The New Zealand classifications body has created a new category of censorship for controversial Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, after complaints from mental health bodies that it glorified suicide and could prompt copycats.
New Zealand has the highest rate of teenage suicide in the OECD, with an average of two young people taking their own life each week.
On Thursday the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature created a new censorship category RP18 to address concerns over the series, issuing an immediate restriction on the show to those aged under 18, unless accompanied by an adult.
The authority said the existing classification distinctions were not considered adequate, as 16- and 17-year-olds were a prime age-group for teen suicide.
The series, which was released in New Zealand at the end of March, chronicles the sexual assault and suicide of Hannah Baker, who records an extended suicide note through a series of 13 tapes explaining her decision.
The classification’s authority said the series did not adhere to international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide, and risked spreading a suicide “contagion”.
“New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD, and mental health advocates are extremely concerned about the effect 13 Reasons Why could have on the teenagers around the country who are binge-watching it at just this moment,” the authority said in a statement.
The statement said the authority had consulted with various mental health groups , spoken to teenagers who had watched the series and had also viewed it in full.
The authority recognised the series had “significant merit” by addressing issues “highly relevant” to young people, including suicide, sexual violence and bullying and sparking conversations around difficult issues such as giving sexual consent.
However the authority said it was seriously concerned around how the show dealt with teen suicide, and found Hannah’s suicide was treated “fatalistically”.
“Her death is represented at times as not only a logical, but an unavoidable outcome of the events that follow. 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. This sends the wrong message to survivors of sexual violence about their futures and their worth.”
The body found that the scene detailing Hannah’s suicide was graphic, and was “explicit” about the method she used, which could be seen as instructional to vulnerable teens.
The programme will immediately be made to show the new censorship restriction at the beginning and end of each episode, and also display a range of suicide helplines appropriate for the New Zealand audience.
“This is a nuanced show that asks a lot of questions, and raises a lot of issues, but often fails to either answer or fully address them,” noted the authority.
“Therefore discussion needs to occur outside the series itself, and guidance needs to be offered to young people viewing this series by a trusted and appropriate adult.”
A spokeswoman for Netflix said the company worked voluntarily with the New Zealand authorities on a classification, as it has done with the British Board of Film Classification in the UK.
“We knew the material covered sensitive topics, as the book did when it was published in 2007, and we worked with mental health experts to show how these issues impact teens in real and dramatic ways,” the spokeswoman said.
“We added explicit warnings on the three most graphic episodes, produced an after show, Beyond the Reasons, that delves deeper into some of the tougher topics portrayed, as well as created a global website to help people find local mental health resources.”
- In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted for free on 116 123, or visit Mind’s website.
- In the US, call 1 (800) 273-TALK.
- In Australia, Lifeline is on 13 11 14.
- Hotlines in other countries can be found here.