An Australian campervan company that decks its vehicles with lewd sexist slogans and drug references may have met its match – in New Zealand at least – with three of its most offensive vehicles banned from New Zealand’s roads under threat of huge fines, following a landmark ruling.
Wicked Campers’ nemesis is the Classification Office, the New Zealand Government body responsible for classifying publications that may need to be restricted or banned in New Zealand. For the first time, the organisation has ruled that slogans and imagery on three Wicked Camper vehicles qualify as “objectionable publications”.
The banned vehicles depict a cartoon of Snow White about to snort cocaine or crack, the Cat in the Hat with drug paraphernalia, and Scooby Doo about to smoke marijuana. Five more of the company’s vehicles are under review.
The ruling bans the vehicles from public places in New Zealand with immediate effect. Wicked Campers has repeatedly fallen foul of Australia’s Advertising Standards Board (ASB) after public complaints – but the ASB is toothless and cannot impose penalties, so Wicked Campers doesn’t take much notice.
New Zealand’s Classification Office is a different beast entirely. Breaching its rulings can bring bring heavy fines or jail terms. The new classification means that it is illegal for anyone to supply, own, or possess the vans. The artwork on the vans is classified as a publication and the maximum penalty for possessing a banned publication is imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to NZD 50,000 for an individual, or up to NZD 100,000 for an organisation. The maximum penalty for supplying or distributing a banned publication is imprisonment up to 14 years for an individual and a fine of up to NZD 200,000 for an organisation.
Wicked could thus face fines of up to NZD 200,000 per offence if it continues to use the vans.
Under New Zealand’s Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 the definition of publication includes any “thing that has printed or impressed upon it, or otherwise shown upon it, 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements, or words”. The Classification Office has previously classified such ‘things’ as billboards, t-shirts, and even a drink can. This is the first time the Classification Office has classified a vehicle.
The Classification Office stated yesterday: “The images and text on these campervans use well-known characters from children’s storybooks and television programs to present drug use in a subversive manner that is oriented towards young adult consumers.
“However, the size and colourful nature of the imagery on the vans will inevitably draw the attention of children and young teenagers who are likely to focus on familiar characters and accept the humorous presentation of drug use uncritically.”
NZ Police’s acting national manager for crime, Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson, told Fairfax in New Zealand that the ruling meant police “now have a number of options available to us which we will be reviewing”, including penalties for those who drive the vehicles.
Written by Peter Needham