SUBMISSION TO THE FILM AND LITERATURE BOARD OF REVIEW – Into the River

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WARNING: The Material in this Submission may offend you. Reader discretion advised. Not suitable for children or young people.

22 September 2015

 

Film and Literature Board of Review
c/- The Secretary for Internal Affairs
Department of Internal Affairs
P.O.Box 805
Wellington 6140.  

Into the River – by Ted Dawes
SUBMISSION TO THE FILM AND LITERATURE BOARD OF REVIEW

          SUMMARY

  1. We would request that the decision of the Classification Office dated 14 August 2015 be overruled, and that the classification given by the Board of Review (January 2014) be simply reinstated.
  2. The deputy chief censor has deemed that this book is suitable and should be available to children as young as primary school age. We completely disagree. We also believe that if her decision is upheld, it will set a dangerous precedent for similar books which many parents do not want their young teenagers and pre-teens reading.
  3. The actions of the deputy chief censor should also be investigated. The deputy chief censor, under pressure from special interest groups, has rejected the subsequent and higher ruling of the Board of Review (January 2014) regarding this book. We believe this to be illegal – and a highly politicised decision without due process and at variance with the requirements of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.
  4. The decision of the Board of Review was robust. All Board members took the view (contrary to the OFLC original decision) that the book should be classified AGE RESTRICTED.
  5. LACK OF LEGAL GROUNDS: One of the most concerning aspects of this process is that we do not believe that the deputy chief censor had legal grounds to review the book, and should not be able to simply ignore or undermine the robust appeal process. If the OFLC are allowed to do it with this book, that will set a dangerous precedent. 
    Section 42 Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993

    Reconsideration of publications
    (1) Any person may, with the leave of the Chief Censor, submit any publication to the Classification Office for reconsideration of the last decision of the Classification Office or the Board in respect of that publication if not less than 3 years have elapsed since that decision was entered in the register in accordance with section 39, and the Classification Office may alter or confirm the previous decision.
    (2) Any owner, maker, publisher, or authorised distributor of a publication may submit that publication to the Classification Office for reconsideration of the last decision of the Classification Office or the Board in respect of that publication if not less than 3 years have elapsed since that decision was entered in the register in accordance with section 39, and the Classification Office may alter or confirm the previous decision.
    (3) Notwithstanding that the period specified in subsection (1) or subsection (2) has not expired, any person may, with the leave of the Chief Censor, submit any publication to the Classification Office for reconsideration of any decision made in respect of it within the period referred to in those subsections if—
    (a) in the case of a film, the film has been substantially altered since that decision; or
    (b) the Chief Censor is satisfied that there are special circumstances justifying reconsideration of the decision. 

    The application for review breaches the 3 year period set out in S. 42 of the FVPC Act 1993.The only grounds appear to be an appeal under S. 42 (3)(b) of that Act. However, it is highly arguable and subjective that there are valid ‘special circumstances’ in this case – especially considering the robust consideration and consequent decision already given by the Review Board!
  6. BIASED REVIEW: The OFLC made no attempt to ask parents or youth workers what their view of the book was, and have once again based their judgment almost exclusively on the opinions of those with a vested interest in the book or its award – for example, the chief judge of the Awards, and on those in the book sellers industry. Ironically, the NZ Association for the Teaching of English, who the OFLC sought support from, actually agreed with the R14 classification.
  7. They fail to take in to account the widespread condemnation[1] by many in the media including the NZ Herald editorial[2], and they also fail to acknowledge the massive protest to NZ Post calling on them to withdraw the Award given to the book[3], and that some bookstores refused to sell the book.
  8. They have ignored the dissenting opinion[4] of the Board President Dr Don Mathieson who agreed with Family First that the book should have an R18 rating and that the book, if not restricted, will ‘cause serious harm to at least some persons under the age of 18’, and that the book ‘describes physical conduct of a degrading or demeaning nature to such an extent or degree’ that it is likely to cause younger teenagers to be ‘greatly disturbed or shocked’. We support this view that it is the gratuitous, demeaning, degrading rendition in words of the sex acts and activities between adult and child that constitutes the cause for offence, as well as the gratuitous language put into the mouths of young people.
  9. Dr Mathieson refers to the ‘heavy use of offensive words’ which he believes is included in part to increase the notoriety and sales of the book! The c-word is used a staggering total of nine times – in a book supposedly targeted at teens. ‘F**k’ is used 17 times, ‘sh*t’ 16 times, and ‘c*ck’ 10 times, amongst others.
  10. Other concerns with both of the Censor’s reports are attempts to minimise the issue of the book’s contents, and its injurious impact on the minds of children, given the gratuitous and degrading manner it deals with children having sex under the legal age, illegal drug use, child sex exploitation and the sexual relationship between the student and the teacher, and violent assault.
  11. They based their first classification judgement extensively on those with a vested interest in the book or its award e.g. the author, the chief judge of the Awards, and a blogger who just happened to have ‘worked on in its initial assessment and editing phase’.[5]
  12. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: In their August 2015 classification decision[6], the Censor has tried to argue that freedom of expression was not taken into consideration by the Board and that this freedom trumps the protection of young people. They have completely failed to consider the content of this book and the young target audience who will be affected by this material. They have ignored the concerns of parents and bookstores. The Censor has been ‘captured’ by a group with a vested interest.
  13. We are also aware that the Censor has received over 400 emails of complaint about their latest decision from concerned kiwi parents. Their freedom of expression must also be respected.
  14. We have attached the emailed complaints that we were notified of as having been sent. It may be that the  Censor’s office has received substantially more. <ATTACHMENT OF COMPLAINTS>
  15. It is preposterous and down-right insulting for the deputy chief censor to suggest that the Board failed to achieve the required balance between the rights the public have to be protected from the injurious impact of material deemed objectionable to young persons and children, and the competing right that such persons have to access this material.
    Bill of Rights Act 1990
    14 Freedom of expression
    Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.Justified limitations
    Subject to section 4, the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.Interpretation consistent with Bill of Rights to be preferred
    Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.
  16. The author and his supporters in the Library service are focused on the ‘rights’ of adults to write this sort of offensive material under the guise of “freedom of expression”. To a lesser extent they are focused on the ‘rights’ of children to access it – to so-called ‘rights’ for children to freedom to access material deemed objectionable.
  17. But the Bill of Rights states that “freedom of expression” and “freedom to access information” considerations do not automatically trump the laws that were written to allow censorship to be applied to protect the public good.
  18. THE MANY REASONS WHY THE BOARD PLACED RESTRICTIONS ON THE BOOK: We appreciate the fact that you have already reviewed the book which deals with graphic sexual content and paedophilia. Explicit descriptions of drug taking glorify the abuse of drugs, and there is the misuse of adult power and sinister manipulation of 14 year olds. Many would find these ‘themes’ abhorrent, and definitely not the content or style that suits a children’s book. We would not suggest this book to a 15 year old. In fact, not to any school age person. Many adults have found it highly offensive and upsetting.
  19. The c-word is used extensively along with f-word. There are many great books that come highly recommended for young people and which encourage them to read, without the use of highly offensive and gratuitous language and graphic sexual content.
  20. The themes are also not appropriate for children. Steph is having an affair with his music teacher, Willie, along with having an affair with his father’s work colleague (who is a father himself). i.e. two separate paedophiles sexually abusing a 14 year old. On a holiday back to East Coast, Devon has a graphic sexual encounter with young single mum (Tania) – twice…the second time whilst her young baby is in the room and who starts to mimic her mother’s sounds of arousal (yet another scene normalising paedophilia).
  21. Back to school and Steph takes Devon to see their music teacher Willie during the weekend. Willie takes the boys to an isolated beach and they swim naked, then smoke a joint. The session finishes back at Willie’s house where the boys strip, and photos are taken of the boys (more sexual abuse)….these photos are added to a large pile of photos of naked boys.
  22. Willie is one of the teachers who lead a school camp to Waiheke Island and both Steph and Devon are opportunistic to sneak graphic sexual encounters. The teachers in ‘control’ of camp lead the students in drug taking of ecstasy (drug abuse) and ends with a night swim complete with naked teacher and student engaging in an incident of statutory rape (yet more sexual abuse). No teacher holds any student accountable and it is a vile misuse of a teacher’s position and power. There is no positive moral outcome here to redeem this sordid and tawdry depiction of teacher exploitation
  23. EXCERPTS (Warning – Contains offensive material. Not suitable for children)….Tania had Devon’s jeans off much faster than he managed to clear the hooks on her bra. The urgency now bordered on panic. Then she had his cock in her wet hand. He gasped. The next thing was he felt a fluttering convulsion and came immediately, draping the wall of the bathroom with a ribbon of sperm.
  24. ….“Come with me.” She took him by his erect cock and led him through into the lounge where the baby was still gurgling happily in its play-pen…She let him blunder around for a moment or two and then reached back and carefully guided him into place. At this point, everything became simple. Details disappeared as he focused on her creamy back and hips. Nothing more was said; both were locked in their rooms of pleasure, where for a while everything melted into insignificance, This time Devon was able to contain himself. He could feel her rib cage heave as she gasped for breath. The she began to make noises, soft grunts at first, then little affirmations and then finally commands. Across in the baby pen, Eru began to mimic her calls. Finally she shuddered and went limp. Devon kept going but then stopped too. He knew Wiremu would be there soon and there seemed no prospect of coming for a second time. Tania slid onto the couch and began to rub a tower vigorously between her legs. “Mmm, yummy.” Then she tossed the tower to him.
  25. …..Their mouths parted again, and still gasping, they stared into each other’s eyes. Nothing was said; there was nothing to say. When they kissed again, this time slowly, more carefully, he was able to fumble free the buttons of her blouse and she lifted herself clear to help his urgent caress. His cock, which had hardened at the first kiss, now felt her hand tighten around it. What had strained awkwardly in the folds of his jeans now straightened to her touch. His mouth found her nipple as he felt her hand slip inside his zip. There were a few moments of exquisite pleasure before he came with a shuddering gasp inside his underpants. The ecstatic release immediately mutated into disappointment. The moment, the opportunity, had come and gone so quickly. “I’ve come…”
  26. ….Devon turned and began to nibble at Sina’s neck and earlobe. He could feel himself growing hard again, which surprised him because the water was so cold. Sina pulled away for a moment and then came in to kiss him on the mouth. He wondered what had been said between the two girls. He moved into shallower water until Sina slid lower on his body. In the shallows the steady rise and fall of the water made them rub rhythmically together. Devon sensed her recognition as his cock slid up between their tightly clasped bodies. Even though he had come only hours earlier he knew he could not delay this much longer. He pulled her pants to one side and fumbled for her vagina. He expected resistance but there was none. In a moment he was inside her. She felt hot compared to the water in the bay. He was able to raise and lower her easily in the bobbing water and she gasped in his ear as he drove deeper. This time his overwhelming feeling was one of accomplishment. He wanted to stay there forever; the two of them locked, joined and somehow completed. A moment later he sensed her eagerness to struggle free so he grasped her hips and covered her mouth with his. Her wriggling, his thrusts, her fingernails on his shoulders, his beating heart, all quickly climaxed in an exquisite shuddering burst. ‘God!’ she said and struggled free.
  27. ….“Bullshit!” Brigg’s face was bright red, which made his acne even more lurid. “Steady, Briggs” said Devon, shielding is eyes. “They’re going to blow.” It was the standard anti-Briggs jibe about his acne. “Fuck you, Devon, y’black cunt,” he screamed, then stormed off.
  28. ….“Dear Steph, I used to believe we were friends, that we cared about each other. I know I did. Now I don’t understand you. Since you have been with Willie you have turned into a cunt. There’s no other word for it. Although it’s difficult I am going to have nothing to do with you from now on. Your (ex) friend, Barry Briggs.” Steph looked up, with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m a cunt, Devon. There’s no other word for it.” “Well, I like cunts Steph, I have to tell you.”
  29. ….“Spicks and sprouts, wogs and frogs, they’re all slimy cunts… make crap cars. Cars for poofs.”
  30. ….Devon’s face was red and tear-stained, pressed against the carpet. He kept repeating. “You fucken, fucken cunt. I’m gonna kill you.”
  31. …. During the holidays I found a friend. A secret friend.” “I don’t know that I want to hear this story.” “My friend…” “The word is ‘he’, I reckon…” “Okay, he then, was secret not because he was a he, but because he was much older than me, one of my father’s colleagues.” Devon didn’t say anything. “There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. I reckon I learnt more in those ten days that I did all of last year.” Devon put his fingers in his ears. “I don’t want to hear this, Steph…” Steph came over and sat on the edge of his bed. “You know how we had that argument with Mr Carell, the one about Achilles and Patrocolus? The great fag debate?” “So you decided to put it to the test?” “No, it’s just that I wanted to make my a priori knowledge a bit more a posteriori.” “Yeah. So you put your posterior on the line.” “Forget the sex stuff. That’s just packaging. It opened the door and I peered through. The stuff I saw… well, it changed the way I look at things. I stopped being scared, Nothing scares me now.” “Briggs sure doesn’t.” “He’s nothing. Just something to practice on.” “So you spent your holidays doing stuff for your father’s friends?” “Just one friend. He’s got a boy my age.” Devon was appalled. “Poor kid, that’s all I can say. Jesus, he’s someone’s dad. Steph, how sick is that?” Steph continued unabashed. “The thing is, Devon, we’re in charge now. I told you it’s us.” “Until another cunt like Hartnell comes along. He will. Briggs might turn into one.” ”Ha! He’s my pet. I’ll show you…”
  32. The book offers nothing in the way of hope, inspiration or how to have a healthy personal relationship. All ‘hook-ups’ are based on animalistic drives… nothing else, and is void of any kinship.
  33. FILMS, VIDEOS, AND PUBLICATIONS CLASSIFICATION ACT 1993 We would refer you to s3A of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 3A   Publication may be age-restricted if it contains highly offensive language likely to cause serious harm
    (1) A publication to which subsection (2) applies may be classified as a restricted publication under section 23(2)(c)(i).
    (2) This subsection applies to a publication that contains highly offensive language to such an extent or degree that the availability of the publication would be likely, if not restricted to persons who have attained a specified age, to cause serious harm to persons under that age.
    (3) In this section, highly offensive language means language that is highly offensive to the public in general. http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1993/0094/latest/whole.html#DLM313410 (our emphasis added) and also section 3, in terms of the paedophilia themes contained in the book
    Meaning of Objectionable
    (2) A publication shall be deemed to be objectionable for the purposes of this Act if the publication promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support,—
    (a) the exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes; …..
    (3) In determining, for the purposes of this Act, whether or not any publication (other than a publication to which subsection (2) applies) is objectionable or should in accordance with section 23(2) be given a  classification other than objectionable, particular weight shall be given to the extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication—
    (a) describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with—
    (i) acts of torture, the infliction of serious physical harm, or acts of significant cruelty:
    (ii) sexual violence or sexual coercion, or violence or coercion in association with sexual conduct:
    (iii) other sexual or physical conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature:
    (iv) sexual conduct with or by children, or young persons, or both:
    (v) physical conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain:
    (b) exploits the nudity of children, or young persons, or both:
                                   (our emphasis added)                                                                     
  34. CENSOR’S VIEW IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING: The Office of Film and Literature Classification originally acknowledged that it’s suitable for mature audiences 16 years of age and over[7], and that it contains sex scenes, offensive language and drug use. But they made no requirement to warn parents about the content. They said it was up to marketers and booksellers to take the responsibility of warning parents and caregivers – something the Classification Office wouldn’t do.
  35. It is now incredible that the deputy chief censor wants to remove any and all restrictions on the book. Their view is changing like the wind.
  36. The NZ Herald on Sunday editorial[8] (a newspaper which is no bastion of social conservatism) correctly says:
    “Novelists should not let the crude depictions of New Zealand on air wash back into its literature, particularly when writing for the young. Teachers and school librarians do teenagers a disservice when they point them towards books that need to shock to capture their interest. Teenagers are not shocked by the subject matter, of course. They can see worse without going to much trouble. What might shock them is that teachers and librarians have put this stuff in front of them. Teenagers would never say so, but they do not want this sort of fare from their school any more than they would want it from their parents. It is not prudish or patronising to maintain a certain standard, it is re-assuring them that quality exists and people they respect can recognise it…The only warning that Dawe’s material really needs is that reading it almost certainly will be a waste of time.”
  37. And freelance journalist and commentator Jock Anderson rightly says[9]:
    “Liberally sprinkling a book aimed at youngsters with foul language – of a kind that not so long ago would have led to arrest – is no way to increase anyone’s literacy. Certainly not that of teenagers. Writers have plenty of perfectly good expressive words in the English language to choose from, without reducing literary and language standards to the lowest common denominator. While bad language may be the norm in the playground, you can bet it isn’t tolerated in the classrooms of teachers marching to the freedom-of-speech drum. And why are young males from “educational deprived backgrounds” taught that swearing is a good way for them to communicate? Does this mean they are written-off as knuckle-dragging proles? Youngsters need inspiration, guidance and discipline if they are to engage fruitfully, communicate decently with each other and make their mark. They don’t have many role models, not if the swearing heard on buses and around bars and cafes is anything to go by. There’s no need for it… Charles Dickens didn’t do it that way – and he knew about deprived backgrounds.” 
  38. FACTUALLY INCORRECT REPORT: The original Censor’s report[10] was littered with errors, and said “The word ‘f**k’ and its derivatives are used occasionally and the word ‘c**t’ is seen once. The language is not likely to cause harm. These are words and terms that have relatively common usage amongst  teenage boys.” This was factually incorrect. In fact, the c-word is used a staggering total of nine times –(in a book supposedly targeted at teens!) ‘F**k’ is used 17 times, “sh*t” 16 times, and “c*ck” 10 times, amongst others.
  39. Contrary to the claims of the author, this language is not common amongst teenage boys, and virtually every school and parent would not want it being normalised.
  40. STANDARDS: We note that in the recent report released by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, “What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting 2013” [11], these words were in the top eight words or phrases rated as totally or fairly unacceptable. The survey measured how acceptable the public finds the use of swearwords, blasphemies and other expletives in broadcasting.
  41. If these words are deemed unacceptable even to adults on other mediums such as radio and television, why are they deemed acceptable at such a high level and amount in a book for young people?
  42. THE ROLE OF CLASSIFICATION: Family First believes that parents should be able to make informed choices about the media that their children consume. We also need to teach our children to be responsible users. There is such a thing as age-appropriate media. That means there needs to be appropriate censorship rules around ‘right time and place’, and these rules must be upheld and respected by government agencies. It is only when parents and schools have confidence in these agencies, that they can then rely on their guidelines when making decisions as to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Every family is different but they must be able to make informed decisions.
  43. WHAT TEENAGE BOYS ACTUALLY DO WANT TO READ: The 2015 “What Kids Are Reading” Report[12] analysed the reading habits of over half a million children in over 2,700 UK schools. It is interesting to note the books that teenage boys are reading and loving – books that help “shape and inspire” teenagers, and give them the empathic tools and words to handle some of the challenges of adolescence, without having to revert to “crude depictions,[13]without reducing literary and language standards to the lowest common denominator,”[14] and without the use of highly offensive and gratuitous language and graphic sexual content.
    Most Popular Titles for Boys in Years 9-11
    The Hunger Games“ by Suzanne Collins
    Of Mice and Men“ by John Steinbeck
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid“ Series by Jeff Kinney
    Stone Cold“ by Robert Swindells
    Catching Fire“ by Suzanne Collins
    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas“ by John Boyne
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory“ by Roald Dahl
    Private Peaceful“ by Michael Morpurgo
    Animal Farm“ by George Orwell
    Mockingjay“ by Suzanne Collins
    The Recruit“ by Robert Muchamore
    Class A“ by Robert Muchamore
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon
    Divergent” Series by Veronica Roth
  44. REQUEST FOR RATING: We would request that the decision of the Classification Office (deputy chief censor) dated 14 August 2015[15] be overruled
  45. We would request that the Board of Review reinstate their decision from January 2014[16]
  46. We would request that the actions of the deputy chief censor on this publication be reviewed.
  47. For the benefit of parents, the rating sticker should be prominent on the cover (not just the ‘explicit content’ badge)
  48. We would note that we agree with the concerns raised by the President in his dissenting opinion from 2014 and believe that our original application of an R18 rating would be the most appropriate classification.[17] However, we accept the previous decision of the Board of Review.
  49. Thank you for your consideration
  50. Bob McCoskrie
    National Director

[1] https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/2013/07/bookstores-refuse-to-sell-childrens-book-of-the-year/ and http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10893849

[2] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/arts-literature/news/article.cfm?c_id=18&objectid=10893783

[3] http://www.oamarumail.co.nz/education/childrens-books-award-draws-protest/

[4] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-BOR-dissenting-opinion.pdf

[5] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-OFLC-decision.pdf

[6] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-OFLC-reconsideration-decision-2015.pdf

[7] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-OFLC-decision.pdf

[8] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/arts-literature/news/article.cfm?c_id=18&objectid=10893783

[9] http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/283942/opinion-books-shouldn’t-promote-swearing

[10] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-OFLC-decision.pdf

[11] http://bsa.govt.nz/publications/research/123-2013/6367-what-not-to-swear-the-acceptability-of-words-in-broadcasting-2013

[12] http://whatkidsarereading.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/what-kids-are-reading-report-2015.pdf

[13] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/arts-literature/news/article.cfm?c_id=18&objectid=10893783

[14] http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/283942/opinion-books-shouldn’t-promote-swearing

[15] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-OFLC-reconsideration-decision-2015.pdf

[16] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-BOR-majority-decision.pdf

[17] http://www.censor.org.nz/PDFs/Into-the-River-BOR-dissenting-opinion.pdf