Bullying, sexual harassment and racism exposed in NZBS investigation

An independent investigator’s report has made 60 recommendations following allegations of inappropriate behaviour by students of the NZ Broadcasting School (NZBS) at Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Madras Street campus in Christchurch.

In a statement response, Ara said that it accepts the report in its entirety and ‘will fully implement the report’s 60 recommendations’.

The list of recommendations detailed in the 112-page independent report included 27 recommendations to improve policy and procedure, guidelines on consumption of alcohol at events associated with the NZBS, and professional development for staff ‘which enables them to spend time in their respective industries on an annual basis. This is to ensure tutors stay abreast of the current workplace environments within the industry.” 

Independent investigator Richard Raymond wrote, “I am not recommending this in relation to tutor skill sets for the respective crafts. It is intended to address the often-reported refrain of “that is how it is in the industry. Staff need to therefore keep fully abreast of the changes in the industry and all recent developments.

“Ara should ensure that the above recommendation is properly funded by Ara to allow this to occur and ensure that time is made available to each tutor to complete this on an annual basis.”

The independent investigation covered the period February 2019 – October 2021 at ‘NZ’s leading broadcasting school’. The resulting report found in some streams there had been a prevalent and poor culture of behaviour, predominantly amongst some students, which had a significant negative impact on the wellbeing of other students in the school. These behaviours included instances of bullying, harassment, including sexual harassment and the making of sexist, racist and inappropriate comments.

All current and former students and tutors at NZBS during the relevant period were invited to participate in the investigation, which was led by Richard Raymond QC commissioned by Mitchell with the support of the Ara Board. 

While the investigator found no evidence of bullying or harassment by tutors towards students, and Ara stresses any public perceptions to the contrary have no foundation, he found in some streams there had been a prevalent and poor culture of behaviour, predominantly amongst some students, which had a significant negative impact on the wellbeing of other students in the school.  

Ara Acting Chief Executive Darren Mitchell responded in statement, saying, “It is simply not acceptable to have the type of behaviours that were reported to [independent investigator] Mr

Raymond take hold and go unchecked by staff in our organisation. We acknowledge and regret the impact this behaviour has had on a number of our students.

“Every student and every staff member, has a right to expect that their health, safety, and wellbeing will be prioritised 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,” Mitchell added.

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 wellbeing of NZBS Interns

– Resolution and complaint mechanisms

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

Ara said a number of actions have already been completed or commenced since the investigation began, some of which have been acknowledged in the report. “We are well progressed in updating the Code of Professional Practice as well as our policies relating to inappropriate behaviours. We have also 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. Ara is also continuing to invest into cultural capability development institute-wide and access to mental health and social work support has been enhanced,” says Mitchell.

Ara Board Chair Dr Therese Arseneau says the Board fully supports the Acting CEO and the changes he is driving. “The Board takes the report findings extremely seriously and has set a clear expectation that all recommendations will be addressed. The shift in behaviour 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.”

“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,” concluded Mitchell.

Ara is providing support for all students and staff throughout this period and says this will be ongoing.

The full independent review is available to read on the Ara Website. Ara says an update on progress related to the recommendations will be provided at the end of July.

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