Friday, 10 July 2009

how much worse is this trial going to get?

i avoid watching "news" on the tv these days. i get most of my news from radio nz and from various blogs. i'll often catch the 10 minutes news on the hour on channel 7. but i avoid the 6 o'clock news in order to preserve my sanity.

today was yet another reminder why. i've written previously on my own blog about how much i disagree with televised coverage of court cases, which was brought on by the bain case. but today went one step further, with tvnz basically advertising their news bulletin with the titillating coverage from the sophie elliot murder trial, in which the accused talks about intimate aspects of their sex life.

FFS. again, i have to ask: where is the public interest in this coverage? whose interests are served by showing the accused talking about details that ms elliot never gave permission to be made public? evidence that can't be challenged, because the only other person present was (allegedly) stabbed by the accused. it just made my blood boil to see the news networks exploit ms elliot even further, trying to improve their ratings without any care for her dignity.

frankly, this trial is bringing out the worst that is wrong with our justice system, our media and our culture. there's a whole other post to be written about the accused trying to present himself as the victim and her as the slutty (sorry, "very forward"), abusive girlfriend, but i'm just too sickened by this other stuff to be able to do it.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you vehemently. This trial and the news coverage is absolutely appalling and unbelievable in this day and age. My heart felt sympathy to her Mother and family. LynW

Ginger said...

I'm also totally totally agree. The whole thing is completely revolting.

Anne-Marie said...

It's a sickening, disgusting case. Every one I know is upset by this trial - and that includes the men of my acquaintance. Methinks Mr Weatherston LOVES being on the stand. All that attention feeds right into his "narcisstic personality disorder".

Some times I wonder who is on trial: Mr Weatherston or Miss Elliott? All these appalling things said about her, and she's no longer around to defend herself. She is the VICTIM, she died the most horrific death and is now being blamed for it!

I cannot imagine what her poor mother is going through.

[By the way, you don't need to say "allegedly stabbed". Mr Weatherston did stab Ms Elliott; he's admitted it. He just thinks it's HER fault he did it, not his.]

A Nonny Moose said...

The coverage and the presentation of the perpetrator are making ME very stabby. This is not f***-ing Boston Legal people (as much as I love that show) - this is real life murder.

I laughed out loud when it was explained she died of "blood loss". Yeah? And just how DID that blood loss occur? She wasn't on her f***-ing rag. Couldn't POSSIBLY have anything to do with 217 stab wounds. Noooo, 217 stab wounds didn't kill her, blood loss did. Le freakin' sigh.

Sorry for language. The reporting of this is making me so very angry.

Oh, and I stopped watching 6 o'clock news of any kind about 13 years ago - the time I started getting a university education.

stargazer said...

agree a nonny moose. but this wasn't even part of the 6 o'clock bulletin. this was part of the "advertising" to get people to watch the news. they were deliberately using the titillation factor ie "hear clayton weatherston reveal intimate details of their sexual relationship", for the purpose of increasing viewership, with absolute disregard of the privacy or dignity of sophie elliot. that's what made me particularly sick.

Lew said...

Look at it this way - with the Banjo Killer getting off with manslaughter, and the overwhelming brutality of this case being (apparently credibly) defended as provocation, surely there will be a mood for repeal of s169.


stargazer said...

lew, how will that solve the issues around tv coverage of court cases that i have raised? just losing the provocation defense will not stop this kind of coverage in other types of cases.

Lew said...

Anjum, perhaps nothing will change that; it's what the media do. But the point I'm making is that repeal of s169 could prevent defendants from laying it all out in the hope that they'll get a lighter sentence. Presumably more will plead guilty and obviate the need for a full trial and the attendant coverage.


Anita said...

I like to imagine that if blaming the victim couldn't get you off a murder charge then defence teams won't put enormous effort into blaming the victim.

Maybe I am over optimistic.

Hugh said...

Even if provocation were removed as a defense against murder there'd still be a motive for defense teams to try to blame the victim. Self-defense springs to mind.

Anita said...


I can't imagine Weatherston would be using a self defence defence in this case.

Hugh said...

Well, he seems prepared to lie pretty extensively, so who knows what he might come up with?

But I'm talking more generally.

stargazer said...

perhaps nothing will change that; it's what the media do.

sorry lew, i seem to be so angry about this that i'm finding it hard to discuss it calmly. in regards to the media issue, i find it extremely sad that we seem to have come to the point that we expect no minimum standards from our media. maybe it's time to collectively raise our expectations and demand better things. the only effective way to do that is to stop watching, which i'm already doing (as it seems are many others), so yeah. you could be right. the other option is to lobby for reversing the decision to have televised coverage of criminal cases.

Tom Semmens said...

The TVNZ "news" has led with courtroom footage every night since the Bain trial began, save for a few swine flu and Michael Jackson moments. Why? I would guess the ratings for the "news" probably went up when they showed extensive courtroom coverage during the Bain retrial. QED, the immoral bastards who drive what is on what laughingly passes for the "news" will ram this stuff down our throats on the grounds that it is "what people want to see."

The solution is launch an immediate campaign to remove cameras from the courtroom.

katy said...

I was in a taxi the other evening, I was chatting to the driver and then he shushed me because he wanted to hear the news coverage of this trial. We had been having a nice conversation but his interest made me want to throw up.

Anyway, I agree, I don't have a TV but I can't even bring myself to read the newspaper coverage of this, it really is a disgrace.

One thing I have been curious about is how New Zealand universities might change as a result of this? Has there been any discussion of this anywhere?

Hugh said...

It's probably worth noting that there's a reason that cameras were allowed into the courts... to increase public scrutiny of the justice system.

Obviously keeping TV out wouldn't totally remove that scrutiny, but when dealing with things like intimidation, coaching and leading witnesses, there may be nuances of courtroom actor's behaviour which TV is better at picking up than newspapers (who would, if TV was banned, again become the main courtroom reporters)

backin15 said...

I've not been watching it, I wonder what the public interest is really? What reforms to law and legal practice may follow ought to be equalled by reform, self imposed or otherwise, of broadcasting too.

Hugh said...

Broadcasting reform to stop the media from reporting in a sensationalised fashion?

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see that happen, but... good luck.

Lew said...

Anjum, it's ok, I deal with the same sort of rage on a daily basis - as I remarket to a colleague yesterday, "I am so far beyond surprised these days that I've come back all the way around to meh."

The point is that the media simply supply what people demand. There are reasonable constraints society can put on that supply, but the return diminishes very quickly indeed, and information (wanting, as it does, to be free) tends to ooze out the sides of any constraint mechanism. The strongest solution, as you say, is to demand better; patronise sources which you consider provide quality or adhere to acceptable standards.

Banning TV in court won't help; as Hugh says it simply trades off a more opaque justice system against less offensive coverage. I'd much rather use the system's transparency as a tool to constrain abuses of the process than try to shut down the abuses by constraining transparency.


Lew said...


I wonder what the public interest is really?

Sex, lies, jealousy, power imbalance, academic skullduggery, psychopathology, murder, a risky and audacious defence - this was a made-for-TV crime, I'd be amazed if people weren't interested.


katy said...

"It's probably worth noting that there's a reason that cameras were allowed into the courts... to increase public scrutiny of the justice system."

Clearly this is a false premise: the role of the commercial media is not to illuminate but to sell.

Lew said...


The media sells by illuminating, in many cases; however imperfectly. If you patronise the news media, chances are it's for the information value.


Hugh said...

Katy, yes.

One of the recurring problems of modern liberal/capitalist/nationalist democracy (to give it its full name) is that information is almost entirely filtered through commercial enterprises, with commercial goals, with no immediate interest in informing the public for its own sake.

However, the fact that the media as it exists today is an imperfect instrument of public scrutiny doesn't necessarily mean that public scrutiny is not a valid concern.

Anonymous said...

I refuse to read or watch any more MSM news about this case because both the coverage and trial itself disgust me.

He's a narcissistic psychopath who's having a grand old time waxing lyrical about his imaginary life while blackening his dead victim's reputation. He actually smiled at one point. Who the fuck does he think he is? Hannibal Lecter?

If the jury get sucked into this and find a man who took pains to not only murder but methodically mutilate this poor woman guilty only of manslaughter, I don't think I'm going to have any further faith in the jury selection system.

Lately there's been a number of cases where women's *alleged* sexual mores have been held up as proof that they were culpable of the vile crimes committed against them, including a suggestion that a straight case of strangulation was in fact a sexual adventure gone wrong despite not a shred of evidence. I wanted to throw up. I would like that lawyer to face the motherless child and say it to her face.

AWicken said...

Um - they probably would, if they're not doing so already.

As to cameras in courtrooms, I really doubt that it holds any public value whatsoever. Public galleries, yes; court reporters, yes; but 2 minutes of out-of-context footage frankly is probably more misleading than a summary of the day's events read by a reporter.

backin15 said...

"Sex, lies, jealousy, power imbalance, academic skullduggery, psychopathology, murder, a risky and audacious defence - this was a made-for-TV crime, I'd be amazed if people weren't interested."

Yeah but Lew, this is some poor young woman murdered and yet it's dished up like a CSI epidode. I know what you're saying, and i get the ironic undercurrent, but I can't help thinking the obscene close-tracking will be making matters so much harder for her family.

Anne-Marie said...

I wonder if the people who have commented here, and others, would be so disgusted by Weatherston's behaviour if it wasn't for the cameras in court?

The written and radio reports have been focused on the details of the case. It's only on television that we can see the things that don't come across on radio / newspapers / websites, ie, Weatherston's lack of remorse, his callousness, his joking, his enjoyment of the attention.

This behaviour has stirred up people so much that I think if he's not found guilty there will be an uproar. And possibly that might cause some much-needed changes in the justice system, since there's already a mood for change.

Anita said...


I've been disgusted by defences using the s169 provocation defence for a long time. There have been plenty of calls for repeal over the decades, but you're quite right that the media coverage of this trial will help get this attempt across the line.

Although, to be fair it probably would've happened either way - the Law Commission put it on the legislative agenda in 2007.

AWicken said...

"I wonder if the people who have commented here, and others, would be so disgusted by Weatherston's behaviour if it wasn't for the cameras in court?"

I tend to miss the TV news these days - variable work hours - so haven't seen that much of his court appearances. I also happen to have encountered some of the weird ways people behave when they're under stress (cold/heartless/distraught/off-colour humour etc), so actively try to set that to the side when thinking about issues.

AFAIK the sum of his defence so far is that she was mean to him and slept around, so any "reasonable" person would have stabbed her 200 times.

I'm not really sure that I'm missing whatever TV "highlights" of his testimony might add.

M-H said...

I hadn't realised that court cases are now televised in NZ. How long has this been happening? It's appalling, and from what I can gather this case shows exactly why.

stargazer said...

i can't remember how long it's been happening - it's a relatively recent decision. it's not just this case, i totally object to the way media televised close-up shot of david bain while the video of the dead bodies of his parents and siblings was played in court - served no public interest whatsoever but was totally intrusive. i also object to the televised coverage of the sentencing of tony vietch - again, there was no public interest in showing his face while the judge was reading her statement. all it did was to publicly humiliate him for no good reason.

i know others have stated there is benefit from having public scrutiny via televised coverage, but i'm not seeing it. does anyone have evidence that such public scrutiny has had any positive benefit to the way trials are run? to my mind, the negatives totally outweigh any positives.

Hugh said...

Stargazer, you're asking those of us arguing for continued access to prove a negative. The argument is that more scrutiny of trials prevents abuses of the justice system. For obvious reasons, it's hard to show you the abuses that didn't happen.

stargazer said...

hugh, i don't think that's entirely correct. if there were incidents that were happening prior to televised coverage, and the number of those types of incidents have reduced after televised coverage was brought in, then we'll know that there has been a positive impact. it's a matter of looking at the trends for each of those areas where televised coverage is supposed to provide a benefit. given that transcripts of all trials are kept, that kind of research evidence is a theoretical possibility but i don't know that anyone has taken on such a project. if not, i'd be keen for it to happen, because i'd like to be assured that the benefits outweigh the costs. at this stage, i don't believe they do.