'13 Reasons Why': New Zealand Puts New Adult Rating on Netflix Suicide Drama

13 REASONS WHY - Girls in Office -Publicity-EMBED 2017
Beth Dubber/Netflix

The country's censor says people must be 18 to watch the "objectionable" content or view it with an adult, and the streamer now has to use warnings at the beginning and end of each episode.

Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has to carry specific warnings about the show's content at the beginning and end of each episode in New Zealand, following a ruling by the national Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which gave the series a new rating of RP18.

The organization previously only had ratings restricting content to people ages 13 and under and ages 16 and under, but created the new rating in response to 13 Reasons Why.

The Selena Gomez-produced series, aimed at a teen and young adult audience, centers on 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind cassette recordings for 13 people who she says were part of why she killed herself.

The new classification defines the series as "objectionable" and says it is "restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years, or who are accompanied by a parent or guardian." The New Zealand warnings highlight the show's graphic content, including its treatment of teen suicide, bullying and violence, as well as scenes of sexual violence. 

In a statement, the New Zealand OFLC said it has chosen the new rating following the show’s launch in the country in late March and given the worldwide controversy that's surrounded 13 Reasons Why. It acknowledged that the series has a "large and enthusiastic audience" in New Zealand and that it had played a role in raising awareness of difficult but important issues for teens.

"Some aspects of the show have received praise from groups such as the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, who have highlighted some positive messaging around consent and sexual violence in the show," said the statement. "The Mental Health Foundation New Zealand also identifies the series as an opportunity to raise awareness around youth suicide and mental health."

It added: "However there are real risks created by the portrayal of suicide in 13 Reasons Why. The suicide method is clearly shown – contravening established health guidelines and creating the potential for copycat behavior. The real links between mental health and suicide are not discussed at all in the series. The choice of the lead character to kill herself is also portrayed quite fatalistically. In real life, most of those with suicidal thoughts recover and do not go on to end their lives."

New Zealand deputy chief censor Jared Mullen said: "These issues need to be talked about in a way that is informed and safe – parents, guardians and other adults need to have open conversations with teens about the issues raised by the show. Parents should use their judgment about whether their teen is ready to watch this show and then watch it with them. The series raises a lot of issues but often fails to fully address them, and it's really important that trusted adults can step in at that point."

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, according to reports.

As a result, 13 Reasons Why episodes in New Zealand now carry the following warning note: "Series deals with suicide, bullying and depression. Episodes may contain violence, sexual material, drug use, and frequent offensive language. Some episodes contain graphic depictions of suicide and rape."

New Zealand teenagers aged 14-18 who have watched the series told Mullen they felt that the show addressed issues that were relevant to them, and that the series overall had positive messages relating to social awareness.

Netflix manager of global public policy Joshua Korn, in a submission to the OFLC, said the goal of Netflix is to "provide appropriate context so that our members can choose to watch content that they find compelling and block children's access to content their parents may find inappropriate."

Korn also highlighted the parental controls available on Netflix and noted that the series has been labeled "adult," meaning only those with profiles set to allow "adult" material will be able to view the show.

Australian mental health organizations have criticized the series' portrayal of teen suicide, while writer Nic Sheff has defended the show, saying: "The most irresponsible thing we could've done would have been not to show the death at all."