University cancels ads, disengages from ‘Critic’

The University of Otago will no longer answer media requests from student magazine Critic, a decision the magazine’s editor described as an insult to students.

The stoush erupted yesterday after the university said in a statement it was "choosing not to engage with Critic" because of its apparent "sluggish" response when asked to help get Covid-19 information to students, and for "mean-spirited reporting".

It also pulled all of its advertising from the publication.

Editor Sinead Gill responded saying the university’s refusal to respond to its media requests "on the basis of perceived slights is not just an insult to the work we do, but an insult to students".

She said the decision had "completely blindsided" her.

It also meant Critic would be unable to include balancing university comment in future stories, which she described as "ironic".

The standoff appears to have stemmed from a recent opinion piece titled "University f**** up covid response".

"University staff have had repeated demoralising experiences with Critic in recent months," the university said.

"This has included inaccuracies, unfair, shallow, unbalanced and mean-spirited reporting, sometimes including naming and shaming."

It said it was not given the opportunity for a right of reply before the opinion piece was published.

It also accused Critic of being slow to help with the Covid-19 response.

"We really needed Critic’s help weeks ago, and in this context it was hypocritical for an editorial to now criticise the university when Critic was sluggish to help us get important messages out to the very students they should care for."

Ms Gill disputed that characterisation, saying it was instead taking its lead from OUSA, which also launched a Covid-19 campaign.

"Critic has reported on how the Covid-19 response by the university affects students."

She said opinion pieces did not require a right of reply because they were the opinion of the author.

"We realise that the university’s current focus is on the response to Covid-19, but cannot accept at any point that the university is no longer open to scrutiny by the very students who pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend it."

Critic would continue to contact the university for responses.

The university said its communications staff were dedicated to the pandemic response, and it would continue to engage with the "many media outlets who will report with accuracy and fairness".

If Critic raised Covid-19 or lockdown issues on students’ behalf, the university would try to find individual responses for the students involved.

Media commentator Gavin Ellis described the university’s approach as "extraordinary’, and he criticised the decision to pull advertising.

"The principle of it is that robust opinion is part of the fabric of university life, and the way to counter it is with counter-opinion, not by refusing to engage."

It had the right to spend its money how it wished, he said.

However, it had the potential to threaten the publication’s future, which was a "drastic act".

The university would still have to comply with the Official Information Act, which meant it could only refuse requests on certain grounds.

daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz

Comments

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One wonders about the wisdom of the University’s response to this. A day ago, hardly anyone knew about Critic’s editorial. Now, thousands are downloading and reading it.

It seems the university have a Trump like response to any media criticism. Trump was asked a fair question about his response to the Covid-19 epidemic and accused the questioner of asking a 'nasty, snarky question'. The top echelons of the university management are engaged in a similar response to some honest journalism too. Maybe it's an American trait.

They are both acting like petulant school children trying to get one over each other.

Sounds like the university is treating its students in the same petty, petulant way that it has treated so many of its staff.

This is quite sad, but a somewhat predictable outcome of the University's increasing need to control every aspect of its external image. I can remember being told (forcefully) by university public relations staff that I could not talk to the media about specific topics (the restructuring of my department).

The university should be the "bigger person" here and just stop being being afraid of criticism or news it can't control.

When everyone is going broke it’s hard to be reasonable and sweet-tempered. Read this: https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/issue-brief/v2n6.php
Why the Finance Model for Public Higher Education is Broken and Must be Fixed
True IMO worldwide. And now a further blow with the loss of fee paying international students due to corona virus travel restrictions.

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