Flip-Flop Decision on Explicit Book Sets Dangerous Precedent

Media Release 14 Oct 2015
Family First NZ is disappointed that the Film and Literature Board of Review has kowtowed to pressure from the book industry and removed any restriction on Into the River by Ted Dawes despite its highly offensive and gratuitous language, adult themes and graphic sexual content. This contradicts their own previous decision on the book. The decision also says that in 2013, the Classification Office actually sought to have the book classified as R16. Once again the decision of the Board was not unanimous, and the President expressed the view that the actions of the Censor were illegal.

“A dangerous precedent has been set and parents will now feel disempowered and that their concerns will be ignored regarding similar books which they may not want their young teenagers and pre-teens to be reading. This is a loss for the ability for families to protect their children from age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful,” says National Director Bob McCoskrie.

“The irony is that we could not read sections of this book on air or print excerpts in newspapers because it would breach broadcasting and media standards. Yet our children are more than welcome to it.”

““There is a consensus amongst the public of New Zealand that children and young people should not be exposed to explicit sexual material intended for adults until they reach a level of maturity and experience that would allow them to cope with such material. In particular, young readers should not be exposed to images and text that they would be likely to find extremely shocking and disturbing.”  

Those are not our words. Those are the words of the Chief Censor when giving a book submitted by Auckland Libraries an R18 rating. We agree with the approach. The debate is where we draw the line in terms of what we expose our young people to – irrespective of the intention of the publication which may be simply seeking to push the boundaries.”

  • “I believe there are many innocent 13-year-olds and still younger people who need sheltering from very explicit descriptions of casual sex and drug taking. Parents have the primary responsibility but society has to help….. No responsible parent of a 17-year old, let alone of a 12-year old, would want this repetitive coarse language normalised.” 
  • Dissenting Opinion of the President of the Board

“Contrary to continued and false media commentary, Family First did not ask for the book to be banned and it hasn’t been. But we also do not believe the book should be freely available to 9 year olds, for example, as now determined. The book previously had an R14 restriction on it for more than a year. Where was the furore then? There was none. It was an appropriate classification.” says Mr McCoskrie.

“We would argue that parents should be able to make informed choices about all media that their children consume. 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.”

“There are many other great books that come highly recommended for young people and which encourage them to read and inspire them, without the use of highly offensive and gratuitous language and graphic sexual content,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“Our simple warning to parents is to preview any reading material that is being pushed at your children by libraries, schools, and now the Censor’s office. It is sad that it has come to this.”

Key statements in Majority Decision:

  • We respect and understand those concerns and readily accept that there are aspects of this book that many will find offensive and many will regard as entitled inappropriate for children.” (para 65 – our emphasis added)
  • Whilst many parents may choose not to allow their children to read such material, there are no grounds to restrict the book from teenage reader.” (para 89)

Key statements in Minority Decision:

  • I continue to believe that the appropriate restriction is R18. At the very least there should be an R14 restriction so that the book may not lawfully be distributed to persons aged 12 and 13 or even younger.” (para 1)
  • None of the factors cited by the Chief Censor amounts to an eligible “special circumstance” and his discretion was exercised unlawfully.” (para 8 – our emphasis added)
  • It is notable that the proponents of an unrestricted classification, and indeed the majority members of this Board… do not quote the relevant passages which are gratuitously explicit in my view. If they were planned to be read aloud as part of a radio play there would immediately be an understandable howl of protect, and they would be removed.” (para 9)
  • “Most responsible parents would, I believe, regard the book as sensationalising the behaviour described as well as presenting it as normal behaviour these days, i.e. normalising it.” (para 11)
  • “I believe there are many innocent 13-year-olds and still younger people who need sheltering from very explicit descriptions of casual sex and drug taking. Parents have the primary responsibility but society has to help.” (para 13 – our emphasis added)
  • “No responsible parent of a 17-year old, let alone of a 12-year old, would want this repetitive coarse language normalised.” (para 16)

READ the Majority Decision
READ the Minority Decision