Real Life

'It's my job to keep things clean on the screen'

Kim Bishop, 37, works as a classification censor in Wellington.

"People think censors sit around watching movies all day, but there’s much more to the job than that. We mostly classify films, DVDs, box sets, electronic games and, occasionally, books. We view the publication, take notes, determine the classification, then write a report to explain the classification we’re giving it.

We also classify Crown material, submitted by enforcement agencies, such as the police, internal affairs and customs. That’s mostly child exploitation images or images of extreme violence.

Before doing this, I’d been living in London, doing my OE and worked as an executive assistant for a global consulting firm for two years.

My visa expired and I had to leave the UK, but I still had itchy feet. A friend told me about yachting and I thought it sounded like an exciting adventure. I moved to Antibes on the French Riviera, into an old villa with nine other yachties.

We would commute to Nice or Monte Carlo for day work. I became a stewardess and travelled around France and Spain on a 52m superyacht.

Crew life isn’t all glamorous – 17-hour days doing laundry, making up guest rooms, doing food service and sleeping in a tiny shared cabin below deck. But you get to see how the extremely wealthy live. On the plus side, you become like family with the crew, chefs cook all your meals and when you’re off-charter, you have a luxury yacht as your home.

But one season was enough and I returned to New Zealand to attend university. I was a mature student and studied media and art history, and became interested in the effects media may or may not have on people.

I’ve been in the job for four years. In my first year at the Classification Office, we classified a lot of pornography.

Pornography has been around for a long, long time, and the pros and cons of it are still being debated. I think the worry now is that it’s more extreme – it’s often violent and degrading towards women. That’s really concerning because it’s easily accessible. Kids can go on their phones and find anything.

Viewing or reading disturbing material is all in a day’s work for this Wellingtonian.
Viewing or reading disturbing material is all in a day’s work for this Wellingtonian.

You do get to see a lot of violence, sex, blood and gore in this job. We are seeing more and more violence, especially sexual, in mainstream media. A lot of it occurs in programming that’s aimed at young people.

We receive an average of 820 inquiries and complaints a year. Some people think we are too strict, some think we’re too lenient, but most people think our classifications are about right.

Every decision takes account of the right to freedom of expression, so we’ll only restrict if there’s a real concern that there will be harm, and we get that information through public consultations and from research done by other agencies, including agencies that work with young people or in the area of sexual violence awareness advocacy. There’s a lot of research that informs our work and legal criteria we have to follow.

The keen paddle-boarder tries to get out on the water at least once a week over summer.
The keen paddle-boarder tries to get out on the water at least once a week over summer.

In some areas, we’ve become more relaxed – some ’80s horror movies that were R18 are nothing compared to what’s out there now – and in others, we’ve become stricter.

We’re very careful about how we deal with anything that might be disturbing or traumatising for people who have experience with, for example, suicide or sexual violence. We try to reflect the current concerns of society.

We’ve got parents, lawyers and ex-teachers working here. There’s a thorough recruitment and induction process to become a censor.

There are days when you get disheartened, weighed down by what you are dealing with, especially when it is Crown work. That’s because it’s real, not fiction. We’re encouraged to use counsellors and we do when we need to.

I learned how to paddle-board about the same time as becoming a censor. It’s both relaxation and exercise. I’ve also bought my first house, a ‘70s do-up.

And I’m learning Spanish – I have a bucket list of countries I’m working my way through visiting. I went to Mexico and Cuba earlier this year. Cuba was eye-opening. It was quite challenging but also heartening in that they relish the simpler things in life, such as family, friends, music and food.”

As told to Julie Jacobsen

Quick fire
The last time I cried… Was a month ago when my little cat died. He was so precious.

I couldn’t live without… My mum.

My most treasured possession… My house – it’s my sanctuary – and an old sea chest my grandfather refashioned.

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