Melon Farmers Original Version

Book Censorship in New Zealand

Embarassing book bans


Changing course...

New Zealand Parliament passes law change to prevent books being banned whilst age classifications are reviewed

Link Here 30th November 2017
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
New Zealand was clearly a little embarrassed over the banning of book for young people. Ted Dawe's award-winning novel Into the River , when campaigners called for a review of the book's age classification.

When an interim restriction order was issued in 2015 an anomaly in the law meant there were only two options - leave it unrestricted or ban it entirely until the board of review met. The book was banned for six weeks until the interim order was reviewed and the restriction was lifted.

A new bill has now been passed by the New Zealand parliament that gives the censor board the ability to issue interim orders based on age or specified classes of persons.

National MP Chris Bishop drafted the bill and n the case of Into the River it would have meant the book could have reverted to its R14 status rather than banning it outright. Bishop said after his bill had been passed unanimously. He added:

It is clear that Into the River should not have been banned - this small but useful change will help ensure such a situation doesn't happen again.



Updated: Pushed Into the River...

New Zealand seems to have sacked its book censor who embarrassed the nation by banning an award winning book for older children

Link Here 1st December 2015
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
New Zealand's Internal Affairs Minister, Peter Dunne, has issued a statement announcing seven new changes to the Film and Literature Board of Review.

One notable change is to replace current president Don Mathieson as of January 2016.

Mathieson made headlines in 2015, after Ted Dawe's novel Into The River was banned .The ban was later lifted by the board, however the decision was not welcomed by Mathieson .

In October 2015, Mathieson delivered a dissenting minority report but the remainder of the board voted to allow the book to be sold without restriction, saying a previous ban on under-14s was no longer justified.

Earlier in the week, Mathieson said he did not expect to be reappointed after two three-year terms, both as president, and did not put his name forward to continue in the job.

He refused to comment on the controversy around Into the River, however he said he was not particularly glad or sorry to be leaving the board, which he joined as a public service.

Update: Oh dear!... local moralist campaigners are not amused

1st December 2015. See  article from

The moralist campaign group Family First have written an open letter to the book censor given the push by the government:

Dear Dr Mathieson

We note with regret that you have not been reappointed as President of the Film and Literature Board of Review.

On behalf of many NZ families, we want to thank you for being a voice of reason and sanity in the censorship arena, and for being willing to stand strong despite personal attacks and rants from the media, including being a conservative Christian , for writing a book about faith at work, and for opposing the redefinition of marriage. How shocking. (Ironically, one of your replacements loves marriage -- including with other married people -- but apparently his private life does not affect his ability to be a moral authority .)

Dr Mathieson -- during the debate over censorship, community standards, and the book Into the River, you spoke for many many parents who are concerned with declining standards in our society, especially with material which our young people and children can so easily access, and a parent's desire to protect their children from age-inappropriate material that is disturbing and harmful.

Unlike the rest of the Board who flip-flopped on their decisions (and who along with the Chief Censor had no examination of their private life by the media), you did not kowtow to pressure from the book industry and remove any restriction on Into the River despite its highly offensive and gratuitous language, adult themes and graphic sexual content.

You remained consistent and principled.


Dr Mathieson, we salute you. We thank you.

Yours sincerely
Bob McCoskrie National Director Family First



Update: New Zealand's bedraggled reputation fished out of the river...

Book censors rescind their ludicrous book ban initiated at the behest of moralist campaigners

Link Here16th October 2015
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
Into the River is a young adult novel that was temporarily banned in New Zealand for subject matter that offended religious moralist campaigner.

An interim banning order was applied to Ted Dawe's novel in September after a campaign by Family First to get age restrictions applied.

The ban has now been lifted by New Zealand's Film and Literature Board who ludicrously imposed the unnecessary ban that generated worldwide infamy for New Zealand.

In a majority decision released on Wednesday, the board lifted the ban saying although aspects of the book may offend, it did not believe an age restriction was justified. The ruling noted:

Whilst many parents may choose not to allow their children to read such material, there are no grounds to restrict the book from teenage readers.

The interim ban was widely criticised by authors and organisations including the New Zealand Book Council and the Publishers Association of New Zealand, while readers worldwide organised silent readings in protest and solidarity with Dawe.

Family First's national director Bob McCoskrie accused the board of succumbing to book industry pressure despite the book's highly offensive and gratuitous language, adult themes and graphic sexual content . But news the ban had been lifted was generally welcomed in New Zealand.

Update: Censorship is alive in New Zealand. I should know my book was banned

27th October 2015. See  article from . By Ted Dawe



Update: Into the River Streisand...

Book targeted by a New Zealand morality campaign gets US distribution as a result of the publicity

Link Here 1st October 2015
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
The book recently banned (pending appeal) by New Zealand book censors has secured distribution in the United States and Canada as a result of the censorship fracas.

American publishing house Polis Books plan to publish Into the River , by Ted Dawe, in hardcover and as an e-book after founder Jason Pinter heard about the New Zealand ban. He told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report :

Any time a book is banned, all it serves to do is get the book more readers. This is how I heard about the book, to begin with - I was actually on holiday with my family, and it made me want to read the book.

I don't think the book deserves to be banned. It's a fantastic book - I wouldn't be publishing it if [I didn't think that].

There are no plans to restrict the age of American readers, although Pinter said Polis would recommend that readers be over 13, as parents tended to buy for their children and might want to be aware of its more sensitive themes.

Into the River won Book of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, but was not been picked up for publication outside of New Zealand before its ban.

After a challenge from Christian morality campaign, Family First, the Film and Literature Board of Review placed an interim restriction order on the book last month, meaning no-one in New Zealand could distribute or exhibit the novel. It was pulled off library and bookshop shelves.

A potential age restriction is being considered and the Film and Literature Board of Review meets this week to discuss the matter.



Updated: Into the River of the Living Dead...

New Zealand moralist utters a mumbo jumbo incantation and zombie book censors are resurrected from the dead

Link Here 8th September 2015
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
New Zealand's book censorship review board has arisen from the dead and slapped an interim ban on a book for the first time since the current law was passed 22 years ago.

The president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Don Mathieson has issued the Interim Restriction Order banning the sale or distribution of Auckland author Ted Dawe's award-winning novel for teenagers Into the River until the full board can consider whether the book should be restricted.

The moralist campaigner, Family First director Bob McCoskrie, who requested the review, said the interim order - the first affecting a book under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 - showed people could still use the censorship system. He spouted:

Hopefully we have set a precedent and people start bringing other books to the fore that they are concerned about.

Where a book is targeted at teenagers it needed to be language and theme appropriate.

The order is the latest twist in an extraordinary saga for Into the River , which won the top prize in the 2013 Children's Book Awards. The censor's office first classified it as unrestricted with a note about explicit sex, drugs and offensive language. The review board later imposed an R14 restriction, but this was overturned last month when deputy chief censor Nic McCully ruled that the book should be unrestricted.

Pro-censorship Mathieson, who argued a minority case for an R18 restriction in 2013, said in the new interim order it was debatable, and a matter of independent public interest, whether the chief censor acted lawfully in overturning the board's decision.

It is now illegal to supply the book to anyone until the full board made a final decision.

Update: More mumbo jumbo

8th September 2015.  See  article from

The head of the Christian morality campaign, Family First, said he never demanded the  book Into the River be banned.  Bob McCoskrie told Radio NZ 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. McCoskrie spouted:

We're not calling for it to be banned and we never have. 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.

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.



Update: Librarians Vs Moralists...

New Zealand book censor unrestricts Into the River by Ted Dawe, but the moralists are not happy

Link Here 19th August 2015
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans
A young person's book that has been restricted to people aged 14 and over for two years has been cleared for unrestricted release after an unusual appeal by librarians.

Deputy chief censor Nic McCully ruled the R14 restriction on Into The River, byTed Dawe, was an arbitrary and unfair breach of the right to freedom of expression.

But Bob McCoskrie, director of the morality campaign group Family First director, who originally complained about the book to the Film and Literature Board of Review, has appealed to the board again, claiming it is laced with detailed descriptions of sex acts, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking .

Dawe explained that he wrote the book for teenage boys who don't read books, who come from working-class and possibly Maori backgrounds and who don't have books that speak to them. It's told in quite a confronting language and I don't mince words in terms of what kids do.

Dawe praised librarians at Auckland City Libraries who applied for the R14 restriction to be reconsidered. He said:

Librarians - they really are the warriors for books I had not given up hope, but I didn't really believe they would succeed.

Auckland Libraries collections manager Louise LaHatte said:

The decision of the Board of Review was based on the fact that it dealt with bullying and racism, and we considered that children should be able to read about topics like that because it will help them understand and make sense of their own experiences.

The chronology of the book censorship is as follows:


  • June: Into The River wins top prize in NZ Post Children's Book Awards.
  • July: Internal Affairs Department submits it to the censor after complaints from the public.
  • September: Censor classifies it M (unrestricted) with a descriptive note contains sex scenes, offensive language and drug use .
  • December: Review Board partially upholds Family First appeal and imposes R14 restriction.


  • March: Auckland Libraries ask the censor to reconsider the classification.
  • August 14: Censor reclassifies the book unrestricted with no descriptive note.
  • August 18: Family First appeals to Review Board again.



Update: Into the Censor Infested River...

New Zealand book censors raise rating of prize winning children's book to R14 on nutter appeal

Link Here 19th January 2014
Full story: Book Censorship in New Zealand...Embarassing book bans

Into the River is a book by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. In September 2013 it was classified as unrestricted by the Classification Office after being submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs because of a complaint from a member of the public.

An application was made to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the Classification Office's decision. The Board of Review classified the book as R14.

The novel is centred on Te Arepa Santos, a boy from a fictional village on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He wins a scholarship to a boys' boarding school in Auckland, and the transition is difficult. He forges friendships, finds enemies, and discovers that his Maori identity is discounted and a disadvantage. He endures the bullying that comes from this, as well as that meted out to new boys, and sees what happens when that bullying goes too far. There are confusing encounters with sex and a growing understanding of intimacy, the use of drugs, peer pressure, deep racism, grief and death. Decision summary

The Film and Literature Board of Review noted in its decision that the book contains themes of bullying, underage casual and unsafe sex, drug taking and other matters that people may find offensive and upsetting. The Board considered that the book is likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying. The Board also considered that the book serves a useful social purpose in raising these issues for thought and debate and creating a context which may help young adults think more deeply about the immediate and long term consequences of choices they may be called upon to make.

However, there are scenes in the book that are powerful and disturbing, and in the opinion of the Board run a real risk of shocking and disturbing young readers. Whilst those aged 14 and above are likely to have a level of maturity that enables them to deal with this, those below the age of 14 may not.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the book as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 14 years. The Board also requires that any further publications of the book carry the same descriptive note as the present publication, reading parental advisory explicit content .

The Board of Review decision replaces the one by the Classification Office. It is illegal for anyone, including parents and guardians, to supply Into the River to anyone under the age of 14.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie, who lodged the complaint about the book, said it was disappointing a restricted work was an award-winning children's book.


18th February

Update: Old Time Censors...

New Zealand unbans the book Bloody Mama and hopefully apologises for all the police hassle caused to an innocent book seller

The book Bloody Mama by Robert Thom was banned in New Zealand in 1971 on grounds of supposed indecency. Apparently it contains references to rape, incest, prostitution, cruelty and violence.

A second-hand copy of the book Bloody Mama at Wellington second-hand booksellers Book Have n, was anonymously snitched up to the Department of Internal Affairs in November.

The book, which canvasses the true life story of 1930s gang leader Kate Ma Barker and her sons, had been for sale for about a year, despite being banned by the now defunct Indecent Publications Tribunal.

This week the modern day book censors at the Office of Film and Literature Classification have reclassified the book as 'Unrestricted'. The censor commented that the adult content was restricted to one or two pages and readers would be mature enough to handle it.

Book Haven owner Don Hollander said the ruling was marvellous . The book would be returned next week and he would frame it to hang in the shop as a talking piece, he told NZ Newswire.

The book was made into a low-budget film starring Robert de Niro, that was also ludicrously banned in 1971. However, it was later reclassified R16 in 1981.


25th November

Updated: Policing by the Book...

New Zealand book police ludicrously seize Bloody Mama, an innocuous book banned 40 years ago

An old book declared indecent and banned way back in 1971 has been seized from a Wellington bookstore by government officials.

Bloody Mama by Robert Thom has been listed for sale on Book Haven's website for $8.50 since February, store owner Don Hollander said: It got seized today. A very nice chap from the DIA [Department of Internal Affairs] with a fancy badge came by.

The book is based on a true story about Kate Ma Barker who raised her sons to be criminals in the 1930s. A film was also made about Ma Barker starring Shelley Winters and a young Robert de Niro.

I had a quick look through for the dirty bits or the nasty bits and it didn't see any, Hollander said.

The book was deemed indecent and banned by the now defunct Indecent Publications Tribunal 40 years ago, however the ruling still stands. The tribunal was replaced by the Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1993.

Update: Book Burners

25th November 2011. See  article from

A New Zealand book censor has been given the task of reading a banned book seized this week, to see if it can be cleared for sale. The title, Bloody Mama , was seized by government officials from a Wellington book store.

The bo0ok was banned in 1971 by the now-defunct Indecent Publications Tribunal due to its indecency . Commentators have said that the book possibly suggests an incestuous relationship between Barker and her sons.

The book would be read by a censor and a decision was likely in two months, adviser Michelle Baker said.

It has also been revealed that instead of cataloguing banned books in a forbidden library, the classification office destroys them (presumably by the traditional means of burning).


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