Toxic culture of sex, drinking and bullying uncovered at New Zealand’s top broadcasting school

Teachers at New Zealand’s top broadcasting school did not harass, bully or discriminate against students, an independent report has been found.

But the external review by a top lawyer into New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch reveals a toxic learning environment where sexual harassment, bullying and harmful behavior was rife among students – with tutors failing to keep it in check.

Students interviewed described a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere, where bullying, harassment, and heavy drinking was rife.

Although outside the scope of the review, the culture at Otautahi House – Broadcasting School’s main accommodation block – was heavily criticized, by students and by the report’s authors.

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Hazing and binge-drinking at “initiation” events were also found to be causing harm.

The report advised Ara should discourage these events – held at the beginning and end of the university year – as they encouraged under-age drinking and unsafe behaviour.

In one case, a student said a lack of pastoral care meant bullying and harassment were allowed to grow at the broadcasting school, and described their experience as “traumatic”.

The New Zealand Broadcasting School is regarded as the top school of its kind in the country.

Peter Meecham/Stuff

The New Zealand Broadcasting School is regarded as the top school of its kind in the country.

Others said a “boys’ club” atmosphere emboldened much of the bullying and sexual harassment from male students, a number of whom would “read” at the girls and make derogatory comments.

“[I]f you are not in the ‘party culture’ or elect to wear ‘alternative clothing’, you became a target from the so-called ‘cool group’,” a student told the investigation.

One said a pyramid chart ranking students in popularity had been taped to the wall and must have been seen by tutors, but was not removed.

The five-month review, by Christchurch QC Richard Raymond, also found Ara Institute of Canterbury, which runs the broadcasting school, had inadequate policies and processes for bullying and harassment and made help hard to find for students in need.

In his report, released on Thursday, Raymond said he had received “no information” about harassment, discrimination, or sexual harassment by tutors at the school.

There was, however, evidence from a number of interviewees of sexual harassment by male students at the school, he said.

The results of the report were presented to students at the broadcasting school at a nationwide video meeting at midday on Thursday.

One student, currently an intern at a major media organisation, said they were “fuming” after the meeting, when little of the report was discussed, they claimed.

Questions from students were not answered, and important issues such as sexual harassment were “skimmed over”.

“It was very unfair,” the student told stuff.

Raymond was critical of media reporting of allegations at the school, saying The New Zealand Herald had published a report in October 2021 alleging “multiple official complaints of bullying and one of sexual harassment have been raised by students against staff members in recent years”.

The report was “false” and tutors had been “unfairly maligned”, Raymond said.

But the report found a “large volume” of evidence to show the environment at the broadcasting school had allowed a culture to exist “which enabled the making of sexist, racist and inappropriate comments … predominantly by students but also by a minority of tutors”.

Bosses at Ara say they accept the findings and will bring in a serious of recommendations.

Peter Meecham/Stuff

Bosses at Ara say they accept the findings and will bring in a serious of recommendations.

The review covered intakes from February 2019 through to October 2021 and interviewed 51 people, including staff and current and former students.

Ara Institute of Canterbury acting chief executive Darren Mitchell said in a statement that Ara accepted the findings and would implement all 60 recommendations.

They include:

  • “Heavy” discouragement of “initiation” and “de-initiation” events where students are hazed and encouraged to drink heavily;
  • Compulsory harassment and bullying training for staff and students;
  • Compulsory diversity training for staff, particularly in LGBTQI+ issues;
  • Training in how to help students with mental health issues;
  • An overhaul of Ara’s policies, including development of standalone harassment and bullying policies;
  • Easier access to information for students looking for help for harassment and bullying;
  • Better mental health services for students.

Mitchell said every student and staff member had a right to have their health, safety and wellbeing prioritized by Ara.

“It is simply not acceptable to have the type of behaviors that were reported to Mr Raymond take hold and go unchecked by staff in our organisation,” he said.

Mitchell said Ara did not yet know how much the review had cost, but would “answer that question at a later time”.

The Ara Academic Staff of Canterbury (AASC) group, which represents some of the staff and tutors at the broadcasting school, said they were pleased to see the serious allegations made against staff have “proved to be unfounded and, in some instances, completely false ”.

“AASC’s members were very concerned about the issues that were raised and wanted these matters properly investigated.

“AASC’s members support a best-practice learning environment and they look forward to engaging further in the recommended training topics, all of which are important to them including addressing mental health issues and wellbeing for students.”

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