Independent review raises concerns over culture at NZ Broadcasting school

A culture in which students were bullied, harassed and subject to sexist, racist and inappropriate comments from their peers has taken hold in some areas of the New Zealand Broadcasting School, an independent investigation has found.

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Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The investigation has found no evidence staff bullied or harassed students, but it has raised concerns about the culture within the institution and among a small minority of tutors.

The review, led by Richard Raymond QC, examined the period from February 2019 until October 2021, and was launched in November following media reports of a toxic culture at the school.

The New Zealand Broadcasting School is part of the Ara Institute of Canterbury in Christchurch.

Raymond also found concerns in relation to mental health issues at the school and and utatautahi House, an accommodation facility for students at Ara.

“I did not receive any information from any source in respect of concerns or allegations from students that were enrolled at the NZBS in the relevant period relating to bullying by tutors of students,” Raymond said.

“There was widespread bullying over the relevant period by some students of other students. I have no reason to doubt any of the evidence provided to me by students concerning the accounts they provided to the investigation team, some of which are outlined below.

“The information was, without exception, thoughtfully and carefully conveyed. It took courage for many of the students I interviewed to get in touch with the investigation team and go through what was often a difficult process of re-living certain experiences. Where appropriate the Several accounts were able to be corroborated by other students or verified by other sources of information. That information included documentary evidence and photographs.

“There is evidence, which I accept, of a small minority of tutors in some streams during the relevant period allowing a culture to prevail in class which enabled not only bullying, but also sexual harassment by some students and the making of sexist and inappropriate comments by some students and a minority of tutors.To a much lesser extent, that culture also enabled some racist comments.

“I did not receive any information from any source … relating to sexual harassment by tutors towards students. There were, however, accounts of sexual harassment by some students against other students in the relevant period, which I accept.”

There was a “large volume of evidence” detailing concerns and allegations of students making sexist, racist or any inappropriate comments, the QC said.

“The environment which has prevailed at the NZBS has allowed a culture to exist which enabled the making of sexist, racist and inappropriate comments throughout the relevant period, predominately by students but also by a minority of some tutors.”

Ara Academic Staff of Canterbury, in essence the site’s union, said its members were pleased the serious allegations made against staff were 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 well-being for students, “the society said.

Ara said it accepted the report in its entirety and would implement its 60 recommendations.

“It is simply not acceptable to have the type of behavior that was reported to Mr Raymond take hold and go unchecked by staff in our organization. We acknowledge and regret the impact this behavior has had on a number of our students” acting chief executive Darren Mitchell said.

“Every student and every staff member has a right to expect that their health, safety, and well-being will be prioritized by Ara. We are committed to acting quickly and decisively to rectify the findings from this investigation. Ara staff are dedicated to the success of students and I am confident that they share in this commitment.

“Mr Raymond also found that Ara policies and procedures needed to be enhanced to align with best practice and to restore confidence in its complaint resolution processes. This is one of several clearly identified opportunities for change or improvement recommended in the report.”

The report’s recommendations broadly fit into eight areas – professional development and training for staff; enhanced mental health services; student and staff conduct; the professional practice component of the degree; policies and procedures; harassment training for students and staff; safety and well-being of NZBS interns; resolution and complaint mechanisms.

“Many of the recommendations will be of benefit to all of Ara, not just the NZBS,” Mitchell said.

Some steps had already been taken and other changes were underway.

An update on progress related to the recommendations would be provided at the end of July.

“I would like to thank, and acknowledge, the 51 current and former students and staff who came forward to be interviewed by the investigating team. They did so in the expectation that we will work together to build a better environment for all students. We owe it to them to achieve positive change, “Mitchell said.

Ara Board chair Dr Therese Arseneau said the board fully supported the acting chief executive and the changes he ws driving.

“The board takes the report findings extremely seriously and has set a clear expectation that all recommendations will be addressed. The shift in behavior and other changes recommended by Richard Raymond are significant and will require time and additional support. The board has committed the resources to support effective delivery on recommendations and expectations, “Arseneau said.

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