McKinnon takes issue with media and PM

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon today blamed the New Zealand media for misinterpreting a speech he made to Commonwealth leaders which has stirred up controversy.

Mr McKinnon also said he had raised the issue with Prime Minister Helen Clark after she described a part of his speech as "a throwaway line".

The PM had given Mr McKinnon's speech at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Malta a swift thumbs down.

In the speech, the former National MP appeared to suggest trade was more important than democracy.

"Many people are beginning to ask whether building a democracy is really the road to prosperity," he said in his address.

"Does democracy put food on our tables, clothe our children, put roofs over our heads, or give us a future."

Trade was not just an engine for economic growth, but was the most potent weapon to combat poverty, he told Commonwealth leaders.

Helen Clark told 3 News that she disagreed with Mr McKinnon's comments.

"What is important to us is that the Harare declaration and the expectations around human rights and democracy are upheld."

She said Mr McKinnon's comments should not be "over-interpreted".

Mr McKinnon today issued a statement clarifying his comments, saying he rejected reports in the New Zealand media that he viewed democracy as anything other than the cornerstone of the Commonwealth.

He said there were "no 'throwaway' lines" in his text.

"Quite the contrary, I have always stressed that democracy and development are two sides of one coin. People cannot eat democracy, but development cannot occur without freedom."

Mr McKinnon said he was "appalled" at the sloppiness in reports he had seen "and I have also raised the matter with Prime Minister Clark who was also quoted in the report".

Mr McKinnon said he had been available to media from all Commonwealth countries in the past week but had not had a single question or request from the New Zealand media in Malta covering the meeting.

"It is disappointing that those responsible for this poor journalism did not do their homework or ask the necessary questions if in doubt."

- NZPA

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