Censorship follies

By Eric Crampton 07/09/2015


The on-again off-again New Zealand ban on the novel “Into the River” is on again, thanks to Board of Review Chair Don Mathieson.

Recall that New Zealand has a censor’s office that can review books sent to it for review. Request that a book be classified and the Office of Film and Literature will have a look. It can put in place R-level restrictions which make it illegal to pass the material on to a kid below the specified age. So give an R-13 book here to a 12 year old, and the penalties can be high.

So somebody requested that Into the River be classified. The original OFL review was pretty reasonable:

There are many other novels widely available without restriction in New Zealand with similar sexual descriptions of an equivalent nature, many of them literary classics and coming of age novels, or popular fiction phenomena in their own right. This would make a restriction on Into The River arbitrary and unfair. It would create a widespread inconsistency in conditions of access to books of this nature.

Then the Board of Review made it R14, with Mathieson wanting it R18.

About a month ago, OFL re-reviewed the book, and returned it to the unrestricted status.

Then the Christian lobby group Family First requested that the Board of Review look at it again, and now Don Mathieson’s banned it entirely pending a full review.

New Zealand’s censorship review board has slapped an interim ban on a book for the first time since the current law was passed 22 years ago, potentially igniting a new wave of restrictions on sexually explicit books.
The president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Dr Don Mathieson, QC, has issued the Interim Restriction Order banning the sale or distribution of Auckland author Ted Dawe’s award-winning novel for teenagers Into the River until the full board can consider whether the book should be restricted.
Family First director Bob McCoskrie, who requested the review, said the interim order – the first affecting a book under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 – showed people could still use the censorship system.
“Hopefully we have set a precedent and people start bringing other books to the fore that they are concerned about.”

Can we scrap, kill and abolish this censorious regime?

Here’s the Herald’s history:

The saga so far

June 2013: Into the River wins top prize in NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.
July: Internal Affairs Department submits it to the censor after complaints from the public.
September: Censor classifies it M (unrestricted) with “contains sex scenes, offensive language and drug use”.
December: Review board partially upholds Family First appeal and imposes R14 restriction.
March 2015: Auckland Libraries asks the censor to reconsider the classification.
August 14: Censor reclassifies the book “unrestricted” with no descriptive note.
August 18: Family First appeals to review board again.
September 3: Review board president bans book until full board decision.