TVNZ has defended its coverage of Otago student culture in a recent episode of Sunday.
The episode was called “an unwarranted attack on the students of Dunedin, making them out to be out of control drunkards”. A petition demanding the network apologise attracted over 3000 signatures.
TVNZ remained adamant that it provided balanced coverage. A spokesperson said that “students and residents were both represented in the story, from which people will make up their own minds.”
In reaction to the coverage, New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) President Rory McCourt told the Otago Daily Times that Otago University and the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) promote a culture of student drinking.
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McCourt said that the University “creates a culture where people want to break loose”, and “markets itself on that student experience”.
OUSA President Paul Hunt said he was “furious NZUSA commented on this issue… The ‘student experience’ at Otago is not a negative, it is a positive and unique factor that we are known for.”
Hunt felt that “the anti-social behaviour of some individuals” should not be presented as the “student experience” in general.
He said OUSA is known for its professional management of events, including “stringent harm minimisation measures”.
Hunt accused McCourt of “hijacking” the issue without consulting OUSA. OUSA is a fee-paying member of NZUSA, although it has signalled its intention to withdraw its membership later this year.
McCourt claims his position was misrepresented by the Otago Daily Times, who “made it seem, through selective quoting, that I was agreeing with Sunday’s depiction of students”.
On 11 May various Dunedin institutions including the Dunedin City Council, Police, the Southern District Health Board, Otago University, OUSA and local businesses issued a joint statement on drinking culture.
While the signatories stated “the worst behaviour comes from a minority”, they acknowledged a “pressing need” to curb alcohol-fuelled behaviour, keep young people safe and “protect the livelihoods” of Dunedin’s businesses and tertiary education providers.
They claimed that factors such as dense student residential areas, social media that enables large parties at short notice, cheap and widely available off-licence alcohol, and New Zealand’s problematic attitude to alcohol have combined to create the current problems.
Signatories intend to “work together collaboratively” to create positive change. They insist sanctions are not the sole solution and positive measures such as “environmental improvement” and “socialising alternatives” must be considered.