The Streisand Effect

I thought I’d write one more story about the decision of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) to defy the Privacy Commissioner and hide the contents of the Marris Report. You see, I recently discovered something called the Streisand Effect.

The Streisand Effect occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended result of publicising the information more widely. Once people are aware that information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress files and websites including Swimwatch. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives further publicity. Rather than going away the problem for those intent on suppression gets worse.

The Streisand effect perfectly describes what has happened in the case of Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) effort to hide the Marris Report. If the Marris Report had been sent to me three years ago when I was working in Saudi Arabia the interest in its contents would have been minimal. I knew the accusations being made by Nikki Johns were not true. That part of the Report was of little interest to me or anyone else. If SNZ had been found responsible for making political mileage out of my situation I would have been interested but my work in Saudi Arabia would have reduced its importance. Certainly three years later SNZ’s role would no longer have relevance. The Report would have come and gone – long forgotten.

What did interest me, and still does, are any comments Marris might have made that could improve my coaching. I considered him a perceptive critic who could well have made suggestions that could improve my coaching. If that was the case I was interested in finding out what they were. Any advice that might improve me and the results of my coaching was more than welcome. At the time this was my main motivation for wanting to read the Marris Report.

That has never changed. My principal motive for wanting to read the Report is still to see what Marris thought I needed to do to be a better coach. But because SNZ refused to send me the Report the Streisand Effect began. What was SNZ determined to hide. Why were they being so secretive? I knew they had no interest in protecting my privacy. So who were they protecting? It had to be either themselves or the complainants. But why? My interest in obtaining the Report began to grow.

And then the Privacy Commissioner ruled that I should be provided with a copy of the Report. And still SNZ refused. The Streisand Effect grew again. What on earth was going on? The government agency responsible for privacy ruled that I should be given the Report and SNZ turned them down. Now my interest was huge. I still wanted to find out what Marris said about my coaching. But now I also really wanted to know what SNZ was hiding. Portions of the Report that were of academic interest three years ago were now fascinating. If SNZ was prepared to defy the law there must be something interesting they were frantic to hide.

And so I appealed the case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. The Tribunal could order SNZ to disclose the Report. Clearly force is what it was going to take. Only compulsion is going to reveal to me, to SNZ members and to the public what is in the Report; what SNZ has spent three years and thousands of dollars trying to hide. Still SNZ fight on. While their lawyer was on holiday recently they hired a legal privacy specialist at $600 an hour to continue the battle. Whatever is in the Marris Report is worth $600 an hour for SNZ to keep quiet.

It is an interesting twist of fate that I get calls from the media, wanting to dig into every aspect of my coaching; wanting to delve into every fabrication invented by any disgruntled complainer and yet it is me who is spending money wanting to reveal what an official investigation into my coaching has to say.

One journalist this week asked questions about perfectly legitimate and authorised credit card payments made over thirty years ago in the 1980s. I was also asked about my coaching in the USA, a period when the American Swim Coaches Association awarded me their Certificate of Coaching Excellence for the work I had done with a masters world record holder, an Olympic Champion and two Florida State Champions. I will seek to answer the press with open honesty – good or bad. Of course my career has had its ups and downs – both have received their fair share of attention. The press however would do well to remember that it is the complainers and SNZ that want the findings of the Marris investigation hidden. SNZ and the complainers are the ones doing the hiding around here. SNZ and others are making an enormous and costly effort to divert attention away from the findings of the Marris Report and onto my life and career.

The press and others would do well to go dig into why. Why has SNZ spent thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars on hiding the Marris information? I’m not hiding anything but SNZ and its mates certainly are – and to the tune of $600 an hour. Go find out why. Go find out what they are so scared of. Streisand would be hugely impressed with the effort SNZ have gone to in order to hide information. When the press goes looking they would do well to remember that.

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