I am all for free speech. In fact, after life itself, it is my next dearest human right. I am therefore a bit of a libertarian – a word I normally shy away from using – to describe my view that what people chose to read is within certain limits entirely up to them. Thus one can imagine my surprise and disgust when I heard that a book that teenagers love, and is a best seller, has been subject to a ban.
Because Family First, a conservative lobby group with Christian values, says that it is profoundly wrong for children to be reading this sort of book. The book, which is called Into the River and is written by Ted Dawe is subject to a ban whose breach is punishable by fines between $3,000 and $10,000.
It has caused significant outrage amongst school and community librarians, who say that more graphic material is being accepted. It has been the subject of significant and heated debate on the internet (see the comments at the bottom of the article), and the Film and Literature Board of Review has a lengthy item on its website explaining the ban.
Now, not having read the book myself, you might ask how am I qualified to comment. The answer is simple. New Zealand is an open society, where within certain limits generally for good reason there is nothing one should not be able to watch/read/listen/do. The fact that librarians, who are likely to have a pretty good knowledge of what is popular and what is not, are saying that there is more explicit material already on shelves that has not been censored to this degree, suggests to me a knee jerk reaction by Family First. Did they or their predecessors try to ban computer games like Postal, and Duke Nukem, in the 1990s. Did they try to take that most immature programme called South Park off the air? I never heard them complain about the R18 film Wild Things, which a number of my friends tried to slip into underage?
Family First need to be careful about crossing the border from genuine concern about what is suitable for various age groups, into open censorship. And in this particular case, I think they have crossed that border.