19 Apr 2017

Teen suicide show reveals 'gap in the law' - censor

8:22 pm on 19 April 2017

The Deputy Chief Censor is again calling for a law change to prevent controversial programmes being viewed online in this country without being given a New Zealand classification first.

Jared Mullen's call comes as a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, depicting teen suicide and rape, has divided opinion on whether it should be allowed.

A scene from '13 Reasons Why'.

A scene from 13 Reasons Why Photo: Netflix

The Mental Health Foundation has described the programme as irresponsible, unsafe and unethical, but teachers and young people said the programme was resonating with its target audience.

Mr Mullen said Netflix stopped submitting its content to the censor in August, after realising there was no legal requirement to do so.

"It does reflect the current gap in the law. And I think a lot of this could have been avoided, and clear information could have been provided to New Zealand families and young people right from the start, if the content was required to carry a New Zealand label, right from the start."

13 Reasons Why has been widely shared and talked about on social media since its worldwide online release two weeks ago.

In the series, based on a 2007 novel with the same name, Hannah Baker leaves behind 13 tapes - one for each of the people she says caused her to end her life.

The series shows two graphic and detailed rape scenes, as well as an unspeakably grim three-minute scene of Hannah's death.

The Classification Office said it had notified Netflix that it would be giving the series a New Zealand classification.

They said it would be released sometime next week, after feedback from mental health and sexual abuse experts and young people who had watched the series.

Teenagers react to show

Auckland teenagers spoken to by RNZ were largely in favour in the series, but Louana King, 15, said the series could portray suicide as a trend in popular culture.

Louana King

Louana King Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

"Other shows could start doing the same thing," she said.

Ms King said she was surprised that Netflix would release a series that portrayed such a sensitive topic for teenagers.

"When people see it [the show] they could be influenced to do things like that and also they could be hurt because they are going through it as well."

However, other teenagers said 13 Reasons Why was raising awareness about a taboo topic and it was helping their peers to begin positive discussions about suicide.

Sukrit Singh, 17, said he was really enjoying the series and said the show portrayed the consequences of bullying and ultimately detered teenagers from treating others harshly.

"It raises a huge issue that is not really widely talked about, especially in New Zealand," he said.

Holly Owen, 13, had finished the series and said the message behind the show was extremely powerful, and it did not make suicide appealing.

"The way that she died definitely wasn't glamourised at all," she said.

She said most of her friends had watched the series and all of them were talking about it.

Cassius Felise, 16, said the main message he got from the show was that people needed to look out for each other and be available to listen.

"It shows how easily someone can take their life away and little signs need to be watched out for," he said.

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
  • Sparx online e-therapy tool for young people
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
  • OUTline 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone support on sexuality or gender identity
  • If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111

Help for parents, family and friends:

  • Common ground a website hub providing parents, family, whānau and friends with access to information, tools and support to help a young person who is struggling
  • Parent Help 0800 568 856
  • Family Services 211 Helpline - 0800 211 211 - Community based health and social support
  • Skylight - 0800 299 100 - for support through trauma, loss and grief; 9am-5pm weekdays
  • Supporting Families In Mental Illness - 0800 732 825 - For families and whānau supporting a loved one who has a mental illness