The Dim-Post

September 7, 2015

Into the River and Off the Cliff

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:22 pm

I’d like to read a lawyer’s explanation of what’s going on here:

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

Ted Dawe, 64, the head of studies at Taylors College for international students in Auckland, is the unlikely subject of the first interim restriction order on a book under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.

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”.

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.

. .  because the law is all about due process and sometimes that has weird outcomes that have a deeper wisdom to them, or often, actually, don’t and just force officials to do absurd things because that’s the law. But outright banning an acclaimed prize-winning New Zealand novel just because a handful of activists asked them to seems like such a staggeringly disproportionate outcome that I think it calls the fitness of this board into question. If they can’t provide an astoundingly good reason for this then they need to be sacked immediately.

31 Comments »

  1. There’s an earlier story in the herald that makes more sense. It looks like a power play between the censor and review board. The way I read it, it is more an interim injunction until the disagreement over it’s classification is determined finally. It’s not yet the end of civilisation as we know it

    Comment by insider — September 7, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

  2. The President of the Board makes the decision. The President appears to have “traditional” views on moral issues, going by his earlier dissenting opinion on the classification of this book, and his lobbying for the Anglican Church to oppose gay marriage. The law allows him to make an interim decision on his own, if someone applies for a review. He has used his power, but I suspect he’ll lose the war, once the full Board meets.

    Comment by Dave Guerin — September 7, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Goddamit – wrote a long and involved answer to your cry for help and then lost it!!!

    The shorter version – anyone can appeal the censor’s decision. If an appeal is made, the President of the Review Board can (if asked) issue an interim restriction order “if satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so”. That order then (in effect) stops people being allowed to share/sell/trade the publication (although they can still possess it) until the matter is resolved. So it is meant to freeze the publication until its classification status is resolved.

    Two problems with the decision in this case. First off, the “interim injunction” analogy insider refers to would actually tell against the order being given … it is very, very hard to get a court to injunct the publication of material prior to a case of (say) defamation or the like. This is because freedom of expression usually has close to trumps status in such cases. Second, were told that the President who issued the order “wrote a dissenting view advocating an R18 restriction when the majority of the board rated the book R14 in 2013”. Now he’s saying that no-one can trade/share/sell it until his Board looks at the matter again. That’s … toubling.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 7, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

  4. And by “toubling”, I clearly mean “wirrisome”.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 7, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

  5. IMO, things have gone downhill since the Censor stopped ensuring the upkeep of of temples, determining who owned what slaves and recording who was legitimately of Equestrian rank.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 7, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  6. Kindle and I-Books hoping for a full censor’s “ban”.

    Comment by unaha-closp — September 7, 2015 @ 2:15 pm

  7. The idea of being able to censor a young person’s access to material that interests them is a bit anachronistic, I think. You put the words you want into Google, and out pops whatever you were looking for.

    When I was a child it used to take ten minutes to download a picture off Limewire, and it was uphill both ways. Yet we still found what we wanted.

    Comment by Moses — September 7, 2015 @ 2:16 pm

  8. What better advertisement is there than “Book banned”? “Book banned because of Family First” maybe? I bet the publisher cannot believe his good fortunes.
    When the ban is lifted end of this month, what are the odds that the book will hit the bestseller list.

    Comment by eszett — September 7, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

  9. “…recording who was legitimately of Equestrian rank…”

    Nice one centurion!

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 7, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

  10. I was thinking along similar lines. If an old fogey REALLY wanted to stop impressionable young eyes from reading a book, far better to give an official sanction.

    Comment by Bill Bennett — September 7, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

  11. Here’s what Don Mathieson – the President of the Board who has issued the order – said about Into the River back in 2014:

    “It is injurious to the public good to normalise, as the book does, sexual intercourse by young teenagers,” he said.

    “Into the River also portrays girls as all too ready for sexual activity. Drug-taking is also presented as the kind of thing that a modern young teenager does; if you don’t do it, it is likely you will be disapproved by your schoolmates.

    “The book is full of language that is highly offensive to the public in general.”

    Mathieson said the book had little merit in relation to social matters, and if not restricted, was likely to cause “serious harm to at least some persons under the age of 18”.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11184942

    I’d say there is a fair chance that his decision to the order is reflective of a personal view of the book’s merits and not a considered balancing of the NZBORA-guaranteed right to freedom of expression with the potential short term harm of some young adults gaining access to the book before a full appeal of the Censor’s decision can be heard.

    (Mathieson’s full opinion on the book is here: http://www.teddawe.com/3852940DA%20-%20Signed%20dissenting%20opinion%20-%20Into%20the%20River.pdf)

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 7, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

  12. Is Helen Clark trampling on our freedoms again? She needs to be stopped, because Nazis!!!111!! Also, Gallipoli or something.

    (said every liberty-loving National MP, today)

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — September 7, 2015 @ 3:04 pm

  13. — “I’d say there is a fair chance that his decision to the order is reflective of a personal view of the book’s merits and not a considered balancing of the NZBORA-guaranteed right to freedom of expression with the potential short term harm of some young adults gaining access to the book before a full appeal of the Censor’s decision can be heard.”

    His argument seems reasonably cogent. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say if it’s ultimately convincing, but if he really thinks it’s injurious to the public interest for people under 18 to have access to the book (which was his argument in his dissenting opinion) then why shouldn’t he exercise his power to ban it in the interim?

    Which is not to say I agree with the President of he board having that power in the first place mind you.

    Comment by Steve — September 7, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

  14. *the board…

    Comment by Steve — September 7, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

  15. The board doesn’t need to be sacked. The law needs to be changed so that we don’t censor books (or anything else that hasn’t involved illegal abusive behaviour in its production).

    Comment by richdrich — September 7, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

  16. “It is injurious to the public good to normalise, as the book does, sexual intercourse by young teenagers,” he said.

    “Into the River also portrays girls as all too ready for sexual activity. Drug-taking is also presented as the kind of thing that a modern young teenager does; if you don’t do it, it is likely you will be disapproved by your schoolmates.

    “The book is full of language that is highly offensive to the public in general.”

    As the Father of six girls (3 ex-teenagers, 2 teenagers and 1 preteen) can I just say WTF? I had thought until now that sexual intercourse, drugs and bad language were entirely normal…I’m worried now.

    Comment by PPCM — September 7, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

  17. “The book is full of language that is highly offensive to the public in general.”

    Just to put this bit in perspective … here’s Family First’s take on the sweary stuff:

    The c-word is used a staggering total of nine times – in a book supposedly targeted at teens. ‘F**k’ is used 17 times, ‘sh*t’ 16 times, and ‘c*ck’ 10 times, amongst others.

    https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/2015/08/censor-betrays-families-on-sexually-explicit-teen-book/

    I really hope they never pick up Trainspotting. Or even The Commitments.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 7, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

  18. @Steve,

    … but if he really thinks it’s injurious to the public interest for people under 18 to have access to the book (which was his argument in his dissenting opinion) then why shouldn’t he exercise his power to ban it in the interim?

    Different questions being addressed in each case. The first one is: “what do I think (as part of the wider Board) ought to be the rules under which this book is made available for the future?” Those rules can then be somewhat tailored to meet the harm … so he wanted an R18, the rest of the Board wanted a R14, but everyone else (i.e. 18 and older) is entirely unaffected by the ruling.

    The second one is: “what is the harm that will arise if this book is freely available to all until the appeal is heard (given the importance of allowing everyone to access this book and the quite reasonable chance that the Board will dismiss the appeal)”. Because the impact of the order is to stop everyone from being allowed to share/sell/lend this book to anyone else. Why is that extra imposition on expressive freedom justified?

    Note also that in answering that second question, it cannot be the President’s own personal, subjective opinion that determines the answer … it has to be a principled weighing of the potential harms.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 7, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

  19. I have to say I am glad to have a censor do his job…….And before people make assumptions I am not a christian. The language sounds offensive. And I agree about a book that normalizes sex between young teens below the age of consent…….I don’t like the idea of a book that portrays young woman as ready for sex……..Its a shame there isn’t more censorship in my opinion.

    Comment by anker — September 7, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

  20. Anything that exposes New Zealand’s censorship laws to ridicule and contempt sounds like a good idea to me.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — September 7, 2015 @ 8:03 pm

  21. Anything that exposes family first to ridicule and contempt sounds like a good idea to me.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — September 7, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

  22. Family First is made up of those who whine about PC gone mad in modern society. I say to them: look in the fucking mirror.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — September 7, 2015 @ 9:37 pm

  23. anker: books like “Into the River” don’t so much influence real life as they reflect it. Just as the Grand Theft Auto games are a darkly satirical view of modern America, rather than a ‘murder training manual’.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — September 7, 2015 @ 9:44 pm

  24. Kumara@22: And I say to them: look in the f*****g mirror, c**ts. If you pull this kind of s**t you’re behaving like a bunch of c**ks. Oh.

    Comment by Dr Foster — September 7, 2015 @ 10:27 pm

  25. I’d like to read a lawyer’s explanation of what’s going on here:…

    Well, Andrew has written one, although I note he’s not a lawyer🙂

    And I have written one too.

    In short, the law provides two alternatives for the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review, while waiting for the Board to make a decision:

    1. the restriction imposed by the censor can continue; or
    2. the book/other publication can be banned.

    There is no power to impose eg. an interim R14 restriction. When presented the two options: allowing 13 year-olds to read this for the next month, or banning everyone from reading* this for the next month, he went for the latter.

    I consider this an unreasonable choice. The interim restriction power is, I think, intended to allow the President of the Board of Review to impose a temporary ban, while the Board considers whether a permanent ban should be imposed (eg. there were applications for interim restriction orders in respect of the film Baise-moi. I do not think it was intended to permit a temporary ban in circumstances where no ban will possibly be imposed (even Family First is asking for, at most, an R18 restriction).

    [* reading the book is actually lawful, if you already have a copy.]

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 7, 2015 @ 10:30 pm

  26. @andrew I concur. I think Mathieson has taken a chance here on being able to bully the Board into confirming the injunction, given that Nic Cully has now left the OFLC. The Chief and Deputy Chief Censors are part of the Board as well as the external members (funny, I can’t find a list of them anywhere). Nic’s an eminently sensible person and has served well (obDisclaimer – I have worked with her on a different group) and her decision to remove the restriction will have rankled with Mathieson but is not one he can unilaterally overturn. Even a ‘dissenting opinion’ is irrelevant, legally speaking. I suspect Mathieson’s done the numbers and banked on being able to knock the new boy, Jared Mullen, into line. My money’s on Andrew Jack, who has to see this as a political challenge to the independence of the office and I think Mathieson may have bitten off more than he can chew.

    Comment by Mark Harris — September 7, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  27. Andrew,

    But he doesn’t have an option of banning only to those under 18 in the meantime, does he? Because if not, he is weighing up the harm of an inevitably temporary full ban against the harm to the public good he believes is likely otherwise. He obviously thinks that the book being available to under 18’s is injurious to the public good, so surely he must be “satisfied that it is in the public interest” to apply the temporary ban, which you said was the requirement to use the discretion.

    Comment by Steve — September 8, 2015 @ 12:21 am

  28. @Steve,

    As I’ve written here (sorry to hijack the thread), Dr Mathieson’s reasons for his decision are not sound: http://pundit.co.nz/content/into-the-river-should-not-have-been-banned

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 8, 2015 @ 7:40 am

  29. @Andrew I hope this Dr Mathieson doesn’t find out about a certain closeted homosexual detective living with another man, taking intravenous drugs. Those Victorian writers and their lack of morals.

    Comment by rsmsingers — September 8, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  30. I have to say I am glad to have a censor do his job
    I don’t think the Classification Office is given a specific quota to meet — “Ban X many books and DVDs per month or face a pay cut.”

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — September 8, 2015 @ 10:03 am

  31. anker @ 19. “And I agree about a book that normalizes sex between young teens below the age of consent”
    And Ruth Rendell normalises murder, this censor should ban her books!

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 14, 2015 @ 11:29 am


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