Complete freedom of expression is impossible in a society that also allows censorship, says the man who has singlehandedly shut down sales of teen novel Into the River.
Don Mathieson, president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, said an interim restriction order – which makes it a crime to supply, display or distribute the award-winning book – was “in the public interest”.
“I’m just applying an act of Parliament … It’s impossible to have complete 100% freedom of expression and any form of censorship of written materials and that’s the tension we all have to live with and if anybody hasn’t got the brains to see that, then, I’m sorry . . . ”
Mathieson, speaking publicly for the first time since he issued his restriction order, said he had read Into the River“sufficiently recently to have a detailed knowledge of it”.
“I can’t comment on the merits of the book. It may have considerable merit and the board will decide whether it has or not. But the question is not how good of a bit of literature it is, but how does the act apply to it?”
His ruling remains in place until the next full meeting of the Review Board, scheduled for October 2.
Into the River, by Aucklander Ted Dawe, centres on a young East Coast Maori boy who wins a scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in Auckland.
In 2013, after it won Book of the Year at the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, Christian lobby group Family First applied for an R18 classification and shrink-wrap covering.
The group said the book dealt with graphic sexual content, paedophilia, and the misuse of adult power. It glorified the taking of drugs and contained “extensive” use of the “c” and “f” words.
For the next two years, the book bounced between the Classifications Office and the Film and Literature Review Board. It was variously classified as being more suitable for audiences over 16; objectionable to anyone under the age of 14 and, most recently last month, an “unrestricted” read.
That decision, by the Classification Office, prompted Family First to request the interim restriction order – which can, under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classifications Act 1993, be granted solely by the Board of Review president.
Mathieson’s order, granted on September 3, means individuals and organisations (including schools and libraries) who knowingly supply the book, are liable for fines of up to $3000 and $10,000 respectively. Into the River was immediately withdrawn from book stores and by mid-week, was no longer available for purchase in New Zealand in electronic form.
But Mathieson says it’s wrong to refer to his decision as a “ban”.
“It’s an interim restriction. Banning is an emotive word.”
Waikanae-based Mathieson is a QC and active Christian. He said detail about his personal background was “irrelevant”.
In 2012, he was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to law and legal education. An official notice records 40 years as a barrister in private practice and says he was a Professor of Law at Victoria University, Crown Counsel in the Crown Law Office and “has many church and community involvements”.
He is the editor of the book Faith at Work, described by Castle Publishing as a “thought provoking symposium discussing the relevance of Christianity in the workplace … Faith goes beyond the church on Sunday. It must impact on every area of life”.
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