Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.91 MB)

Film and Video Censorship in New Zealand, 1976-1994

Download (2.91 MB)
posted on 2021-11-22, 22:19 authored by Anderson, Duncan

This thesis is an historical analysis of cinema and video censorship in New Zealand focusing on the period from 1976 to 1994. This is bookended by two significant changes in censorship legislation: the introduction of the concept of “injurious to the public good” as the guiding principle for film censorship in 1976, and the consolidation of censorship of film, video and other publications under one censorship authority in 1993 legislation (which came into force in 1994). My theoretical approach can be broadly classified as institutionalist political economy. The emphasis is on what Des Freedman regards as the “deeply political” nature of media policy development and implementation¹, as well as the role of many key actors, including politicians and civil servants, but also lobbyists and pressure groups, and “the importance of informal as well as formal modes of policy behaviour”.² Also, rather than simply looking at censorship decisions as the work of individuals, I have examined the way in which, as B. Guy Peters notes, “structures persist while individual members of those structures come and go”, and that “structures (institutions) create more regularity of human behaviour than would otherwise exist”.³ Rather than attempting to provide an exhaustive narrative of film censorship during this period, the focus is on detailed case studies of individual films which were the subject of censorship controversy in New Zealand, including Last Tango in Paris, Mad Max, Life of Brian, I Spit on Your Grave, Hail Mary and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. As these were contentious decisions, with a number of different voices competing for discursive legitimacy, they help to illustrate what Annette Kuhn describes as the idea of censorship as “a matter of relations…a process, not an object”, emphasising “the interactions between the various institutional practices involved….the relations between them, the ensemble of practices condensed in any one instance of film censorship”.⁴ These case studies also provide significant insight into the decision-making process of the film censors, demonstrating that this goes far beyond “objective” judgements about the manifest content of the films, and into more contentious and subjective areas such as the perceived tone of films (how they present certain content, rather than simply the content itself), views on media effects, the imagined audience, and the wider societal context. The decisions made by the censors depend very much on how these various factors are weighed, and which are given the most importance in the decision-making process. I have also examined the operation of formal home video censorship in New Zealand, which was introduced in 1987, taking a broader approach rather than focusing on individual film case studies, as no individual videos resulted in the level of controversy or media coverage as the film case studies.  ¹ Des Freedman, The Politics of Media Policy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008), 1. ² Ibid., 217. ³ B. Guy Peters, “Institutional theory: problems and prospects.” In Debating institutionalism, edited by Jon Pierre, B. Guy Peters and Gerry Stoker (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), 6. ⁴ Annette Kuhn, Cinema, censorship, and sexuality, 1909-1925 (London: Routledge, 1988), 127.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Film Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Thompson, Peter; Leotta, Alfio; Ross, Miriam