Censor Betrays Families On Sexually Explicit Teen Book

Media Release 18 Aug 2015
The Office of Film and Literature Classification has gone back on its own decision regarding Into The River by Ted Dawe – a book laced with detailed descriptions of sex acts, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking. The book came to public attention after it took top prize in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. Award organisers hastily sent “explicit content” stickers to booksellers after the book’s win.

“The Office of Film and Literature Classification originally reviewed the book, and acknowledged that it’s suitable for mature audiences 16 years of age and over, but they made no requirement to warn parents about the content. They said it was up to marketers and booksellers to take the responsibility of warning parents and caregivers – something the OFLC wouldn’t do. Now they have said it’s a ‘free-for-all’ despite the Board classifying the book as R14 under appeal,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“The OFLC made no attempt to ask parents or youthworkers what their view of the book is, and have once again based their judgment extensively on those with a vested interest in the book or its award – for example, the chief judge of the Awards, and those in the booksellers industry. Ironically, the NZ Association for the Teaching of English who they went to agreed with the R14 classification.”

“The Censor fails to mention the widespread condemnation by many in the media including the NZ Herald editorial, and they also fail to acknowledge the massive protest to NZ Post calling on them to withdraw the Award given to the book, and that some bookstores refused to sell the book,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“Most significantly, they have ignored the dissenting opinion of the Board President Dr Don Mathieson who agreed with Family First that the book should have an R18 rating and that the book, if not restricted, will ‘cause serious harm to at least some persons under the age of 18’, and that the book ‘describes physical conduct of a degrading or demeaning nature to such an extent or degree’ that it is likely to cause younger teenagers to be ‘greatly disturbed or shocked’.”

Dr Mathieson refers to the ‘heavy use of offensive words’ which he believes is included in part to increase the notoriety and sales of the book! 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.

Other concerns with the book, but ignored by the Censor, are the issues of having sex under the legal age, illegal drug use, child sex exploitation and the sexual relationship between the student and the teacher, and violent assault.

“The Censor has tried to argue that freedom of expression was not taken into consideration by the Board and that this freedom trumps the welfare and protection of young people. They have completely failed to consider the content of this book and the young target audience who will be affected by this material,” says Mr McCoskrie.

Family First will be appealing the decision and asking for the decision to be referred back to the Board.

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