A coronavirus “misinformation” webinar sponsored by controversial Chinese technology company Huawei featuring the likes of author and CNN commentator Van Jones and pop star will.i.am has been canceled after organizers said it had “become a distraction from other priorities.”
The webinar, organized by the National Association of Black Journalists, quickly became the subject of mockery after it emerged that a discussion on “misinformation” was being organized by a company with intimate links to the Chinese communist state, which has recently launched a massive disinformation campaign seeking to deflect responsibility for its hand in causing the pandemic.
“NABJ has canceled a webinar scheduled for tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET, entitled “The Rise of Misinformation” because it has become a distraction from other priorities,” the NABJ said in a statement.
It had come under attack because controversial technology giant Huawei was planning to sponsor the webinar though it had no editorial control. NABJ always retains editorial control over all such content along with final say over moderators and panelists. Huawei knew all of this in advance.
Additionally, Huawei officials were not part of the scheduled webinar. Seasoned journalist and CNN’s Van Jones was a panelist and NABJ’s Roland Martin was the moderator for the webinar. They were to be joined by panelists will.i.am, musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and Dr. Ebony Hilton, a noted medical professional at the University of Virginia. They were all poised to talk about the purveyance of information regarding COVID-19.
There is no signed contract and NABJ has not accepted funding from Huawei. NABJ will continue its COVID-19 dialogue with the greater community-at-large.
After the NABJ released their statement, CNN’s Van Jones claimed he had been planning to cancel his appearance anyway.
“I accepted invite to participate in NABJ webinar, warning black community about #COVID misinformation. I said “yes” without knowing sponsor,” he wrote on Twitter. “Glad NABJ canceled; I wouldn’t have participated. I’ll keep raising alarm about pandemic’s impact on vulnerable people.”
I accepted invite to participate in NABJ webinar, warning black community about #COVID misinformation. I said “yes” without knowing sponsor. Glad NABJ canceled; I wouldn’t have participated. I’ll keep raising alarm about pandemic’s impact on vulnerable people. #StaySafe #StayHome https://t.co/CtIodwQfzZ
— Van Jones (@VanJones68) May 12, 2020
According to the event’s initial description, it was to reflect on how coronavirus disinformation disproportionately affects communities of color and those individuals in low-income neighborhoods.
“Since the 2016 general election, Americans have faced an endless barrage of misinformation designed to undermine democratic values and sow social division among various communities,” it read. “Now in the face of a global pandemic, the misinformation tide continues to rise, hitting African Americans, as well as Asian, Hispanic, rural, and lower-income Americans particularly hard.”
Despite being the largest privately owned telecom company in the world, Huawei is widely believed to be effectively controlled by the Chinese communist state. As a result, it has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years, with the Trump administration deciding to ban its 5G equipment from being used in domestic networks due to concerns they may engage in spying on behalf of Beijing.