For a university that the administration continually promotes as being in the top 3% in the world, the student magazine is a poor marker. Canta, the magazine of the University of Canterbury Students’ Association, was first published in 1930 and is one of the first impressions of the University of Canterbury that new students receive. It used to be published every week during term time but in 2015 switched to biweekly publication.
Canta seems designed to appeal to a narrow band of UC students. Its sea of white faces, baudy jokes, liquor advertisements, party photos, atrocious spelling and grammar, and shallow articles give the impression that it is a freshers magazine, not one for the entire student body (including international, Maori, Pasifika, postgraduate, and other students). Students who do not find that Canta represents or interests them are still forced to pay the Student Services Levy ($770 in 2016), of which a sizable portion goes toward funding the UCSA’s media budget (the UCSA spent $314,369 of the levy in 2014 on Media & Comms).
When controversial incidents like the following hit the mainstream media, people like influential New Zealander blogger David Farrar are led to believe that the university is “over-funded” – why else would it force students “to fund a publication that is designed to make some students angry”? It also prompts questions about readership and funding decisions, including why the UCSA continues to pump money into a magazine that has so few contributions it must resort to paying for articles.
Although the Wikipedia page is out of date, it shows that Canta has been involved in controversies since at least 1996, including jokes about Nazis, cheating during exams, fatness, religious groups, and people with disabilities (although some of these allegations lack citations). In recent years it has published letters to the editor, articles, and photos ranging from borderline inappropriate content to more overt offensive content. Both Critic (Otago University Students’ Association’s magazine) and Salient (Victoria University of Wellington’s student magazine) have weighed in over the years, often when issues make it into the news.
The last major incident was in March 2015, when an article about virtual rape entitled “The Epidemic of Virtual Butt-Hurt” by an anonymous contributor caused enough backlash for the UCSA to recall all copies of the magazine and remove it from the website (back copies are accessible electronically through the National Digital Heritage Archive). It also happened to be published during the university’s inaugural Diversity Week, which was attempting to smooth over concern over how previous inappropriate actions by students had been handled by the UCSA and university. Despite a history of not seeming to know when the line had been crossed, the UCSA responded with answers such as “Self-restraint is an important aspect of publication” and appeared to be trying to defend itself against earlier accusations of censorship of letters by publishing the article without reservations.
The incident raised awareness that the person in charge of Canta was not actually an editor. Greg Stubbings was the Content Manager and was not a student, and it was not clear what connection if any he had with the campus or students. Months later, in the 12 October 2015 issue of Canta there was a two-page spread announcing “Time for a new, more independent, student-led magazine!” The UCSA said that it wanted to outsource the editing and production to an independent student editor in 2016 and would issue a call for expressions of interest.
The new UCSA president has just announced via email in February 2016 that Liam Donnelly is the new editor and that he looks forward to what his team will produce. Greg Stubbings is now listed on the UCSA website as the Communications Manager for Media & Events. It remains to be seen if students will be satisfied with the changes.
“Canta magazine.” Wikipedia.org
Farrar, David. 2015 March 19. “Why does Canterbury University fund Canta?” Kiwiblog.
McLean, Leith. 2015 March 18. “Canta rape article critique.” The Daily Blog.
O’Callaghan, Jody. 2015 March 18. “University student mag pulled after virtual rape story.” The Press.
OUSA. 2014 October 5. “Letter to the Shredditor?” Critic.
UCSA. 2015 March 16. “The Epidemic of Virtual Butt-Hurt.” Canta. Issue 02 (pg 25-27).
UCSA. 2014 October 8. “Student Services Levy.” Canta. Issue 23 (pg 24).
UCSA. “Contact Us.”
Victoria University of Wellington Student Union. 2015 March 23. “Canta’s Golden Age of Offensiveness.” Salient.