Bishop banishes book bans with new Member’s bill
National List MP based in Hutt South Chris Bishop has welcomed the drawing of his Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Orders Classification) Amendment Bill from the Members’ Ballot. The bill will help avoid a repeat of the banning of author Ted Dawe’s award-winning Into the River.
“The unfortunate banning of Into the River for six weeks in 2015 revealed an anomaly in the law around ‘interim restriction orders’ made under the Film, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.
“Interim restriction orders can be made by either the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review (or the High Court) when a classification decision is appealed to a higher review body.
“Into the River was the first time an interim restriction had been ordered on a book. In making the order, the President of the Board of Review had only two options – to leave the book unrestricted, or to ban the book entirely before the Board of Review met. What was not available to him, under existing law, was the power to reinstate either of the two original classifications (unrestricted M or R14).
“The President chose to ban the book entirely, even though three separate classification decisions had ruled the book should be legal - including the President himself arguing for a R18 restriction (see time line below).
“My bill will provide the President of the Board of Review (and the High Court) an expanded toolkit that can be used when considering whether to restrict a publication. The Bill will allow the President to restrict a publication based on age, or specified classes of people – the same powers available to the Classification Office and Board of Review.
“In the case of Into the River it would have meant the President could have reverted the book to its R14 status, rather than banning it outright, while the review was considered.”
“It is quite plain that Into the River should not have been banned. This small but useful change will help ensure such a situation does not happen again.
Mr Bishop also currently has a second Member’s Bill before the House - the Compensation for Live Organ Donors Bill. The Bill passed the committee of the whole house stage this week and will likely be read a third time before the end of the year.
INTO THE RIVER TIMELINE
- In September 2013, the book was classified “Unrestricted M – suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over” by the Classification Office.
- Family First applied to the Board of Review, seeking a restricted classification for the book. In December 2013 the Board of Review classified the book R14, a unique classification that had never previously been assigned. Don Mathieson QC, the Board President, issued a dissenting view and would have rated the book R18.
- In 2015, following growing dissatisfaction with the Board’s decision, particularly amongst teachers and librarians, Auckland Libraries requested the Board's decision be reconsidered by the Classification Office. In August 2015 the classification was changed again to “Unrestricted.” This was the first time the Classification Office had ever reconsidered a decision of the Board of Review.
- Following the reconsideration, Family First again appealed the Classification Office decision to the Board of Review. This time they also asked the President to impose an interim restriction order. The application was granted on 3 September 2015. The Interim Restriction Order made it illegal to supply the book to anyone or to display the book in or within view of a public place. This was the first time that an Interim Restriction Order had ever been imposed on a book.
- On 14 October 2015 (some six weeks later), the Board of Review examined the book again. This time the majority decision was to classify the book as Unrestricted. The interim restriction was rescinded.