Editorial: Beware censors and hucksters

Macsyna King. Photo / Dean Purcell
Macsyna King. Photo / Dean Purcell

We don't burn books in this country. Too many of our sons and fathers died fighting repressive regimes for us to yield to such impulses.

But the mob mentality on display since it emerged that Macsyna King, mother of the Kahui twins Chris and Cru, will tell her story in a book, differs only in degree, not quality, from the Nazi excesses.

Facebook pages and the talkback radio lines have been humming with indignation about the book, Breaking Silence, and threats to boycott booksellers who stock it.

Those who ooze righteousness in the matter have the luxury of doing so for free, of course; booksellers, operating in a precarious market, will forgo big income if they yield to the baying of the mob.

But booksellers are not responsible for the content of books. They select what books to stock on the basis of their commercial prospects - they are booksellers, after all - and they should exercise with great care their entitlement to decline to carry certain titles because of their personal distaste for their content.

Bookbuyers should be able to access Adolf Hitler's spittle-flecked Mein Kampf and the novels of Jeffrey Archer with equal ease, despite their objectionable content.

In any case, outrage is premature.

To condemn someone for what we imagine they will say - indeed to seek to stop them saying it - is to take public discourse to a new low. Macsyna King has not, let it be remembered, been charged with a crime.

Those who sneer at the idea that she is still tarred by association with the twins' sickening deaths might care to ask themselves what degree of separation from a crime they would seek before allowing someone's gag to be removed. At this stage, and still unread, King's story is not, of itself, offensive. In a civilised country, public odium is not sufficient reason to deprive someone of human rights, including freedom of speech.

In the case of the book's author, Ian Wishart, the matter is more problematic. A journalist and publisher whose imprint is named, apparently without irony, Howling at the Moon Books, he is a fundamentalist Christian who believes in the literal truth of the biblical narrative. He is also a denier of human-induced climate change which he calls a con designed to raise funds for climate-change scientists (who presumably are in competition with the fundamentalists for the right to warn that the end of the world is nigh).

Wishart says that King approached him, not vice versa, and that she will not profit from the book. If this is so, it certainly bespeaks a sincerity on King's part that was not on show during the police investigation. But people have changes of heart.

The reason that Wishart decided to record King's candour in print for sale can only be guessed at, though profit is a logical conclusion. The man writes for a living, after all. He is also, it must be said, one of the country's great conspiracy theorists, and over time that combination has, presumably, led to a comfortable lifestyle.

On the King book, he promises "answers". It remains to be seen whether he will supply any - but based on his previous works, that might be the best reason to boycott the opportunity to find out.

- Herald on Sunday

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