1 December 2015
Dr Don Mathieson QC
Film and Literature Board of Review President (retiring)
Dear Dr Mathieson
We note with regret that you have not been reappointed as President of the Film and Literature Board of Review.
On behalf of many NZ families, we want to thank you for being a voice of reason and sanity in the censorship arena, and for being willing to stand strong despite personal attacks and rants from the media, including being a ‘conservative Christian’, for writing a book about faith at work, and for opposing the redefinition of marriage. How shocking. (Ironically, one of your replacements loves marriage – including with other already-married people – but apparently ‘his private life does not affect his ability to be a moral authority’.)
Dr Mathieson – during the debate over censorship, community standards, and the book Into the River, you spoke for many many parents who are concerned with declining standards in our society, especially with material which our young people and children can so easily access, and a parent’s desire to protect their children from age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful.
Unlike the rest of the Board who flip-flopped on their decisions (and who along with the Chief Censor had no examination of their private life by the media), you did not kowtow to pressure from the book industry and remove any restriction on Into the River despite its highly offensive and gratuitous language, adult themes and graphic sexual content.
You remained consistent and principled.
You were correct to raise concerns about the legality of the Chief Censor revisiting the classification after the Board had reviewed the rating – a serious claim that was been conveniently ignored by the Censorship Office, but which has set a dangerous precedent.
While the rest of the Board said:
“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)
you quite rightly made a number of telling statements:
- “It is notable that the proponents of an unrestricted classification, and indeed the majority members of this Board… do not quote the relevant passages which are gratuitously explicit in my view.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)
Thank you for reflecting the views and concerns of so many families in New Zealand.
A dangerous precedent was set with this book, and many parents 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 of families to protect their children from age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful.
Your retirement from the Board is also a loss.
“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 the words of the Chief Censor when giving a book submitted by Auckland Libraries an R18 rating. We agree with the approach, as we know you do also.
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.
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.
Our simple warning to parents now is to preview any reading material that is being pushed at children by libraries, schools, and now the Censor’s office. It is sad that it has come to this.
However, we acknowledge your stand for families, and for parents who want to protect their children from age-inappropriate, offensive and sexualised material.
Dr Mathieson, we salute you. We thank you.