15 Oct 2015

Family First to 'explore options' for book ban

2:27 pm on 15 October 2015

The fight is not over for a Christian lobby group wanting to stop under-18s from reading a previously banned book.

Karen McLeod reading Into the River in Wellington's Unity Book.

Karen McLeod reading Into the River in Wellington's Unity Book. Photo: RNZ/Nick Butcher

Yesterday was a victory for Ted Dawe's Into the River, when the Film and Literature Board of Review ruled it should have unrestricted access for all readers.

The book, for young adults, had been banned after Family First complained about its content, which includes sex scenes, drug use and swearing.

Family First national director Bob McCoskie was shocked by the decision, and said even the Classification Office sought to have the book rated as R16 in their submission.

He said the lobby group would consider challenging the decision.

"We don't accept it, because I don't want my 11-year old daughter reading it or my 14-year-old son reading the book, so we will look at our options," he said.

The board received 50 submissions in support of the book having unrestricted access and 480 submissions attached to Family First.

The ruling had majority support by the Board of Review, except for its president Don Mathieson, who said he continued to believe the appropriate restriction was R18.

Mr Mathieson argued the passages depicting sex scenes were gratuitously explicit.

"Irresponsible sexual activity simply for pleasure should not be engaged in by any teenagers, particularly those as young as 13. It does not equip them for adult sexual life; it may often be physically dangerous.

"It may contribute to youth suicide when a "relationship" breaks up, and it is not conducive to concentration on academic studies," he said.

But the majority of the board did not consider the book normalised or promoted the behaviours it described.

"The book does not sensationalise, glamorise or otherwise favourably portray the sex, violence, cruelty, demeaning behaviour and other undesirable conduct which it describes.

"The main characters in the book all experience negative outcomes from their involvement in these behaviours, both by way of being arrested or expelled, and also by being left isolated, unsatisfied, empty and otherwise emotionally and psychologically unhappy," it said.

Mr Dawe had expected an R14 restriction and said that would have caused problems.

"It's not so much the fact that 13-year-olds can't read the book, it means that it can't sit in the library shelves, it can't be handled around schools in the proper way. It creates an alarming precedent for people who write," Mr Dawe said.

Auckland Libraries submitted in favour of the book being classified as unrestricted.

Libraries manager Louise LaHatte said it already had 52 bookings for Into the River.

"Children choose their own reading. If they bring it and have a discussion with the librarian, the librarian might talk to them about the book and whether that's the best book for them," Ms LaHatte said.

"They might take it home and might have a discussion with their parents and look at whether the book is suitable. It does have a label on it saying there is explicit content," she said.

Wellington shop Unity Books has a backlog of orders for Into the River .

Unity Books spokesperson Karen McLeod said an age restriction on the book would have been hard to work with.

"I think putting an age restriction on things is really difficult because then you have to hide it and people can't discover it.

"They have to ask for it, so if they don't know about it, it is really hard to get it out there. I think everyone will know about this book now though," Ms McLeod said.

In 2013, the book won the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, as well as the Young Adult Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. It has recently picked up a US publisher.

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