Family First denies wanting Into the River banned

The book was initially released with stickers warning of explicit content
The book was initially released with stickers warning of explicit content

Christian lobby group Family First has denied trying to get award-winning teen book Into the River banned, saying it only wanted its R14 restriction reinstated.

Ted Dawe's novel, which won the New Zealand Post Children's Book award in 2013, was yesterday slapped with an interim ban on its sale or distribution by the Film and Literature Board of Review.

The book was initially released with stickers warning of explicit content, but without any age restriction. The board later changed it to R14, but last month the chief censor removed the restriction, as well as the requirement it carried a sticker warning.

After receiving complaints from Family First, the board yesterday announced Into the River would be banned until a final decision could be made, saying the censor may have unlawfully removed the board's restrictions.

Family First director Bob McCoskrie yesterday welcomed the board's move, calling it "appropriate" and saying he hoped it would set a precedent for the restriction of other books.

"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 [sic]," he wrote on the Family First website.

But today Mr McCroskie says Family First was happy with the R14 rating and only appealed for the interim restriction because it was removed – but he now wants the book made available only to people 18 and over.

"We're not calling for it to be banned and we never have," he told Radio New Zealand.

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

Auckland University Press director Sam Elworthy says banning the book is pointless, because kids can access much more explicit literature without any hassle.

"Unlike films, not every book gets classified. Most books just go out into the marketplace – Fifty Shades of Grey and so on – which kids can buy freely," he said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"The worry for the future is if Family First have been successful in this, in making booksellers and librarians and parents – you're not allowed to lend the book to people – to get that done on this book, what book is going to be next?"

He says Into the River appeals to young men who might not otherwise bother reading a novel because it speaks to them.

"You need books that reflect their life, and this book does. It's won a great award because it was the best teen book published in New Zealand that year."

Although the book's future remains "up for grabs", Mr Elworthy says the damage to New Zealand's reputation has probably already been done.

"There's been a lot of international reaction to it – 'New Zealand, what are you doing?'

"I'd say to the censor, there should be a parade of all the children, all the boys out there who have been damaged by reading a book – it might be quite a small parade actually."

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