COLIN EADE AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND LISTENER

Case Number: 756

Council Meeting: October 1999

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Listener

The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a complaint from Colin Eade of Bryndwyr, Christchurch, against the New Zealand Listener magazine.

Mr Eade made serious allegations about a lengthy article in the magazine of 3 April, headed “A mother’s son.”

The Council found the complaints could not be sustained. The article dealt with a pending appeal to the Court of Appeal by Christchurch civic creche worker Peter Ellis, and dealt in part with the background to the case, which, six years ago, saw Ellis convicted of child abuse and imprisoned.

It was the second time the magazine had questioned Ellis’ conviction, the previous occasion being July 1993.

Mr Eade, a key police investigator in the creche case, accused The Listener of lying, of deliberately distorting the truth, of changing facts to fit theories and of being captured by supporters of Ellis. He complained of two sentences in the article. The first referred to the mother whose small son’s comments, the article stated, sparked the creche inquiry, and the second, to his own role in the investigation that followed.

Mr Eade vigorously disputed the content of those two sentences, saying they distorted the facts as he knew them.

He complained about the comments to the magazine and got no reply. He then complained in similar terms to the Press Council.

The editor of The Listener equally vigorously defended the article in its entirety including the two sentences complained of. He said the article’s author had also written the 1993 article, had covered much of the court hearings and had interviewed most of those involved. The editor said Mr Eade seemed motivated more by resentment at the way other media had treated the civic creche case, a point Mr Eade later denied.

The editor also defended the article as fair and accurate within its context of questioning Ellis’ guilt, and rejected the allegations of lies and distortion.

Mr Eade, in subsequent correspondence with the Press Council, repeated his claim of deliberate lies in the article. While apologising for getting one point factually wrong, he nevertheless maintained his view, that the article portrayed him and the mother whose son the article said had sparked the case, in the worst possible light.

Again the editor defended his staff writer and the article. He said Mr Eade, as a key officer in the case, had a vested interest in ensuring the jury found Ellis guilty, He also said the complaint made The Listener uneasy because of its sensitivity – he believed the Press Council was being asked to relitigate issues still before the courts.

The Council has no intention of being drawn into that trap.

Nevertheless, it has found Mr Eade’s complaint to be without merit. Newspapers and magazines are at liberty to opt for a questioning, even a campaigning role, positions that The Listener had clearly adopted in this case.

In so doing they had a responsibility to present facts fairly – something the editor accepted. But they were also free to present facts, in such a way as to make a case for the questions they were posing, or the campaign they were mounting.

The Council could not sustain Mr Eade’s claims of deliberate lying or distortions, and suggested he might have pursued an altogether simpler course in making his displeasure known: he might have offered The Listener a letter for publication, a route the magazine itself could have commended to him.

The complaint is not upheld.