Into the River ban lifted by Film and Literature Board

Auckland novelist Ted Dawe.

Auckland novelist Ted Dawe.

The New Zealand Film and Literature Board has lifted the ban on Ted Dawe's controversial teen novel Into the River.

In a decision that was far from unanimous, the president of the board expressed the collective felt the actions of the censor were "illegal". 

Board president Don Mathieson delivered a dissenting minority report but the remainder of the board voted to allow the book to be sold without restriction, saying a previous ban on under-14s was no longer justified.

The conservative campaign group Family First are outraged at the decision, with national director Bob McCoskrie describing the ruling a "loss" for New Zealand families. 

Award-winning author Ted Dawe on the other hand, couldn't be more "thrilled" and "delighted" by the decision.

"This whole thing has been so entrenched in politics with all the publicity, in many ways I feel as though it's the end of the line for the book now. It can finally do it's job, what it was always supposed to do.

"I believe in freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. Everybody should hold an opinion. Family First are entitled to theirs, just as I am to mine. I don't subscribe to theirs, but they're certainly entitled to one," said Dawe. 

"Many argued that an R-14 restriction wasn't a ban at all. Of course it was a ban, it was restricting readership. If you're restricting the reader, nobody's going to read it."

Dawe, who felt the ban and subsequent politics surrounding his book detracted from the novel itself, was initially "surprised" by Family First's extreme reaction.

"As an artist, it's our job to hold a mirror up to society. It's not always what we want to see. We have no problem criticising Australia, criticising their history, particularly regarding race relations, yet when it comes to here at home, we expect a very PR version of our own country."

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Family First's McCoskrie explained the recent ruling was "a dangerous precedent" that would leave parents feeling "disempowered". McCoskrie described Into The River's content as "age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful".

"The irony is that we could not read sections of this book on air or print excerpts in newspapers because it would breach broadcasting and media standards. Yet our children are more than welcome to it," explained McCoskrie.

"Contrary to continued and false media commentary, Family First did not ask for the book to be banned and it hasn't been. But we also do not believe the book should be freely available to 9-year-olds, for example, as now determined. The book previously had an R14 restriction on it for more than a year. Where was the furore then?"

Dawe, who branded the views of Family First "wrong-headed" and "repressed" explained: "It's not Family First's job to parent other people's children, that is a parent's job. I was quite surprised this kind of thing (banning of books) is still going on, even today."

In a statement outlining their decision to lift the initial ban, the majority decision outlined: "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."

Whilst many parents may choose not to allow their children to read such material, there are no grounds to restrict the book from teenage reader". 

In stark opposition board president Don Mathieson's minority vote voiced that "no responsible parent of a 17-year old, let alone of a 12-year old, would want this repetitive coarse language normalised."

In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Auckland Libraries spokesperson Louise LaHatte said the library "welcomed the decision" to lift the book's ban.

"Auckland Libraries submitted to the classification board in support ofInto The River, on the basis that the work should be unrestricted," she said.

"We have now started to make our copies available across our region's network of libraries," LaHatte said. "We have a long list of requests and customers who have been waiting will start to get notices advising they can pick it up from their local library."

The award-winning novel was banned earlier this year, with individuals and organisations who knowingly supplied the banned book liable for fines of up to $3000 and $10,000 respectively.

It would be safe to assume Dawe however, can still see the light and the end of a very long tunnel.

"From what I've read, Family First have said some dreadful things about my book. Dreadful things," he said.

"In a way I suppose it's all backfired on them. Now more people than ever will read it, it's all publicity and for a New Zealand book, nonetheless."

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