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28th Apr 2017

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has forced New Zealand to bring in a whole new censorship category

Have you been watching?

Conor Heneghan

A restriction has been placed on the Netflix series limiting it to people 18 years or older unless supervised by an adult viewer.

The New Zealand Office of Film & Literature Classification has created a new censorship category in response to controversy generated by the recently released Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why.

The series, based on the 2007 Jay Asher book of the same title, is one of the most popular titles currently available on Netflix, but has generated controversy due to its depiction of suicide. New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD.

Over the course of 13 episodes, a suicide note left by Hannah Baker – whose death has already taken place at the start of the series – is relayed over a series of tapes that address the roles that various characters in the show had in her death.

The series has been criticised by mental health groups and accused of glorifying suicide and in response, the New Zealand classifications office have created a new category restricting under-18s from watching the series unless in the company of an adult (RP18).

Clip via Netflix US & Canada

In a lengthy blog detailing the reasons behind the decision, the classifications office said that while the show had “significant merit”, it did not adhere to international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide, and risked spreading a suicide “contagion”.

There was specific concern about the scene depicting Hannah’s suicide, which was considered “graphic, and explicit about the method of suicide she uses, to the point where it could be considered instructional”.

Classifications officers, who watched the show in full, consulted with several groups over the course of a number of weeks, including the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, the Mental Health Foundation New Zealand, and young people themselves who have viewed the show.

Amongst the reasons behind the decision detailed in the blog include the concern that the death of Hannah Baker is “presented fatalistically”.

“Her death is represented at times as not only a logical, but an unavoidable outcome of the events that follow,” the blog states.

“Suicide should not be presented to anyone as being the result of clear headed thinking.

“The show ignores the relationship between suicide and the mental illness that often accompanies it. People often commit suicide because they are unwell, not simply because people have been cruel to them.”

“It is also extremely damaging to present rape as a ‘good enough’ reason for someone to commit suicide,” it continues.

“This sends the wrong message to survivors of sexual violence about their futures and their worth.”

As a consequence of the classification, Netflix will now be required to display a clear warning in respect to the series, as well as in respect to each episode.

The classifications office said that the new classification “allows the intended audience of young people to continue to access the series, while providing the necessary intervention of adult supervision in order to keep them safe and sufficiently navigate the relevant but troubling issues that we acknowledge as a part of their lived reality”.


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