I was going to post about some good book news this week, but I'm going to save that for a couple of days and post some bad book news instead.
Earlier this week, the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Don Mathieson QC, placed an interim restriction order on Ted Dawe's book "Into the River" which functions as a comprehensive book ban.
This YA novel, a book award winner in 2013, has been the subject of a lengthy battle over its classification and availability in New Zealand. Conservative lobby group Family First applied for the Interim Restriction Order when the previous R14 order was lifted by the Chief Censor. Don Mathieson, who himself has previously argued for an R18 rating on the book, was quick to agree with Family First.
You can read an FAQ about this decision on the Department of Internal Affairs and Office of Film and Literature Classification websites. The Legal Beagle blog of Public Address outlines the important distinction between these two bodies, as well as explaining the background to the interim order, and there's further analysis of the deficiencies of Dr Mathieson's decision on Pundit.
The Interim Restriction Order itself is available as a PDF. Here are some key points about that order from the Department of Internal Affairs FAQ:
What does this mean?This means that no one in New Zealand can distribute, or exhibit, the book.
How long will the order be in place?Until the Board makes a further decision. The Board is scheduled to meet in October.
What penalties do people face?If the order is breached, individuals face a fine of $3,000 and companies of $10,000.
What is the relevant law?The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. Section 49 deals with restriction orders.
If I have a copy, am I breaking the law?No. But you cannot lawfully sell or distribute the book to any other person, or exhibit it.
Can I download an e-text version or buy one from overseas?Internal Affairs suggests that anyone proposing to do this obtain legal advice, or wait for clarification of the status of the book.
I find these provisions appalling. For the period this order is in force, giving a copy of this book to a friend, or putting it on a library or bookstore shelf, is a criminal offence punishable by a severe fine. Understandably, the societies representing New Zealand booksellers, libraries and authors are very concerned by this move.
As for author Ted Dawe, a teacher in his 60s who is Head of Studies at Taylors College for international students in Auckland ... well, he expresses his feelings about this better than anyone else could.
So if you believe as I do that the head of a Government-appointed authority shouldn't have the right to arbitrarily criminalise the sale, loan, display and potentially import of a widely-praised and award-winning book by a New Zealand author - or even a book which has won none of those accolades - what can you do about it?
Take Action This Thursday
Silent readings of Into The River are being held at lunchtime in Dunedin and Wellington. Come along and show your support. Bring a copy of Into the River if you have one. I don't yet, but if someone hands me one, I'm going to take it.
If you know of actions in other centres, please add them in the comments.
Buy The Book
Another thing you can do is to buy the book (if you can still find it online) and thereby support the author - but be aware that, as per the DIA FAQ above, the legal status of doing so is dubious.
Does Don Mathieson, QC have the right to his personal moral views? Absolutely. Does or should he have the right to impose those personal moral views on the rest of the population by the arbitrary and unwarranted exercise of state power? I don't believe so.