Melanie Reid criticises “heavy-handed” Crown Law as Newsroom faces a criminal charge over an Oranga Tamariki uplift video. David Williams reports.

Newsroom has pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge relating to a documentary about a controversial ‘reverse uplift’.

The video story at the centre of the charge, by Newsroom Investigates editor Melanie Reid, covered Oranga Tamariki social workers removing Māori children from their permanent foster home. It led Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis to question his agency about the practice, after which he directed Oranga Tamariki to stop the practice

However, Newsroom was forced by the High Court to remove the video, two other stories, and a photo in a fourth story. (Newsroom has subsequently sought leave to appeal.) 

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The Government’s top lawyer Solicitor-General Una Jagose alleged the documentary contained information that could identify the children involved – something Newsroom disputes. (This website initially amended the video to deal with most of Crown Law’s concerns.)

While Jagose’s department, Crown Law, pursued the court action, for which it was awarded costs, it also referred the matter to police

The whānau or others involved in the video story have never complained.

Newsroom appeared in the Christchurch District Court today, charged with breaching the Family Court Act in November last year. 

Through Wellington barrister Tim Castle, Newsroom pleaded not guilty, saying there would be a strenuous denial of the offence.

Newsroom’s investigations editor Melanie Reid, centre, outside Christchurch District Court on Tuesday. Photo: David Williams

He told Judge Jane Farish: “It is the position of Newsroom NZ Ltd that neither did it intend to offend against the provisions of the statute but, indeed, it did not.”

Castle said Newsroom sought information from the police so it could get informed legal advice after police sought an interview over the Solicitor General’s complaint. The police refused to provide the information and Newsroom said it intended to complain to the Ombudsman. Within days, Newsroom was charged, Castle said.

This didn’t accord with matters of fairness set out in a recent interview by Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in an interview with Stuff, Newsroom’s lawyer said. He also said the professionalism of Newsroom and Reid had been independently verified.

Farish stopped Castle from saying more, saying: “Now unfortunately is not the time.”

Castle revealed Newsroom was seeking leave to appeal the High Court injunction decision and costs. A High Court hearing would be held next week.

Crown prosecutor Aaron Harvey said a substantive case in the Court of Appeal may resolve some matters before the district court.

Outside the court, Reid said: “We’re journalists, we’re not criminals. The fact that the Crown is treating the media like this when we have exposed bad practice in a government department is incredibly disappointing and very heavy-handed. 

“If that’s the way Crown Law is going to treat the media then we should be afraid because that’s not the Aotearoa New Zealand that we believe that we’re living in.

“Our job is to hold power to account. That’s what we did, that’s what we do and that is what we will continue to do. The Crown being so heavy-handed and ridiculous in taking this case is certainly not going to stop that.

“This is a waste of the judge’s time, the police’s time, it’s a waste of our time, not to mention it’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money. We should not be in this court for doing our job.”

Castle, standing beside Reid, said the professional work by Reid and the Newsroom Investigates team changed the whole landscape of reverse uplifts by Oranga Tamariki – best demonstrated by a direction from the responsible minister that it cease that practice.

“It changed not just policy but attitudes. It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Newsroom and Melanie Reid.”

That Newsroom was now before the court was very unsatisfactory, he said.

Judge Farish set a case review hearing for September 3. She also ordered the suppression of details of the children involved in the case, which were included in the charge sheet.

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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