Broadcasting School: Former students and current learner frustrated at report

Former New Zealand Broadcasting School students and a current learner have expressed frustration at a report into issues at the school, alleging it put much of the blame on students and claiming it did not go back far enough.

The report came out on Thursday and while it found no evidence of staff harassing or bullying students, it unveiled many accusations of bullying and some of sexual harassment between students. Of these, some students alleged tutors had been witnesses.

A current student told the Herald not enough was done by the school, which is part of the Ara Institute of Canterbury, to ensure students knew how to engage with investigators.

“Ara sent us one email that said this report, this investigation, is going on if you want to contribute you need to email these lawyers and they will respond to you.”

That person said some of their peers didn’t even know they were able to be involved in the report.

“Like didn’t know how, didn’t know how to access it. We got one correspondence about it via email and it happened over the school holidays.”

They believed the period it encompassed, early 2019 to late 2021, was not long enough to identify the “institutional rot” at the school.

“Things that happened four, five years ago are still just as relevant as things that happened last year, because those things have been ignored.”

While that student felt the school was committed to change, they didn’t believe the report outlined the problems students saw at the school.

“I don’t think the report was at all an accurate representation of the culture, the mood and the feeling here at broadcasting school.”

They said people were mad, angry, confused and hurt by the review.

“The vibe here is [that] there is harassment and bullying, within the staff, and that it was not reached [in the review].”

They believed students weren’t taken as seriously as they could have been in the report and there was an “unfair weighting” on the concerns of staff.

“The school is great at PR, they’re great at saving their own asses, but what they need to do is focus on student voices.”

Ultimately, they thought this was a step in the right direction, but not a fix as others had thought it would be.

In a statement, Ara’s acting chief executive Darren Mitchell said they acted swiftly to address student concerns once they were made aware of allegations last year.

“Ara stands by both the process taken by Richard Raymond QC and the investigation findings.”

Mitchell said their focus now is on the future and implementing the recommendations to ensure the best learning environment for their students.

Overall the investigator made 60 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by Ara, which said they will be fully implemented.

One former student, who finished their studies before the report’s scope started, submitted a detailed account to the investigator of the issues they faced while at the school.

Although they were outside of the report’s scope, they said the same staff mostly still work at the school and believed they should have got an email back.

However, apart from an automatic reply saying a response would come, nothing was sent.

“I personally think they should make it available for any person, to come forward from any time.”

They said it was “pretty s***” that the investigators didn’t reply to their December email, which they had put a lot of time and thought into.

“If they are wanting to encourage people to be a part of change or to support change then, either forgetting to or not bothering to reply, that is disappointing.”

The person, who now works in the journalism industry, said in their email to the investigator that one tutor was “particularly judgmental” when it came to mental health issues as well as a bad personal situation they had been in.

“I was broken, but my broadcasting friends who knew, helped get me through. When [the tutor] saw me smiling, dancing and laughing with them one day, [they] threatened to take away the extra time I had asked for an assignment,” the email to the investigator said.

While the person didn’t feel harassed or bullied by the tutors, they felt misunderstood, which made them question whether the career path was right for them.

“I felt like they didn’t want to hear that stuff [about mental illness] because they felt like they might then have a duty to pass that on to people that might employ us. It was like, this is how you should be, if you’re not like that, go talk to other people or maybe rethink your place here, that was the impression I got.

“When I would talk to [the tutor] about having struggles with depression [they would] bring up examples of days where I’d been really good, and be like why can’t you be like that all the time?” they told the Herald.

Their message to the investigator said they were “regularly” criticised by one of the tutors for some of their eccentric clothes and wavy hair.

“I was happy to tidy up on camera but my everyday study attire became a big problem for [the tutor]. I didn’t understand and felt even more that I couldn’t be myself.”

One part of the review, under the “bullying” headline, noted that information from students was that up to about one-quarter of the class in some streams, in some years, were subjected to bullying from fellow students.

“In several cases, students maintain that some tutors were at least aware of the bullying, because it would have been impossible not to see it and/or hear it. The tutors I was able to speak to do not accept this, or I did not address it with them as it did not concern them.

“I have no reason to believe that the tutors I discussed this issue with deliberately turned a blind eye to bullying conduct by students or condoned it in any way. I am however satisfied from the many accounts I heard that there were occasions where bullying was, or should have been, evident and occurred in front of at least some tutors. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with all tutors, so I lack their perspective and context,” the report said.

Two tutors were “incredibly understanding” of the student’s circumstances, and motivated them to stay, but one retired in the years after, and they were “the exception”.

The former student didn’t personally witness inappropriate behaviour among their classmates, but believed issues at the school over the years had come from both students and tutors.

“Like they’re small classes of 20 people and like I say we were spending 8-5 there most days. I don’t know how they could be doing their job and not be aware of the inappropriate behaviour going on in the classes.”

Former student Luke Hempleman also said during his time at the school he experienced mental health issues and when he told one of his tutors about what he was going through he said there was no “follow-up”.

Hempleman, who attended broadcasting school from 2018 to 2019, said for such a small and intimate group there should have been pastoral care, but experience in this among the tutors wasn’t there.

Over the course of his training he said nearly 50 per cent of his class left.

He believed the institution had not taken “any sort” of accountability for the situation, beyond recognising the report and saying that they’ll change.

One part of the report stated there was no evidence from students that amounted to harassment, as that term is defined, as well as no reports of tutors bullying, as defined.

“The perception that has been generated that there is a problem with this at the NZBS is highly regrettable and is false. It is most regrettable from the perspective of the current tutors who have been unfairly maligned,” the investigator wrote.

Although Hempleman said he did witness some peer-on-peer issues at the school, he ultimately believed the responsibility fell on tutors.

“I don’t think it’s fair [to put the blame on students], I think a lot of the onus should be on tutors.”

Overall he said the problems weren’t student problems, they were institution problems and it was disappointing to see the school “immediately going on the defensive”.

“I don’t think most of the tutors had any sort of malignant or bad intentions, I would say none of them would have bad intentions, I would say they’ve just sort of been failed by the institution.”

In an alumni Facebook group, Hempleman said Tony Simons, who up until late last year was leading the school, posted links to the review and stated no evidence of bullying or harassment by tutors toward students was found.

The post, which the Herald has been told is now deleted, was met with frustration by several members and the Herald has been sent a number of screenshots from other individuals of the exchanges.

Hempleman said he’d like to see more accountability than Ara have shown and wants to see the changes they’ve said they’ll initiate.

“I want to be able to say I went to the New Zealand Broadcasting School, and that to mean something like it used to 10, 15 years ago, it was a real point of pride. And I don’t think it is.

“I think it’s a real pivotal moment for Broadcasting School and up until this point I don’t think they’ve been handling it very well.”

Hempleman, who did attend the school within the investigation’s time scope, told the Herald he wasn’t aware former students were able to contribute to the report.

Mitchell said they have moved quickly to appoint live-in management to the student accommodation facility, and extra resource to the NZBS to support the school in responding to relevant recommendations.

“We are well progressed in updating the Code of Professional Practice as well as our policies relating to inappropriate behaviours.

“Ara is also continuing to invest into cultural capability development institute-wide and access to mental health and social work support has been enhanced.”

If students have any concerns, he told the Herald it could bring them to the institution’s attention and assured they will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

“An update on progress related to the implementation of recommendations will be provided at the end of July.”

Ara will not be commenting any further on the investigation process or the report findings, he said.

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