Critic brutalised. Prison style.

The OUSA-initiated review of Planet Media has been presented to the OUSA Executive meeting, with Critic’s present performance and future independence being brought sharply into question.
The results of the OUSA-initiated review of Planet Media, the parent company of which Critic forms a part, were discussed by panel convenor, OUSA Events Manager Vanessa Reddy, at the Executive meeting of Thursday May 5.

The review dealt with the three constituent parts of Planet Media; Radio One, Critic and the sales team. The key overall recommendation was that all elements of Planet Media be subsumed under the general OUSA umbrella, which calls into question the future editorial independence of Critic.

The report also dealt with each arm of the company separately. The panel was highly positive about Radio One, commending the station for “adding to the cultural value of the University of Otago environment and the wider Dunedin City area”. Sales were also praised for their excellent work in attracting advertising revenue in a tough economic climate.

However, the section dealing with Critic effectively amounted to a broadside against the magazine, with the implication being that Critic lacked journalistic balance, integrity and direction. The commendations section of the report for Critic was damning by the sheer faintness of its praise, with the best the panel could muster being that Critic was “a good looking magazine which is well laid out” and that the Critic team were “very happy working together”.

The review meanwhile recommended that a mentor be appointed to guide the Critic editor in “balanced reporting, professional journalism practices, as well as being a sounding board.” An additional recommendation was that “a set of guidelines be written to guide the editor in publication and content decisions.” Overall, the recommendations were intended to “guide Critic towards communicating within OUSA and supporting OUSA in a VSM environment”.

At the meeting, Executive member Sarah Von Ballekom questioned Reddy on whether Critic would continue to enjoy editorial freedom if subsumed into the OUSA structure. Reddy stated that it would remain editorially independent despite the recommended changes, and added that the mandate of Critic needed to be “critique and not attack”.

Last year’s editor Ben Thomson slammed the reports findings. “The report makes no sense at all. The panel seems to have no idea what Critic is or why it exists. They make it quite clear that they want to turn the magazine into a promotional vehicle for OUSA and there is not one mention of editorial independence.”

OUSA Recreation Officer Sarah Van Bellekom agreed with Thomson, calling the recommendation that Critic become incorporated under OUSA “ridiculous”. “OUSA and its executive needs a check on its power, which an independent body, like Critic, provides. Surely there must be a better solution to protect Critic from VSM than forcing it to amalgamate with OUSA?” 

However, OUSA President Harriet Geoghegan insists that editorial independence for both Radio One and Critic will be maintained, even if Planet Media does under the OUSA umbrella. “I don’t think anyone is advocating getting rid of editorial independence”. Editorial freedom is currently guaranteed by the Critic Charter which established Critic as independent body. If Critic is amalgamated, Geoghegan believes the Charter will be of the same if not more importance.

Prior to the release of the panel’s findings, a number of Planet Media employees and OUSA Exec members had questioned the appropriateness of having Reddy as the convenor of the panel, given the fractious nature of relationship between Reddy and Critic in recent times.

Last year Critic published an article which questioned the value of Reddy’s “40 point action plan” to combat student binge-drinking. The four and a half page report was the result of Reddy spending a year in the USA, for which she received funding from OUSA, the University of Otago, and Dunedin City Council. Reddy received over $40,000 in funding to produce the brief report and the story was picked up on by national media outlets.

This year Reddy also pulled OUSA Events advertising from Critic, unhappy with the way in which OUSA’s Orientation week events were covered in the magazine.

Thomson suggested that this was exactly the type of reporting that would not be possible in the future if the panel’s recommendations were accepted. “It is reasons like this that Critic is essential. No one else is going to keep OUSA in-check. It is also reasons like this that people like Reddy want to see Critic muzzled.”

The report has not yet been voted on as it was felt that the changes needed proper consideration. The Executive plan to further consult Planet Media managers later this week, and Geoghegan notes that a lot more research is needed before such a big decision is made. It is not yet clear whether the executive will choose to vote on the recommendations or whether they will wait until an overall review of OUSA is completed.

Due to the lateness of this story, Reddy could not be contacted for comment, however Critic plans to speak to her for our follow-up article on this story. A full copy of the review is available to read at the Critic office or on Critic’s Facebook page.

Posted 4:44am Thursday 12th May 2011 by Gregor Whyte.