There’s an old adage that any publicity is better than no publicity, and for Kiwi YA author Ted Dawe the media spotlight this last week has been significant.
His book Into The River – a winner in the 2013 New Zealand Post Childrens’ Book Awards – was banned after a fresh complaint from a lobby group calling itself ‘Family First’.
It’s apparently the first time that a book has been banned in New Zealand under current legislation, the ‘Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993’. Anybody selling or exhibiting it can face stiff fines of up to $3000 per individual or $10,000 for a company. So the huge flood of media publicity has been no good at all for sales – nobody can buy the book in New Zealand.
Several versions of how all this happened have circulated on New Zealand media, but as far as I can tell, complaints from Family First resulted in the Internal Affairs Department submitting it to the Censors’ office in July 2013, when it was initially classified “M” (unrestricted), but then – after a review on the back of a Family First appeal – classified “R14″. Auckland Libraries asked the censor to review that rating in March this year, largely because this classification made it difficult for the target audience to actually read it, and on 14 August it was reclassified as unrestricted. Just four days later, Family First complained to the review board, and on 3 September the book was banned pending further review.
The whole of the objection, in terms of legal process, seems to have come from a single source. According to Wikipedia, ‘Family First’ was formed in 2006, and it’s described on that website as a ‘conservative Christian’ lobby group. Just to put some numbers on that term in New Zealand, according to the 2013 census around 78 percent of all New Zealanders stated they were not Christian in any sense, and for a significant proportion of the total population (on average, nearly half) that was because they were not religious at all. The fact also remains that the majority of the roughly 22 percent who did say they were Christian were also Catholic or Anglican (in that order) – neither of which denominations has formally objected to the book.
Based on these descriptions, as read through the media and the Statistics New Zealand site, I am left with the curious impression of the tail being enabled, through processes built into law, to wag the dog.
Where next for this book? The responsible authority is the censors’ office, and while they are required to listen to complaints from the public – which is reasonable and necessary – they are also required to make reasonable and balanced judgements. Also sensible. So we’ll see.
Meanwhile – any thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015