Katherine Rich Finally Leaving the Board of the HPA
Katherine Rich Finally Leaving the Board of the Health Promotion Agency
The public statement (below) by Brent Webling of the Food and Grocery Council, published today, conceals the fact that while Katherine Rich was a Health Promotion Agency Board member she was allegedly found to be engaging in activities in conflict with her post.
An email trail revealed in the recently published book "Dirty Politics" showed how Katherine Rich was connected to covert attacks on public health advocates. She is described as orchestrating these attacks by working through an intermediary, Carrick Graham, to place a series of posts on Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog that attempted to denigrate public health professionals. Her involvement in the overall strategy was kept secret.
Those targeted in the Whale Oil attacks were professionals who speak out about major health issues related to tobacco, alcohol and junk food consumption. The Food and Grocery Council is a business lobby group that promotes the interests of the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries.
Following the book’s publication, Katherine Rich refused to comment about her alleged involvement and resorted to issuing carefully crafted media releases, which skirted around the issue of her specific role in the posts on the Whale Oil blog.
The Minister, Jonathan Coleman, has now indicated that Katherine Rich will be replaced on the Health Promotion Agency Board with others who represent industry interests. Previously the link with industry provided by Katherine Rich was downplayed.
This new transparency is welcomed by Alcohol Action NZ. However, the appointment of a person with industry affiliations will remain highly problematic, creating a major potential conflict of interest that is likely to be counterproductive to health promotion in general and effective alcohol law reform in particular.
Brent Webling (FGC)
Katherine has informed the Chair of the HPA that she will not be seeking reappointment for a fourth time.
There’s a range of reasons for this but none of them includes the ongoing and ridiculous personal attacks on her by public health activists. Her colleagues on the board were keen for her to stay, and she considered seeking reappointment, but in the end she considers it’s time to move on to other things. Also, after finishing three terms it’s a good time to allow new people to bring fresh perspectives. Eventually all Board members retire at some point so only a conspiracy theorist would read more into her decision than this. She considers it a privilege to have been part of establishing and then being appointed three times to an agency that does great work in promoting healthier lifestyles through programmes such as immunisation, rheumatic fever, sun safety, alcohol harm minimisation, and smoke cessation. She’s proud of the work she has done in that regard, and fair people should judge her accordingly. The HPA has a great team of people that does important work. Those who have attacked the HPA tend not to have any understanding of the work the agency actually does. The Minister has thanked her for her contribution and has expressed appreciation of her work.