This weekend’s spate of newspaper stories about the Tony Veitch affair show the trends British journalist Nick Davies writes of in his book Flat Earth News are here in New Zealand.
Davies hit the headlines earlier this year with his assertion public relations companies or wire services are behind more than half the stories in Britain’s top five newspapers.
He says news organizations have slashed budgets to the point where journalists no longer have the time or resources to carefully gather, check and analyse stories. Instead they produce “churnalism”. Part of this is an increased dependence on stories fed by PR professionals.
While PR has long played a role in business journalism as well as sport and technology coverage, Public relations is now also affects harder news areas including politics and crime.
Which brings us neatly to the Tony Veitch affair which dominated New Zealand’s Sunday newspapers for the past three weeks.
For non-New Zealand readers, Veitch is a TV sports announcer who was recently sacked. Veitch admitted he ‘lashed out’ and seriously injured a former girlfriend after the story first surfaced in The Dominion Post. There was an out-of-court payment of $150,000. Since the n the New Zealand police have investigated the case and Veitch now faces a number of charges.
This incident is Flat Earth News territory because the accused Veitch has a public relations firm fighting his corner in the court of public opinion while someone is busily leaking airbrushed versions of his story.
The victim has also come in for character assassination. In addition, Veitch’s wife has been sympathetically interviewed and her reported words carry more than a whiff of media-training. No doubt this whole campaign aims at winning public opinion in the run-up to the court case and may even hope to influence the court. There’s also some evidence of public relations activity on the victim’s side.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, what’s clear is that New Zealand’s news media is being manipulated.
You can read another take on this issue at SST – dancing to Zoe’s beat? « Ethical Martini.
Tony Veitch now has his own Wikipedia page.