The Veitch story-when too much information is barely enough

May 21, 2009

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?

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Boquet for HoS – attempting to come clean on Veitch

April 26, 2009

I would like to congratulate Shayne Currie and David Fisher for the piece in today’s Herald on Sunday [Inbside the Veitch media circus] and for getting Tim Pankhurst to at least put something on the record about the genesis of the whole caravan.

I was interviewed for David’s story and in the course of our long-ish chat I raised the idea that the Dom Post and the other media outlets, who bought into the story subsequently, actually owed the public a certain level of disclosure about sources.

I know this flies in the face of accepted ethical wisdom about protecting sources and so-called “shield laws”, but I argue that in this case the motivation of sources is actually a key element of the story.

This is particularly salient when everyone involved – editors, journos, PR managers and the central protagonist – all admit that scrambling for the media high ground (and a position of control) was a key objective of both sides.

Unfortunately, we – the readers and viewers – were not privy to who the sources were, though in David’s piece, the Team Veitch PR expert, Glenda Hughes, says that she was reactive to the media most of the time and only admitted to “selling” a story on one or two occasions.

I am still mulling over a more considered and lengthy post on this story. In my view it is a fantastic case study of media actions – in this case feeding on one of its own – almost an act of cannibalism. I’m sure none of us (media people) would like to be in Tony Veitch’s shoes and see our career shredded.

I actually have sympathy for everyone caught in the shockwaves of this story.

Kristin Dunne Powell has been unfairly and disgustingly labeled a “bunny boiler” [cultural reference to Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct]. Her life will never be the same again.

Tony Veitch does not at the moment have a life – he is medically unfit for work, marriage and friendship – he may well be the “author” of his own misfortune, but he got plenty of help from the news media.

Zoe Veitch is also a victim, her performance during the whole saga was as “stoic wife”, but she too got dragged through the PR fence backwards from time to time.

The families of key figures are all scarred and substantially out-of-pocket. Therefore we have to ask, was it worth it? Was the public interest really served by the attention this story got?

I don’t think the media covered themselves in glory on this story. I will post something more substantial later.

I’m also considering doing an academic paper on this for a journalism studies conference in December. If anyone would like to talk to me about it, particularly any journos or editors, I’d love to hear from you.

ethicalmartiniATgmail.com is the best way to get in touch. Or you can leave a comment to this post. For the record, if you leave a comment I will assume that it is public and that you consent to me using it in any research publication that results (eg: conference paper and/or journal article).


Celebrity shine helps Veitch

April 17, 2009

It’s always good to have friends in high places and there’s no higher celebrity spot than sporting hero it seems.

Tony Veitch was undoubtedly helped by the slew of celebrity testimonials he received in the last few days before his trial in the Auckland District Court this week. While there’s nothing wrong with asking friends to write you references, it does show that in the rarified atmosphere of Planet Celebrity, a note from your middle class mates is much more valuable than any kind of letter from your social worker or drug counsellor.

And isn’t it nice to have an opportunity to work off your sentence helping out your favourite charities, rather than breaking rocks in some Hellish real prison.

Despite the nice idea that the legal system treats everyone the same and that the colour of your money, or the fame of your friends, doesn’t matter, there’s no doubt that real class will always triumph. Having a well-paid publicist in your corner is also a useful Joker in the pack.

Now the task of dissecting Veitch’s real level of remorse begins and, so far, it’s probably around 50 per cent.

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Veitch pleads guilty and jumps on the front foot

April 16, 2009

Embattled sports presenter and journalist Tony Veitch has taken a guilty plea in the Auckland District Court today and immediately leapt onto the front foot to vow revenge on media outlets who, he says, went too far in their coverage of his case. [NZ Herald]

Veitch pleaded guilty to one charge of reckless disregard causing industry and, in what seems to be a classic bargaining maneuver six other charges were dropped by the prosecution.

It’s likely that his sentence of 300 hours community service and a $10,000 fine will seem like a let-off to some, particularly given Veitch’s profile and the debate about community standards and role models that has accompanied this story for the past nine months. Ethical Martini’s coverage is archived here.

Now phase 2 begins-the legal battle over who said what to whom, when, where, how and why. You can’t hide from the 5 Ws and the H.

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Veitch and Holmes – on-the-record is forever

March 1, 2009

The Tony Veitch saga continues to get front page treatment in the Sunday papers. In this week’s installment the Herald on Sunday reports on its own involvement in the case and a police warrant to search the paper’s office.

The last time I had a serious go at the HoS, I got an irate call from editor Shayne Currie and an offer (or maybe a challenge) that I spend some time in the paper’s newsroom to see for myself how it worked and how the integrity of its reporting is maintained. I was just about to leave on an extended overseas trip, so couldn’t take up the offer, but I fully intend to…as soon as I get the book manuscript off my desk.

Anyway, as I told Shane last year, I am not having a go at individuals, nor do I pick on any particular paper or media outlet in my commentary. My aim is to put on the table some discussion points and to provoke debate. That’s my intention this week and it also happens that there’s a Rosemary McLeod column in the Sunday Star Times on the Vietch story; so I intend to be very even-handed.

The statement that caught my eye in the HoS story (page 3 in the print edition) was:

Editor Shayne Currie said the newspaper would co-operate with police in accordance with police guidelines for media searches, but would not breach any journalistic ethics. He said he would be taking legal advice as well as consulting Holmes before deciding whether the tape would be handed over.  [HoS hit by Veitch search warrant]

I am curious about how this ethico-legal paradox might unfold.

Meanwhile, over at the SST, Rosemary McLeod is sounding off about the use of lawyers to stifle debate – in particular attempts to gag journalists and commentators through the use of legal threats. As reported last week, Veitch’s legal and PR machine is threatening to go after media outlets which, they believe, might be having a go at Tony.

Rosemary is not happy about it:

What the public doesn’t know is how often the threat of legal action silences the media.[Money talks – we are gagged]

Really, is it all that common?

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Veitch: “It felt like a trial”

February 22, 2009

Tony Veitch has spoken publicly for the first time in almost eight months. In a statement sent to the Sunday Star Times and reported today, Veitch thanked Sky TV sports presenter Murray Deaker for throwing him a lifeline.

Veitch appeared on Deaker’s show last Wednesday and is slated for more guest spots in coming weeks, according to the SST.

Tony’s comments to the paper make interesting reading, particularly between the lines.

Veitch basks in limelight back on screen

Gossip queen Bridget Saunders also gets in on the rehab act

However, not everyone is singing Veitchy’s praises. According to the Herald on Sunday, legal eagles have been engaged to force an apology from Willie Jackson who said putting Tony back on television while there’s a “huge question mark” over his head was “not appropriate”.

Apparently Jackson went further than this on his radio show and Veitch’s lawyers were talking defamation before Jackson apologised.

Jackson apologises after slating Veitch

Well, I did say last week that it would all end in tears.

What a coincidence, it seems that the same (or almost identical) statement was  sent to the HoS as well as the SST, which makes me think it was a choreographed move. It just goes to show the value of having a good [spin] doctor in the house, or at least on a fat retainer.


Tony Veitch on the comeback trail

February 16, 2009

Tony Veitch is to begin the resurrection of his broadcasting career this week on Sky TV. I agree with the proposition that Veitch should be allowed to get on with his life, including returning to work. It seems his trial on assault charges will be delayed, perhaps into next year, and in the meantime there’s a presumption of innocence that must hold. [Tony Veitch’s TV comeback, HoS, 15 Feb]

Veitch has already had his “trial by media” with the assault allegations being thoroughly aired last year in the period between the story breaking in The Dominion Post (July) and the time he was charged with the offences (August).

He has a right to earn a living by doing what he is good at. However, I’m a little less sanguine about Tony’s nomination as “sports presenter of the year” in the TV Guide annual awards.

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Judge sets precedent for online reporting – will it affect the Veitch trial?

August 26, 2008

This week in the Manukau District Court, Judge David Harvey issued a supression order banning online news organisations (and presumably bloggers) from naming two men who have been committed for trail over the murder of 14-year-old John Hapeta on August 12.

The supression order does not apply to print and broadcast media. The judge’s reasoning is interesting. He argued that people (including potential jurors) could “Google” the information during the trial leading to possible prejudicial outcomes and also that material on the Internet tends to go “viral” within a short space of time.

According the the NZ Herald:

Judge Harvey teaches the Law and Information Technology course at the University of Auckland. The course looks at the way technology impacts on evidence, jurisdiction and freedom of information.

Judge Harvey has also written a textbook on the internet and law called internet.law.nz.

Perhaps he needs to read my material on the techno-legal time gap. I’ve written about this idea – which is fairly basic – that the law and regulatory regimes do not always keep up with the technology and what it can do.

Communication and New Media

Communication and New Media

I also wonder if this ruling might be a precedent that the judge sitting on the Tony Veitch case might consider. There’s already concern that some media outlets may have breached the sub judice rule by publishing details of the charges against Mr Veitch over last weekend.

As others have pointed out, the idea that we might all have to go through our online archives and delete references to pending, or live court cases is a bit scary.

Lawyers for the various media companies are scrambling to interepret the ruling and there may well be a challenged to the suppression orders.


The Veitch allegations: Who’s leaking, who’s spinning, who’s paying?

August 25, 2008

Well, the mystery has not been resolved. Who leaked information about the police charges against Tony Veitch to the Sunday papers?

The police have denied it was them and are instead saying that a campaign by Mr Veitch and his representatives is being mounted to undermine their investigation into allegations that the former sports presenter bashed a former girlfriend on perhaps more than one occasion.

So where did the leaks come from?

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The process and the pundits: Tony Veitch arrested

August 18, 2008

This could well be my last post on Tony Veitch for some time. He was charged this afternoon (Monday) on six counts of assault and one of ‘reckless disregard’. According to his lawyers Mr Veitch will strenuously defend himself. His first court appearance is likely to be Monday next week.

This is my likely last post because, as of about now, the sub judice rule kicks in. According to my media law bible: “one should not say or do anything that might create a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial”. (Burrows & Cheer, 2005,p.387)

So, I guess it’s lucky that the PR flacks got in over the last couple of weeks to get the ‘poor Tony’ spin into the news cycle. We can now all google that stuff till the cows come home; it predates the charges so is not technically within the period of sub judice.

This post is, so I’m going to be careful and brief; when a matter is before a court (literally sub judice = under a judge) anything that prejudices the trial, or brings the process into disrepute is contempt of court.

If the trial is before a jury there is the constant fear of prejudice – jurors and potential jurors being influenced by pre-trial publicity. The question, according to B&C is therefore: “How great is the risk that this publication might influence the jurors (or witnesses)?”

This question cannot be easily answered; there’s no scientific measure of ‘influence’ over a jury. However, we can say that in this case there’s been a lack of balancing information recently.

  1. We have the allegations being canvassed high and low – how many kicks and punches, etc; was Ms Dunne-Powell’s back broken or not?
  2. We knew it was serious when Tony’s pals began to move quietly to the back of the room.
  3. We know that Mr Veitch resigned from his high-paid jobs when the story refused to go away.
  4. We know that Mr Veitch is not really like that and we know that Kristin Dunne-Powell is, at least, accused of stalking by Veitch’s supporters.
  5. We can surmise that a certain Mr Holmes might be called as a character witness.

All of that is hearsay and it’s now in the public domain thanks to the media’s close attention to the case.

But that’s all we know. The speculation will now have to stop in the news and in the blogosphere.

The End of Part 1.