The media rehabilitated Tony Veitch's image in the past - but not this time

by Colin Peacock / 24 November, 2017

Tony Veitch heading into the Auckland District Court  before pleading guilty to reckless disregard causing injury to his former partner. Photo / Getty Images

Tony Veitch’s critics claimed an effort to put him back on TV this week proved that the business doesn’t take domestic violence as seriously as its bottom line. But while many in the media have had his back in the past, it didn't work this time.  

On Wednesday sportscaster Tony Veitch announced on Facebook he had “decided to get back on TV” as part of a "hard-hitting, opinion-led show that does not shy away from controversy".

It was a poor choice of words that triggered a controversy and blew his TV comeback within a day.

In 2008, Veitch pleaded guilty to a serious assault on his partner which broke her back two years earlier. Citing stress and overwork, he admitted to “a grave misjudgement” and was fined and sentenced to community service.

He had also been charged with six other counts of assault, but pleaded guilty to just one charge in a pre-trial settlement. His police file  - released under the Official Information Act to Mediawatch and other media - detailed alleged abuse over a period of years and evidence of physical violence noticed by other people.

He was stood down from his jobs as a TVNZ sports news presenter and a radio host at the time, and he hasn’t been back on TV since then.

The plan was for him to appear on on upcoming Sky TV sports chat show.

“I’m so stoked to be back,” he told his Facebook followers on Wednesday.  

That just stoked the fires of indignation among his critics whose opinion pieces rapidly hit the news websites - notably, all written by women.

“It’s time to get Tony Veitch off our screens forever and let talented people who aren’t abusers have a chance instead,” wrote Madeleine Holden on The Spinoff.

“As high-profile men accused of assault topple like a series of extremely sleazy dominoes,”  Vice.com’s Tess McClure wrote, with reference to the recent series of Hollywood sex abuse scandals, Tony Veitch would return to the small screen after “a half-apology, a few self-pitying Facebook posts, and a couple of years.”

Stuff.co.nz, columnist Kylie Klein Nixon had a similar riff.

“At a time when the rest of the world is making a big fuss over clearing house and taking names, we're showing our true colours, sticking to our guns, and moving an offender who tried to hide his crime back into the penthouse where we clearly think he belongs,” she wrote.

On Twitter, Stuff’s chief executive - and chief editor - Sinead Boucher acknowledged all three writers’ work:

 

The question being asked was why Sky risked its own reputation by giving the divisive figure his own show.  

Turns out they hadn’t. For what it’s worth, Tony Veitch was merely a guest lined up for episode one, according to Sky TV.

"Tony has one of the very largest sports audiences in the country. We were looking for the leading sports broadcasters and Tony ticked that box,” said Sky.

He certainly does - and because of that his career has been rehabilitated bit-by-bit til now.

When Tony Veitch went back on air for Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB in 2011, it was controversial - but that passed.

For years now he’s been on air on Radio Sport for twelve hours each weekend without much protest, while also contributing to the New Zealand Herald.  

In 2015, a New Zealand Herald campaign on family violence was undermined when the Herald on Sunday published a confessional piece by Tony Veitch headlined: Acceptance, Remorse, Recovery.

A Herald on Sunday column in 2015.

It barely mentioned Kristin Dunne Powell.  (The name of the Herald’s campaign, by the way? “We’re better than this”).

That caused another short-lived controversy, but less than a year later there was hardly any when NZME picked Tony Veitch to host its daily Herald Focus video news bulletins.

With that in mind, Sky TV probably didn’t think it was rolling the dice by slipping Tony Veitch back on the screen for a pay-TV show which would probably not have pulled a huge audience.

After Sky announced on Thursday it has reconsidered its plans for a pilot show with Tony Veitch, another Stuff.co.nz opinion piece, by Michelle Duff, was headlined: “Why Tony Veitch has no place on our screens”.

But they’re not really “our” screens at all. They’re Sky TV’s screens. And sports fans screens. The broadcaster makes decisions about who they think we want to see on them.

“The fact this job offer came at a time where men around the world - Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey - are being toppled from positions of power speaks volumes for the way we treat abusive men in this country,” Duff wrote.

But this time, the worm did turn.  

When the charges against Veitch were first reported back in 2008, some of his colleagues at the Herald and ZB went public with their support. Paul Holmes even interviewed Veitch for the Herald on Sunday “as a friend” and spoke of his good character on the air.

When, in 2009, The Dominion Post revealed details of a confidential payment Veitch made to Ms Dunne-Powell, his radio colleagues again backed him on air - and en masse. Kerre McIvor wrote in the Herald on Sunday about "dark forces conspiring to bring him down”.

This time, he seems to be on his own.

Where there’s a scandal involving any grade of celebrity, the Mail Online doesn’t take too long to mash a few facts and inflammatory adjectives together under a typically long and lurid headline. 

This time, they summed it up pretty well from Australia:

Sports presenter who put his wife in a wheelchair by pushing her down the stairs pulls out of appearing on 'hard-hitting' Sky TV show after uproar

Perhaps the most powerful opinion was one that addressed Tony Veitch himself.

“As a father who lost a daughter to violence, what you did to Kristin is horrifying, but even more so I condemn you for not taking the opportunity to set an example to all violent men,” wrote Mark Longley, the managing editor of Newshub digital, whose daughter was murdered by Eliot Turner in a violent rage in England in 2011.

Now that is hard-hitting.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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