An award-winning coming of age novel is back on shelves throughout New Zealand after the country’s Office of Film & Literature Classification lifted its temporary ban.
Into the River by New Zealand native author Ted Dawe was banned in his home country last month when the group Family First challenged the inclusion of the book in libraries and retail stores for subject matter they declared to be too sexual for children under 14. The temporary ban, which held legal weight, meant that any library or store that carried the book could be fined $1,800 until OFLC made a final decision about the fate of the title.
The decision to restore the book was made last week and represents a victory for free speech and free access to books in New Zealand. OFLC determined that banning the book from stores and public libraries itself was illegal and as such the ban couldn’t be maintained. “Whilst many parents may choose not to allow their children to read such material, there are no grounds to restrict the book from teenage readers,” it noted in the ruling. Libraries across New Zealand took to social media sites to celebrate the ruling and new “unrestricted” status of the book.
The initial ban of the book was the first in 22 years since New Zealand’s current censorship laws were established, but it was the decision to uphold its citizens’ right to access books freely that saw the decision overturned. “New Zealand is a safe, conservative place thousands of miles from anywhere except Australia; another safe, conservative place,” Dawe told The Guardian. “Given this, then, it was shocking to discover that my book has provoked a backlash — that the very mechanism designed to protect our freedom has been used to limit it.”
In light of the decision, Family First is spoke out about the ruling, which they call a “flip-flop decision” that sets a “dangerous precedent” for other “age-inappropriate” books. “A dangerous precedent has been set and parents will now feel disempowered and that their concerns will be ignored regarding similar books which they may not want their young teenagers and pre-teens to be reading,” said Bob McCoskrie, national director of the organization. “This is a loss for the ability for families to protect their children from age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful.”
Family First fails to recognize that the decision does not impede their rights as parents and that censorship is not the answer. Although Family First perceives a family’s ability to control what their children read in the form of legally enforced ratings and “appropriate censorship rules,” it really boils down to parents’ responsibility to be aware of what their children are checking out of libraries and buying in book stores — not the government’s. In making the decision to restore the book, OFLC has upheld the freedom to read throughout New Zealand.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!