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New Zealand Book Ban First In 22 Years

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM
Source: Random House

In a dramatic move, New Zealand banned its first book in decades on Monday. The award-winning teen novel, Into The River, won the New Zealand Post children’s book of the year in 2013 and includes portrayals of sex and bullying. Auckland-based author Ted Dawe did not see the ban coming.

“It’s extraordinary,” Dawe told the New Zealand Herald. “I’ve had quite a few emails from people who share that sense of outrage. Do we live in a country where books get banned? I’ll get burnt next.”

In the book, a Maori boy wins a scholarship to an exclusive Auckland boarding school but faces racism and struggles with drugs. 

The Film and Literature Board of Review called the ban temporary. No book had been banned since the legislation authorizing the board to do so was introduced in 1993. Conservative lobby group Family First New Zealand reported the book to the censor, offended by the details of the sex acts, coarse language and drug-taking.

The book received an R-14 restriction at first, however Nic McCully, deputy chief censor, later removed the restriction. That’s when Family First complained and the Film and Literature Board of Review placed the book on restriction so that it could not be distributed nor displayed in New Zealand. Selling the book comes with a penalty up to NZ$3,000 ($1,900) for individuals and NZ$10,000 for companies.

IntoTheRiver“The censor has received over 400 emails of complaint… from concerned Kiwi parents, their desire to protect their children must also be respected,” according to the group’s national director. New Zealanders are unsettled by the fact this happened in their country.

“It’s not offensive, it’s a quality book that has been acclaimed by the experts,” Booksellers New Zealand chief executive Lincoln Gould told AFP. “It’s most concerning that it’s happening in this country.”

Many Bitcoin technologies seek to address this issue of censorship by adopting the block chain. One project, Alexandria, has attracted Bitcoin press-wide attention for their initiative which strives to decentralize content distribution. 

“Every generation has some subjects that are newly taboo and some fringe elements of it always inevitably try to censor it,” BlockTech founder Devon Reed told CCN.com. “If you’ve seen the movie Straight Outta Compton, it highlights a great example of the kind of censorship happening in the music business 20 years ago as Baby Boomers were becoming the dominant generation and fearful that music about life in the hood might be glorifying violence.” His team’s technology addresses this.

“Of course, with Alexandria we aim to attract exactly those audiences with the fact that our platform is completely permissionless and can’t be censored,” he said. “Our goal is that in a few years time the concept of banning offensive media becomes a relic of the past, something that everyone accepts simply can’t be done any longer and forces them to check their motivations when they get the urge to do so.” What makes this so significant is the fact the book involved is an award-winning one.

“The fact that it is an award winning book I think highlights the exact reason why literary censorship is so dangerous to society,” the Alexandria founder said.

On the one hand, it is a demonstrably strong work of literature, and on the other hand, fear that it might expose people to new ideas is enough for some people to justify banning it.

Read sees self-censorship as another major problem.

“I’ve read a number of stories that similar trends are happening on a number of American college campuses, resulting in literature professors self-censoring their curriculum worried that overly sensitive/protective parents will get them fired for exposing their children to scary new ideas,” he added.

Featured image from Shutterstock.