The UN Watch NGO put out a statement a couple of weeks ago that said:
As 194 countries gather online for the World Health Organization’s annual assembly, which is slated this afternoon to hear the first progress report from its international inquiry into the origins and global response to the coronavirus pandemic, an independent human rights watchdog is calling on the panel’s co-chair, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, to recuse herself from the position on account of her numerous prior statements praising the WHO’s response, and due to her close ties with the Chinese government.
Clark was appointed by the world’s top health agency to co-chair the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, an impartial inquiry that will probe the WHO’s handling of the coronavirus and the response of governments around the world. The panel is scheduled to present its progress report today, and the final report in May 2021.
However, according to Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, “Clark’s numerous statements this year praising the WHO for the very actions she is meant to investigate, as well as her history of close ties with Beijing—which backed her recent bid to become UN chief—give rise to the appearance of bias, and could seriously undermine the credibility of the panel’s findings.”
This call for Clark to resign was newsworthy. In fact both the NZ Herald and Newshub wrote stories about it, but then deleted the stories without trace.
Now Clark obviously disagrees with UN Watch that she is compromised, and has complained to the media outlets that ran a story.
But surely the media should add in comments from her refuting the claims, rather than just deleting the story?
I’m not critical of Clark for complaining to the media, but I am critical of the media for deleting a story that deemed newsworthy merely because a politician or public figure complains about it.
Clark is a public figure and comments about her are clearly covered by qualified privilege. And this is not a minor story, but about the leadership of a global inquiry into the WHO response to the worst public health crisis of 100 years.
This doesn’t mean I agree with UN Watch that Clark is compromised or should resign. The fact that China backed her for UN Secretary-General doesn’t mean there is a quid-pro-quo. Anyone who has been active on the global stage will have relationships with various countries.
The issue is that the media decided this story was newsworthy and presumably in the face of legal threats just deleted them, rather than amended them.
UPDATE: The Herald has now republished the story it deleted, with the addition of comments by Clark. This is what they should have done in the first place.