Why Parents Shouldn’t Trust Censors in NZ

nz post porn awardsDo you remember when we alerted you to a book that had won the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award – a book, according to the NZ Herald, laced with detailed descriptions of sex acts, the coarsest language and scenes of drug-taking, and which polarised the literary community? The book uses expletives including the c-word, depicts drug use and sex scenes,
including one where a baby mimics sounds of intercourse. The Herald on Sunday even decided not to print extracts as they would offend some readers.

Yes – you know the one! The award organisers sent “explicit content” stickers to all booksellers to warn potential buyers. One nationwide book chain advised store managers the book is suitable only for children over 15 years. And the sponsors, NZ Post, were inundated with complaints and calls to withdraw the prestigious award and their sponsorship of the awards. The NZ Herald
Editorial saidIt contains obscenities and shock references that worthwhile literature does not need. We can only wonder what the judges were thinking, or how much worse the
other entries could have been. …..Teachers and school librarians do teenagers a disservice when they point them towards books that need to shock to capture their interest.”

Family First interviewed on Newstalk ZB and Radio Live
Book prize lets down the young – NZ Herald Editorial
Bookstores refuse to sell Children’s Book of the YearTVNZ
Author (tries to) defendcontroversial book for teensNewstalk ZB
Award-winning kids’ book dropsc-bomb – NZ Herald
Judge defends winning kids’ book –sex, drugs, foul language and all
– NZ Herald

Family First supporter Sue Reid, who is a mum and a bookseller, wrote a review that argued that the book was worse than what the media had even suggested it was – READ HER FULL REVIEW

Well, the Office of Film and Literature Classification have reviewed the book after we laid an official complaint – and guess what. They’ve given it the ‘green light’ – the ‘thumbs up’. They’ve acknowledged that it’s suitable for mature audiences 16 years of age and over, and that it contains sex scenes, offensive language and drug use. But no warning sticker. into the river warningNo label. Nothing to warn parents about the content. (The image to the right shows how we believe the book should be displayed!)

But what really shocked us was their justification for their decision. Here’s just a few of their statements made in their attempt to justify their moral bankruptcy:

“…The issue of having sex under the legal age is not discussed or raised in any way in the novel… The sexual material in the book assumes some maturity and life experience from the reader…”

“There is illegal drug use presented in the storyline…  descriptions of use are mildly educative… the drug use is peppered throughout the novel… its presence may have a trivialising or desensitising effect on some readers.”

 “…his relationship with the teacher is dubious, probably sexual, but this is not dwelt upon…”

The book contains a limited amount of highly offensive language, almost always used in the context of frustration and anger (so that makes it ok?!) and occasionally in  ways that indicate a need to be seen as sophisticated and worldly.”

“The word ‘f**k’  and its derivatives are used occasionally and the word ‘c**t’ is seen once. (WRONG! Sue Reid says the f-word is used extensively throughout the text, and the c-word is used on six occasions. Why is the Censor lying about this??)

“The language is not likely to cause harm. These are words and terms that have relatively common usage amongst  teenage boys.” (Really?! Maybe in your house..)

“Chief Judge of the awards, Bernard Beckett says “it’s a truly marvellous and indeed moral book.”” (cough, cough, splutter.. Where’s the Tui billboard?)

“It is written to entertain but mostly and more importantly to edify..” (We’d hate to see a book that is not for edification then!)

“The novel has deep and enduring purpose.”

“The book deals with some stronger content. There are sexual relationships between teenagers, encounters with possible child sex exploitation, the use of illegal drugs and other criminal activities, violent assault, and a moderate level of highly offensive language.” (But here’s the best bit!).. These are well contextualised…” (Really?!)

“While there are significant passages describing sexual activity and brazen drug use, the book holds far more complexity…”

“(Chief Judge of the awards, Bernard Beckett says): The language, the sexual references and the drugs are as integral to the story as domestic violence is integral to Othello.” 

“The low number of calls (to the Classification Office) suggests that books of this type are considered by our society as relatively benign in impact and affect..”  Of course, it could also indicate that society considers the Classification Office as benign in impact and effect

Interestingly, the report acknowledges “a reasonable and conscious responsibility taken by marketers to warn parents and caregivers and thus provide protection for children and
young people…”
Something the Classification Office won’t do.

Library father daughter smallThe other fascinating aspect is that the report complements the book because of the analysis of the racism. “The strength of the publication is the clarity and the analysis of the intermittent but continuing racism that Te Arepa is subject to from boys, teachers and other adults he encounters.”  So analysis of racism is important, but it’s anything-goes-no-worries for teenage sex, illegal drug activity, child sexual exploitation, and violence. OK – glad we cleared that up.

So there you have it. If you want evidence that you should never trust decisions made by the OFLC, it’s in this decision.

The problem is that the content and message of the book will reach children as young as 13, and possibly younger, in school and public libraries, who will be viewing this harmful material. This is an ADULT book. Please check that it’s not in your child’s school library.

But the underlying message is this:
Parents must be the gatekeepers for their children and their moral development and protection. Government and governmental organisations should not be relied
upon. In fact, they may even need to be considered ‘hostile’.

This decision should serve as a clear warning.

Bob McCoskrie
National Director – Family First NZ