Otago University destroyed copies of student magazine over period cover

by Sarah Robson / 23 May, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Period

Part of the cover the university removed. Photo / Critic

The Otago University proctor will today meet with the editor of student magazine, Critic, to explain why hundreds of copies of this week's issue have been taken and destroyed.

Yesterday, the university admitted it had removed the magazines because it deemed the image on the cover objectionable. It depicts a pixel-style cartoon of a naked person with their legs spread, menstruating.

Critic editor Joel McManus said the magazines were distributed Sunday night and received a lot of positive feedback from students on Monday. Later that day he saw the magazines stands around campus were all empty - initially thinking they were picked up due to popularity.

"Then I realised every stand on campus was empty and we knew that someone had come through and cleared the whole lot."

Mr McManus asked security, Campus Watch, to view CCTV footage to find out who took the magazines. By late yesterday he was contacted by the university and told the magazines were removed by Campus Watch at its request.

The idea for the issue about menstruation came from a women's-plus group on campus and meant to raise awareness of access to sanitary bins for trans students, Mr McManus said.

He was shocked that the university was responsible for the magazines' destruction.

"Our team worked really hard putting the issue together and it's an issue we're incredibly proud of.

"It's a cover that is challenging, but it definitely got people's attention ... so it was a real shame when, essentially, our readers haven't had the chance to read it."

In a statement, a university spokesperson said it had been informed by the Dunedin Hospital and the Dunedin Public Library, both asking for the magazines to be removed from their foyers.

Read more: Otago University's attempt to silence a women's health issue was wrong - period.

The University proctor then decided that the rest of the magazines needed to be removed from everywhere else.

"The proctor understood that the reason copies of this week's issue had been removed from public places, was that the cover was objectionable to many people, including children who potentially might be exposed to it."

About 500 magazines ended up in a skip bin on campus where they cannot be recovered.

The university said this was "regrettable".

University proctor to meet with Critic editor

The proctor will be meeting with Critic today to explain what happened and why.

But Mr McManus said the university should have talked to him before the magazines were removed.

"We weren't informed of any of this, which is why we were so mystified as to what had happened. They took the decision into their own hands."

PR consultant and former editor of Auckland University student magazine Craccum Ben Thomas said student media had always pushed boundaries.

"It seems alarming to me that the university, which has a statutory role as a critic and conscience of society, has decided to interpret that as being a moral arbiter or kind of Sunday school teacher for the adults who go there.

"It's not really up to the university to decide what students should be or shouldn't be reading."

The university said it had no official view on the content of the magazine, but it was aware staff members and the public thought the cover was degrading to women.

In a statement, the chief censor's office said on first viewing the cover seemed offensive rather than legally objectionable.

"It doesn't hit our subject matter gateway criteria (sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence) and while the image does depict an explicit view of female genitalia, the image is not sexualised, nor is it particularly degrading or dehumanising.

"Generally speaking, cartoon or animated imagery does increase the psychological distance between the viewer and the publication.

"However, all films, videos and publications are classified using the same process, so the medium itself is not as important as the content and context."

 

* A copy of the magazine can still be viewed on the Critic website.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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