Family First 'never wanted book banned'

The head of the Christian lobby group Family First said he never demanded the award-winning book Into the River be banned.

Bob McCoskrie. Photo: NZ Herald.
Bob McCoskrie. Photo: NZ Herald.

Bob McCoskrie told Radio NZ this morning that Family First had wanted censors to reinstate the book's R14 rating, which had been removed last month, and require that the book carry a warning sticker.

The censor has slapped an interim ban on the book, the first such ban in New Zealand in 22 years, until a final decision is made, possibly at the end of the 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.

Mr McCoskrie said: "We're not calling for it to be banned and we never have," Family First national director Bob McCoskrie told Radio New Zealand.

"We'd just like an age restriction in the same way that a movie has an R16 or R18.

"If you want to blame anyone for the book being banned, blame the censor's office because they went against due process."

He added: "It has sexually explicit material and it's a book that's got the c-word nine times, the f-word 17 times and s-h-i-t 16 times."

'Unhelpful precedent'

Bernard Beckett, who was chief judge of the Book Awards the year Into the River was named Book of the Year, said the rating Family First wanted was an "incredibly unhelpful precedent".

He told Radio NZ: "Something we're trying to do is increase literacy, especially amongst young males from educational deprived backgrounds, and we're looking for material to engage with them. As soon as you put R14 on it, you have to ask who are the people who have heft in society to go through the process and get their value system imposed."

A rating system would be a "logistical nightmare", he said.

Labour's arts and culture spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern says those responsible for classifying books need to be very careful before censoring books in New Zealand and should err on the side of freedom of speech over a ban.

Ms Ardern had not read Mr Dawe's book and a final decision on the book was still being considered.

"I think there is a reason for us to be concerned. It's something that's happened very rarely in New Zealand and for good reason. So we should be somewhat alarmed about this decision."

She said caution was needed when it comes to curtailing freedom of speech.

"We haven't seen that in New Zealand for more than a couple of decades."

She said it was "counter intuitive" that a book which had won a NZ Book Award would be banned.

"We would be very concerned about books that should be enjoyed for having been awarded from being stopped from being put into our schools or stopping children reading those books. So I hope this isn't a final decision."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she did not know the detail of the decision, but it should be up to parents to decide what books were suitable for their children.

"I absolutely believe in the right of choice and the choice to read a book - yes."

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