Thursday, October 22, 2009

Helen Clark and the UN media

The first we heard about Helen Clark’s latest media problems came by way of a brief item courtesy of what used to be among her most slavish media fans, so this is a curious story.

Nevertheless, it appears to be true: the woman who had all but a few New Zealand journalists eating out of her hand during her nine-year premiership seems to be significantly out of her depth in dealing with American journalists covering the UN beat.
Speaking this week to Morning Report, a plainly indignant Matthew Lee criticisedthe UN development chief’s “total failure” to engage freely with local reporters.
Moreover, Clark’s offsider, Heather Simpson, was showing a marked tendency to — surprise, surprise — micromanage what media business her boss does attend to, according to Lee:
It has become somewhat striking, a total failure to answer questions about the agency as they arise. … Once requests were made for Helen Clark to do a press conference there were a flurry of calls from her two spokespeople at the UNDP to specific media outlets saying do you want a one on one. One of them responded and said Okay here’s the journalist who will do it. But UNDP responded, “No, no, we prefer this other journalist who works for you.’ That’s a degree of micro-management of press coverage that is almost unheard of in the UN.
None of which should come as any great shock to any Kiwi reporter who remembers dealing with Control Freak Central, circa 1999-2008.
Local journalists perceived as potentially critical were usually given short shrift by the Clark office or else the hint was heavily dropped that persistence in such an attitude would result in having their access severely curtailed — or else their supplications were simply ignored altogether. This was the case irrespective of whether one was an impertinent student reporter or a senior political biographer.

It will be fascinating to see how the current situation is settled. Wouldn’t it be remarkable, as David Farrar suggests, if Clark’s time in New York comes to be remembered for her unintentional accomplishment in lowering the already pit-low reputation of the UN?

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