Into The River

The Herald reports:

The author of the first book to be banned in New Zealand for at least 22 years is asking: “Will I be burnt next?”

Don’t get hysterical and silly. And it isn’t banned as much as suspended – there is a difference.

His award-winning book for teenagers, Into The River, has been banned from sale or supply under the order issued by the president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Dr Don Mathieson, QC.

The order took effect when it was issued on September 3 and applies until the full board meets to decide on a permanent classification for the book. Dr Mathieson said that would be as soon as possible and “may very well be at the end of this month”.

And why has this come about?

Mr Dawe said he was “blindsided” by the ban, which was sought by lobby group Family First after deputy chief censor Nic McCully removed a previous R14 restriction on the book on August 14, making it totally unrestricted.

“It’s extraordinary,” Mr Dawe said. “I’ve had quite a few emails from people who share that sense of outrage. Do we live in a country where books get banned? I’ll get burnt next.”

He said Family First director Bob McCoskrie and Dr Mathieson, who wrote a dissenting view advocating an R18 restriction when the majority of the board rated the book R14 in 2013, were overstepping the rules of a democratic society.

“Those two individuals are united in their determination to establish this as a line that will not be crossed. I feel they have wildly overstepped the whole mechanism of looking at art and making judgments on it,” he said.

First of all this controversy will be great for the book. They should be thankful. It will go from being an obscure book to a best seller now.

As for the substance, what puzzles me is that the Deputy Chief Censor seemingly can over-rule the Board of Review. The timeline seems to be:

  • Censor’s Office classified it as M, unrestricted
  • An appeal to the Board of Review saw it rated R14, with the President wanting R18
  • Deputy Chief Censor over-turns the R14 and reclassifies it as M
  • Board of Review President bans it temporarily until the Board can classify it again

What amazes me is the Deputy Chief Censor can over-turn the Board of Review. Surely this is ridiculous? And even if they have the power, why would you do that? I’m surprised that media haven’t been asking questions about this. There seems to be a power struggle here.

Don’t think this means I think it should be classified R14 or R18. I haven’t read it so can’t say, but instinctively I am anti- and am highly unlikely to think it should be restricted.

But having the Deputy Chief Censor able to ignore the Board of Review just seems barmy. I presume it is legal, but if so it seems idiotic. The whole purpose of a review or appeal board is that they are superior and binding.

UPDATE: Graeme Edgeler has a useful backgrounder on this. He notes:

This wasn’t all that long ago, so I was pretty surprised at news of the reclassification by the Censor. The Censor gets to make decisions, but these can be reviewed by the Film and Literature Board of Review, which gets to make (subject to High Court review) the final decision. As with all classification decisions, the Censor can revisit them after a time (it does so occasionally when asked, notably in respect of books banned years ago. In 2012, after the book ‘Bloody Mama’ (banned in 1971), was seized at the border, the Censor looked at it again, and reclassified it as unrestricted), but the general rule is that decisions stand for at least three years.

It’s been less than three years since that R14 decision of the Board of Review, so the Censor needed to be “satisfied that there are special circumstances justifying reconsideration”.

I can understand reviewing a classification 40 years on. But having a lower body overturn the decision of the higher body after just three years seems wrong to me.

What would be preferable is that if the censor felt the classification needs to change, is they should ask the Review Board to review its decisions. Basically if a decision has been made by the Review Board, then only the Review Board can change it. If that happened, then no suspension would be needed, as the consequence of a turf war.

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