The outgoing chief censor has urged the Government to hurry up and deliver the law change it proposed on streaming services like Netflix - and stop graphic scenes of suicide, rape and sexual violence going unregulated.
Eight months since the Government announced a plan to update broadcasting rules - including making online streaming services subject to classification and content standards - chief censor Andrew Jack has revealed his frustration at what he says has been a total lack of progress.
Jack spoke to the Herald on Sunday in the final week of his six-year tenure at the top of the classification office and cited concerns around pornography as well as how issues like suicide, rape and sexual violence are being used by entertainment companies for commercial gain - beyond the reach of regulation.
The Digital Convergence Bill was announced by then-Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams on August 21 last year. It was intended to bolster the Broadcasting Act and bring it up to date with digital technology.
Adams' announcement included a push to "capture on-demand content and ensure it meets classification and content standards."
Jack said while he supports the change, he's irritated by a lack of action.
"Nothing has actually happened, just nothing. And I have to say that is a source of significant frustration," Jack said. "We know some of this material is causing harm, we know the measures which can improve the situation, but nothing has actually happened.
"The only entities winning out of the current situation are the entities selling depictions of sexual violence as entertainment.
"In my view, you can't just announce you're going to do something, and not do it."
Adams' office redirected Herald enquiries, citing the Broadcasting portfolio being disbanded in a Cabinet reshuffle late last year. Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said the Government intends to refer the bill to a select committee this year - the first step in changing the law.
"Work on the bill has been fairly complex. It needs to be future-proofed in an era of rapid technological change, as well as being practical for existing providers and not putting barriers to the entry of new services," Barry said.
Barry also pointed to the public's right to complain about content regardless of platform, as well as the chief censor's power to declare material "objectionable" and potentially ban it.
In his final days as chief censor, a role he wanted to continue but was unsuccessful in seeking a third term, Jack said there were other aspects to consider, specifically around pornography and depictions of suicide and sexual violence.
Jack said there was "absolutely" a concern over pornography becoming an unwelcome form of sex education in young generations, though more research needed to be done to understand what exactly young Kiwis are consuming online.
His concerns around sexually violent behaviour aren't limited to porn either, also applying to movies and TV shows. Internationally, there has been controversy around Netflix series 13 Reasons Why which depicts rape and suicide scenes.
"I can't talk specifically about the series you talked about because the classification office has called that in and is in the process of deciding whether that needs to be subject to a restriction or a warning on it," he said.
"Historically as a country we've tried the 'let's not talk about it' approach [to suicide] which has not been successful. We've an appalling rate of youth suicide.
"Where those issues are dealt with in a positive way, it's a really good thing. But it's where you get depictions of suicide which are instructional, or two-dimensional or suggest it's a viable option for dealing with some of the tribulations life sometimes deals at you."
Netflix said 13 Reasons Why is presented with warnings.
"The series carries an adult rating as well as graphic content warnings preceding specific episodes, along with an after-show and companion website with additional resources. Our members tell us that 13 Reasons Why has helped spark important conversations in their families and communities around the world," a spokesman said.
Hema Patel, general manager of Lightbox said the Kiwi streaming service was "dedicated to ensuring our customers are protected by ensuring our content is clearly classified."
"We welcome the Government review which will provide certainty and ensure standards keep up with the reality of new technology and changing consumer preferences," Patel said.
"On-demand TV works differently to traditional TV, where the consumer chooses what they watch and when they watch. On-demand TV requires the consumer to actively choose material, making decisions along the way to access shows, review information and classification labels about that content. Linear TV is much less restricted in terms of access."
Both Lightbox and Netflix offer parental control measures.
RULES ON DIGITAL STREAMERS
• Online streaming services are not subject to the Broadcasting Act.
• The Broadcasting Standards Authority does not accept complaints about internet-only content (such as Netflix, Lightbox etc).
• The BSA will only accept complaints about live-streamed content if that content has also been broadcast in New Zealand on television or radio as well.
• Unregulated in NZ, Netflix's 13 Reasons Why features graphic rape and suicide scenes.
• Earlier this year Netflix was accused of "race baiting" over Dear White People, a comedy dealing with the fallout of a "blackface" party thrown by a group of white students.
• Last year the classification office clashed with Lightbox over Flesh and Bone. Chief censor said the show wasn't adequately labelled and had concerns for sexual abuse victims.