broadcasts as that term is defined in the Act; that definition does not include programmes available on-demand. A large amount of content on the internet is thus beyond the reach of the BSA, even if it is accessible from a broadcaster’s own website.
8.9Second, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act sets up the Classification Office whose function is to classify publications, including films. Material may be classified as objectionable, or restricted to persons of a certain age or a specific class.554  “Objectionable” is fully defined. It involves an element of harm to the public interest.555  The Act also provides that films, including videos, that are to be supplied to the public must be labelled, although this does not include films of news.556
8.10The Act also creates a number of offences.557  In particular, it is an offence to supply or distribute an objectionable publication or to supply or distribute a restricted publication otherwise than in accordance with its classification.558
8.11The mandate of the Classification Office is broad. In addition to films, books and other printed material the word “publication” is widely defined as extending to:559
(d) a thing (including, but not limited to, a disc, or an electronic or computer file) on which is recorded or stored information that, by the use of a computer or other electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or shown as 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements or words.

That is capable of extending to content on the internet.

8.12The Classification Office’s website gives this information about its jurisdiction:560

Internet-sourced publications are subject to New Zealand classification law when they are downloaded to a computer in New Zealand, and films and games supplied to the New Zealand public via download must comply with New Zealand law.

The Classification Office can classify publications such as a printout of a webpage; images, moving images or files from a website; emails and chat logs.

The Classification Act has jurisdiction over websites if they are operated or updated from New Zealand

… Chat logs are subject to the law and chat rooms likely to be of concern are monitored by the Department of Internal Affairs. The Office has classified clips from YouTube as well as other material from websites.

8.13In serious cases, prosecutions are possible and occasionally happen. But the jurisdiction of the Classification Office is limited. All it can do is to classify: it is a censorship office. It can receive and consider classification requests, but it is not a complaints body as such, and has no complaints jurisdiction.

548Broadcasting Act 1989, s 4(1).
549See for example, the BSA Free-to-Air Code of Television Broadcasting Practice, standards 1, 9 and 10.
550Broadcasting Act 1989, s 4(2).
551Section 6.
552Section 13A.
553Ch 7, R2.
554Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1989, s 23(2).
555Section 3.
556Sections 6, 8(1)(g).
557Part 8.
558Sections 123(1)(d), 125(1)(a).
559Section 2.
560Office of Film and Literature Classification “Classification in New Zealand – Classification and the internet” <>.