Freedom Flyer Fall 2000 Cover

Freedom Flyer 34

the official newsletter of the
Freedom Party of Ontario

Fall 2000

In the editorial below, Scene magazine Barry Wells comments on the consistency of the London Free Press' evasion of the Elieff lawsuit, and on the inconsistency of the arguments used by Free Press editor Rob Paynter to justify the paper's position.

Article electronically reproduced from:

Scene Magazine

Dec 2, 1999

RamFed & Loaded

Are Scene's days of dictating stories to The Free Press over?

OPINION / By Barry Wells

"Scene Magazine, Barry Wells at Scene Magazine did a big spread on you [former Cheyenne Ave. apartments' owner Elijah Elieff] a couple of issues ago. Barry Wells has been pestering me to make an issue of the thing. The Free Press will cover the story as it goes along. I know you're feeling that we've done something bad to you and ah, Barry Wells thinks there, Barry Wells thinks there are plots within sub-plots within conspiracies in this thing and Barry Wells has an newspaper where he can write just exactly that if he wants...I know you're eager to have this story told and so is your...ah...and so is Barry Wells from Scene Magazine but Barry Wells and you don't dictate what the newspaper covers and when it covers it." -- Rob Paynter, editor-in-chief, The London Free Press, on "pills the size of Volkswagens" for a sinus infection, during CJBK's Talk of the Town call-in radio show on Nov. 22

I OFTEN TUNE INTO CJBK's Talk of the Town AM radio show each Monday between 11 a.m. and 12 noon to hear Freeps editor-in-chief Rob Paynter and editor Helen Connell field calls from listeners. Currently, Dan Gall is sitting in as the host for Jim Chapman, who's recuperating at home from a heart attack he suffered on Thanksgiving Monday.

The Free Press Hour radio show is essentially a cross-marketing schmooze-fest betweeen CJBK and The Free Press, but it can get interesting when a caller nails the Free Press honchos with solid criticism. Listening to Paynter and Connell trying to answer a pointed question on live radio can be entertaining as hell. I developed a fondness for Paynter's sense of humour (mandatory in the fast-paced newspaper biz) after reading a few of his self-effacing Saturday columns.

On three successive Mondays, the matter of Elijah Elieff's $1.3-million lawsuit against Rev. Susan Eagle, the United Church of Canada, Neighbourhood Legal Services Inc. and the National Bank of Canada --- and the absence of any mention of the controversy in The Free Press --- was brought up by callers. It's clear Scene's Nov. 4 cover story about the law-suit sparked the calls. On Mon. Nov. 8, editor Helen Connell denied knowing anything about the Elieff lawsuit, but promised to bring it up with newsroom staff. On Mon. Nov. 15, both Connell and Paynter said their paper hadn't covered the story because they only report criminal trials and civil lawsuits when they're concluded (they should tell that yarn to former London Hydro CEO Don Edwards and former Hydro commissioners Ted Wernham and Dawn Erskine). Hilariously, Paynter even interrogated the caller with the question, "What's your interest in the matter?" A better question is, 'What's Paynter's interest in not reporting it.' On Mon. Nov. 22, Elijah Elieff called the radio show and the good editor-in-chief said his paper might cover the story once he "gets up to speed" on the situation and if he finds the story "worthy of coverage." Uh-huh.

But progress is being made. In just three weeks they've gone from not knowing anything about the story (uh-huh), to saying they don't cover civil actions until they're concluded, to, once they figure out what the hell is going on, they might cover it if it meets their criteria for news-worthiness.

AFTER HEARING the bit about The Free Press only reporting civil actions upon the conclusion of the case, I e-mailed Dan Gall at CJBK and listed a whack of civil actions The Free Press has reported in the past, long before they made it to trial. It's a regular occurrence in newspapers the world over. As everyone in the newspaper business is aware, once lawsuits are filed with the courts, they're deemed public information unless a judge orders otherwise.

Radio host Dan Gall e-mailed me the next day saying he'd raise my concerns during the Free Press Hour on Mon. Nov. 22. He never did, although Gall admitted on-air on Nov. 23 that he showed Paynter my e-mail.

When Elijah Elieff called CJBK on Nov. 22 to relate his side of the story and the involvement of The Free Press in his Ontario Human Rights tribunal hearing in Feb. of 1993 (the racism complaint against Elieff was set in motion by a Free Press news article of Nov. 8, 1989 and a Freeps staff member was subpoenaed to the hearing), it prompted Mr. Paynter to start jabbering about Scene and I in a convoluted, less than flattering manner. To be fair, Paynter admitted at the beginning of the show to "taking pills the size of Volkswagens" for a sinus condition --- pills, that by his own admission, make him "incredibly stupid." Rob, you're forgiven.

Most of us, at one time or another, have been swacked on Sudafed and the like and got caught in the time warp. No big deal. One time on pharmaceuticals I saw spiralling arms of stars emanating from a tarbender's head. So what? I don't hold a grudge. I'm willing to gargle booze and smoke cigars with Rob over at the Press Club anytime. I also concede that neither I nor Scene Magazine --- darn it all --- can dictate what appears on the pages of his paper. Oh, the injustice of it all.

FAT FILE: But if Rob does decide to examine Elieff's story, he'd need to spend hours in the Free Press library boning up on the subject, perusing the fat file of articles about Mr. Elieff and the Cheyenne Ave. apartments ordeal, published during the late-' 80s right through to the early-'90s. The period of time when the paper was, according to today's chief, hijacked by --- bless their pea-pickin' little hearts --- the editorial staff.

"When I came here two-and-a-half years ago, when Sun Media bought the newspaper, I found the newspaper [the Free Press] --- no disrespect to the editors who were running it at the time --- it was a newspaper that'd lost its way, it wasn't covering local issues, it was trying to create local issues and set the local agenda ..." --- Free Press editor-in-chief Rob Paynter, on CJBK's Talk of the Town radio call-in show on Nov. 22

It's an interesting comment, one that dovetails with Elieff's claim that skewed coverage in the Blackburn-owned Free Press played a major role in his ordeal.

From a legal perspective, the Elieff lawsuit is also unique. It'll likely be reported in Canadian law reports, regardless of the trial's outcome. Look at the unusual legal issues to be tried and the parties involved.

Allegations: conspiracy, abuse of process, intentional interference with contractual relations, inducing breach of contract and unlawful interference with economic interests. Parties: a former private property and business owner, a community activist-ordained minister, the United Church of Canada, Neighbourhood Legal Services Inc. and the National Bank of Canada.

Is the lawsuit newsworthy and of interest to Londoners? You bet it is. And, for the record, I'm a supporter of Eagle's political career. But don't hold your breath waiting for Elieff's story to appear outside of Scene. While Rob Paynter has accused me of seeing "plots within sub-plots within conspiracies in this thing..." a simple read of the story's history strongly suggest 'media politics' were involved. It's not rocket science that newspapers have been political organs since Day One.

For Mr. Paynter to deny this on CJBK on one hand, then on the other, freely admit the paper had "lost its way" --- with writers "trying to create local issues" not covering them --- you'd think he could see the glaring contradiction.

Not seeing the contradiction is what happens when you take sinus pills "the size of Volkswagens" and then, like a good sport, go on the radio. Rob, kimosabi, welcome to Melonville.

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