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Letter from Elsewhere: The appalling Veitch story

Letter from Elsewhere:

Trying to find rays of hope in the appalling Veitch story


Anne Else

I can find only three small rays of hope in the appalling story of Tony Veitch’s serious assault on his former partner, and its aftermath. None of them have anything to do with his behaviour after the story broke, let alone with how the media (including his own employers) have handled it.

The first is that such an assault is seen by many people as important. In the not too distant past, this would not have been the case. It would never have even come to public attention, because “a domestic” of any kind short of death would not have been seen as newsworthy.

All the media would have agreed with those who persist in claiming that it was purely a private matter – and therefore nothing to do with Veitch’s employment. Three responses to the New Zealand Herald’s question, “Should Tony Veitch keep his TVNZ and Radio Sports jobs?” said it all:

“I dont understand why does his job get effected because of a personal issue he had with his former partner 2 years ago… What's his or anyone's job got to do with his personal life.”

“His jobs should not be an issue or even on the line, why talk of assault and dangle his job as the consequence. He didn't assault his boss or someone at work.”

“I think if he gets fired because of this then there is something seriously wrong, a guy at my work bashed his girfriend last year and he wasn’t fired for it even though he had to go to court and all the rest cause it has nothing to do with work unless the person goes to jail and I don't think just because he is on TV and is a high profile person it should be any different get off his back and stop beating the guy up.”

The second ray of hope is the large number of people who are simply horrified by the whole thing – including comments like those above.

Often they (and their children) seem to have genuinely looked up to prominent TV “personalities” such as Veitch, and seen them as “role models”. So now they just want him gone. But some Herald responders said it particularly well:

“It's not about tall poppy or whatever, it's about the consequences of your actions. In his job those consequences are different. I hope he has changed but changing, by buying a delay between your actions and the airing of them doesn't preclude the consequences. As for being sorry, having worked in this field I know that every man who has hit or beaten his partner is sorry, and regrets and buys flowers, chocs, car, holiday, until next time.”

“No, he shouldn't want to keep his job(s), he's not a role model deserving of a public profile, and he should have thought about that consequence before 'losing it'. If it takes the rest of his life to regret those actions, there would be no better penalty and a reminder to other such offenders that family violence won't be tolerated by our society.”

“I think Tony can look forward to being permanently relieved of the socalled work stress that he blames for inducing his violent outburst. Reporting the sports news is a privilege that he certainly no longer deserves.”

Game over. End of story. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple – or that honest.

The assault, in January 2006, is said to have involved repeated kicking that cracked four of his former partner’s vertebrae. She spent time in hospital and in a wheelchair, had months off work, and gave up her job.

But in his public statement, Veitch said only that he “lashed out”. His no doubt carefully chosen words removed her completely.

Then he removed himself as well, in an “exclusive”, unbelievably self-serving interview done the next day with fellow broadcaster and friend Paul Holmes (for the Herald on Sunday):

“I can just say there was a terrible incident…Imagine yourself in the worst possible situation with your partner…Something terrible had happened and we both knew that.”

Holmes then “asked whether he has a sense of shame about what he did and about its public revelation”. Neither Holmes nor Veitch seemed to realise that these are two entirely different things.

At some stage – probably late in 2007 - Veitch and his former partner made what his statement called “an agreement about confidentiality because we did not want this to play out in the public”. It involved him agreeing to make a payment or payments to her – most recently said to amount to $170,000 – for “loss of income and distress I caused her”.

Many of the responses to the story demonstrate why she would herself prefer to keep what happened out of “the public”, although she is said to have had talks with the police. She would certainly not have wanted to endure the other kind of assault, this time on her character, which is now in full swing out there.

I’m not going to repeat any of this stuff here, but a Herald responder summed it up: “they doubted his ex-partner's integrity and wondered if she deserved his violent treatment. That's the precise reason why she has kept quiet. And that's the reason why hundreds of people who are either sexually abused or physically abused have kept quiet.”

This is a very small country, and the chances of others keeping quiet were almost nil. Once it became public knowledge, the agreement and payment merely exposed her to an extra dimension of attack.

It is not yet clear when or precisely why the agreement was made, or what it involved. What finally did become clear on Saturday is that in December 2007, Veitch asked to meet with his radio and television bosses to “seek advice on a personal matter to do with his former partner”.

They say now that from what he told them, they believed it was a “personal conflict ...a fracas” (Radio Network) or “a private issue of a civil nature that required Tony and his former partner to work out between them” (TVNZ). Nothing to do with his employment – and nothing that TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis needed to be told about.

Some time after that meeting, “Tony verbally advised TVNZ the issues with his former partner had been resolved in a confidential manner that included a financial settlement.” You can almost hear the sighs of relief all round. They, too, would have wanted to keep it all quiet.

When the story broke, at first they tried to bluff it out, with Veitch fronting as usual on radio and on Monday night’s TVOne News. To add insult to injury, Close-Up decided to line up the admirably restrained Heather Henare of Women’s Refuge against PR maven Michelle Boag (who said Veitch gave a very good performance and would probably get back on air after a couple of weeks) and reliably angry John Tamihere (who said men were suffering and the perpetrator could become the victim).

Bill Ralston (Herald on Sunday) says TVNZ’s newsroom had to resort to serving its own bosses with an official Information Act request for details of the company’s involvement. Then the carefully crafted statements finally began to appear.

So now here’s the third ray of hope: the (small) number of ordinary people who are only too well aware of what is really happening here, and who put it better than I can:

“Don't be fooled into thinking this is about Domestic Violence, because it's not. It's not on the front page of the newspapers because Domestic Violence needs to be addressed, it's not the top story on Nightline because they want to highlight the growing nationwide and socially disturbing trend of physical and emotional abuse. It's only news (sadly) because he's a "Celebrity" which I have a hard time comprehending but I guess this is a small country so we take em where we can get em.”

If Veitch does lose his jobs, and his status, and even, as Holmes mouthed, “everything”, it will not be because of what he did. It will be because the publicity about what he did has destroyed his value to audiences and, even more importantly, advertisers.

The National Business Review could be relied on to zero on the crucial point: in “Veitch revelations could be ratings blow for TVNZ”, they called it “a broadcaster’s worst nightmare”. But another couple of vox pops did it much better:

“Veitch is a dog. His job is long gone, no advertiser will link themselves to him.”

“Unfortunately being a well known face comes with responsibility on and off screen, it's just the nature of the job - it comes down to business, always the dollars. The broadcasters only care about their public image because it equates to money, don't believe any different - if people change channels because of it, it’s costing the broadcasters money pure and simple.This level of violence is shocking and unacceptable behaviour and now it’s gone too public for his employers to keep him.”

Precisely. Except that because Veitch’s employers did already know something about it, they may have even more of a mess on their hands than they think…

Those rays of hope are looking pretty dim.

*************

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