The Veitch story-when too much information is barely enough

So the New Zealand police were forced to release documents relating to the Tony Veitch assault trial to the news media under the Offical Information Act, after journalists asked for it.

According to the Dom Post there is an injunction in place preventing further disclosures from the 358 page police files. There will be hearing next week to determine if this will hold or be lifted.

My question is why did the media go after the files  in the first place?

Now we get a chance to satisfy our voyeuristic urges and read from the transcripts of Kristin Dunne-Powell’s statements to the police.
So what?

The issues and details of Veitch’s assault(s) on his then girlfriend were already pretty much public knowledge. They were widely canvassed in Tony’s media trial well before he was charged, had his day in court and was convicted.

I don’t think there’s anything new in there and certainly no new angles for the news media to pick up an run on. The angle on this week’s stories has been “police release statements because we asked for them”.

I’m a big believer in freedom of information legislation and it is a legitimate tool for reporters to seek information from government sources who are reluctant to release it. But in this case I have to wonder if there is a legitimate public interest in the details of a police case that has already resulted in a successful prosecution and conviction.

Public interest?

For me determining the news value of this material  requires application of the “public interest” test. This is fairly simple to calculate using one question.
Is there a legitmate pubilc interest in knowing this information?

Weighing  up an answer to this question is perhaps a little more complex. One has to think carefully about what that public interest might be; how strong it is and what impact the potential discovery of otherwise hidden information might have.

I’m not privy to discussions in the newsrooms where it was decided to seek the Dunne-Powell statements, but if I had been I probably would have puzzled over this for a few moments at least.

I suppose one counter argument is that you don’t know what might be newsworthy until you get the files and read them. Fair enough.

However, even if there is a decision that there might be something newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest in seeking the information, the second part of the public interest test is then assessing the news value of the material when it arrives.

That is, making a reasoned decision that there is new information that has a material bearing on the public and that the public could have a legitimate interest in knowing about.

I have to question whether that was done in this case. Or was it simply: “We’ve got it now and we haven’t had a Veitch story for a few weeks, so let’s run it.”

I suspect that once again commercial competition and newsroom rivalry  is driving this story, not the public right to know.

Revictimisation of the victim(s)

How about the other side of the equation, which is the further damage it might cause to Tony Veitch, who is still recovering fromm his traumatic mental health issues, or for the damage it might cause to Kristin Dunne-Powell and other parties to the trial and events of the past 18 months.

It’s particularly ironic that we’re raking over these cooling coals at the same time as we get stories about the “revictimisation” of victims of crime in other media.

There is a reason that Kristin Dunne-Powell didn’t give evidence, it would have been too traumatic for her. In that sense, Tony Veitch did the right thing by copping a plea and saving her from having to confront him in court and suffer through a potentially toturous cross-examination.

It is perhaps the only thing Tony got right in the whole mess.

In my view there’s no news in knowing that the Herald, Dominion Post, Herald on Sunday and TV3 have now got their hands on these documents.

The Post story claims it sheds new light on the case because the account differs from that given publicly in media statements by Tony Veitch.

The file paints a different picture to that claimed by Veitch over how he treated his former partner Kristin Dunne-Powell, detailing allegations of long-term abuse and physical violence noticed by others around the couple.

Really? How different? We’ve heard at least that much before.

If you go back through the coverage most of the facts (or perhaps allegations as they were never tested in court) in the Dunne-Powell file were already known.

[Ethical Martini can help here with a handy index]

And you expect us to believe that there’s new and relevant and public-interested tested material that has not already been covered extensively in the hundreds of items in the papers and via radio and television.

Sometimes too much information is barely enough.

I think it’s time to let this go and give all the affected parties time to get on with their lives, to recover and heal.

Move on people, nothing more to see here.

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