Public Understanding of Censorship (2007)

Public Understanding of Censorship (pdf)
01 Jun 2007

The New Zealand censorship system's primary objective is to prevent injury to the 'public good'. Therefore it is important to ascertain the degree to which the public understand the classification system and have confidence in it. This was the objective of research undertaken by the Office of Film and Literature Classification and UMR Research. An internet survey of 2611 New Zealanders aged 18 years or older was conducted in May 2006. Participants were asked what they knew about the Office and its functions, the classification labels and what they mean and the extent to which they used these classifications when making entertainment choices for themselves and their children. They were also asked whether they thought the classification system was too strict, too liberal, or just right.


UMR Research conducted an internet survey of 2611 New Zealanders aged 18 years or older, though the internet research portal Buzz. People who had indicted that they were willing to take part in internetbased polls were contacted and invited to participate. Participants completed the online survey between 23 and 30 May 2006. They were only able to complete the survey once.

The sample is representative of New Zealand’s population in terms of age and location. The fact that internet usage is not yet universal means that the sample cannot be said to be truly representative of all demographic groups. New Zealand Europeans are over-represented in the sample while Maori, Pacific Islander and Asian ethnicities are somewhat under-represented. The sample is broadly representative of New Zealand’s gender balance, though women are slightly over-represented. The overall sample is representative enough of the New Zealand population to provide a good picture of overall trends.

The margin of error for a sample size of 2611 for a 50% figure at the 95% confidence level is ±1.9%.

Key Results


• The general public is aware of the existence of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, although they generally feel that they do not know a great deal about what it does. Most are happy enough with the current classification system, with only one in twenty said that it was ‘much too lenient’ and one in a hundred saying that it was much too strict. Those who believed that the system was too lenient were most likely to be concerned about violence in films.

• The ‘M’ classification emerged as the one that people were least likely to recognise of the five classification labels tested. While just about everyone opted for the correct interpretation of ‘G’, ‘PG’, ‘R16’ and ‘R18’, more than three in ten respondents chose a wrong answer for ‘M’, or admitted that they did not know what it meant.

• Classification labels and descriptive notes are very important for parents when choosing entertainment options for their children, although most adults regard this information as of less importance when choosing films, DVDs, videos or games for themselves.

Entertainment Options

• 43% of New Zealanders claimed to watch DVDs or videos at least once a week, and 32% said that they watched them 1-3 times per month.

• 32% said that they played computer or console games at least once a week, including 10% who played them every day. By contrast, 37% said that they never played computer or console games.

• New Zealanders went to the movies less regularly, although only 12% said that they never watched films at the cinema. 25% said that they went to the movies at least once a month.

Declared Knowledge of the Office of Film and Literature Classification

• Knowledge of the Office of Film & Literature Classification was quite low, although a good proportion did feel that they had at least a basic knowledge. While only 1% of New Zealanders said that they knew ‘a lot’ about the Office of Film & Literature Classification or the Chief Censor, 70% either said that they knew ‘a fair amount’ or ‘not that much’ about it. 23% said that they knew hardly anything about the Office, while 6% admitted to never having heard of it.

• Those who claimed to have heard of the Office of Film & Literature Classification were asked what it did. 77% of these respondents mentioned classifying movies as one of the Office’s roles, compared with 26% who nominated classifying literature and publications, and 19% who suggested classifying games. On this unprompted question, 6% nominated classifying television programmes as one of the Office of Film and Literature Classification’s roles.

Understanding of Classification Labels

• Understanding of the classification labels was good, with the exception of the ‘M’ classification. It should be noted that the labels were tested without any explanatory text (i.e. respondents saw only the symbol).

• Asked to choose from a range of options for each classification label, 95% opted for the right answer for the ‘G’ classification, as did 91% for ‘R18’, 89% for ‘R16’ and 88% for PG.

• Only 68% of respondents correctly stated that the ‘M’ classification meant that ‘anyone can watch the film but it is more suitable for people aged 16 years and over’. 12% said that people under 16 years could only watch the film with their parents, while 11% said that only people over 16 years could watch the film. 9% were unsure of its meaning.

Impact of Classification Labels & Descriptive Notes

• Most New Zealanders did not feel that the classification labels or descriptive notes had much influence over which film, video, DVD or game they watched/ played. 17% stated that the classification note was very important in their decision, compared with 17% who said that it was not important at all. Similarly, 21% said that the descriptive note was very important and 11% said that it was not at all important.

• However, when choosing films, videos, DVDs or games for children the classification labels and descriptive note were considered to be far more important. 85% of parents stated that the classification and descriptive note were important when choosing entertainment for their children. Only 1% said that the classification was not at all important and 2% claimed that the descriptive note was not at all important.

Perceptions of the Classification System

• New Zealanders were quite happy with the classification system. Around two thirds of respondents (64%) felt that the current classification system for films, videos, DVDs and games was about right. 25% believed that it was too lenient, although most of these people opted for ‘a bit too lenient’ rather than ‘much too lenient’. Similarly, while 10% believed that the classification label system was a ‘bit too strict’, just 1% felt that it was ‘much too strict’.

• Those who believed that the classification system was too strict often said that it was out of step with changing social standards (30%), that classifications were more stringent than in other countries (29%), that they were against censorship on general principle (23%) or that it should be up to parents and the viewer to decide (22%).

• Violence in films was the main concern of those who felt that the system was too lenient. 43% of this group nominated violence as the reason why they believed the system was too lenient, compared with 28% who believed that restrictions were lower than in other countries, and 22% that sex was treated too leniently by the classification system.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018