Iraq suspends Reuters for 3 months over report on Covid-19 cases

Iraq suspends Reuters for 3 months over report on Covid-19 cases
Iraqi authorities accused the London-based news agency of misreporting the country's number of Covid-19 cases.
2 min read
14 April, 2020
Reuters said it "regretted" the move but that it stood by the story [Getty]

Iraq has suspended the Reuters news agency for three months after it said there were more COVID-19 cases in the country than officially reported, the agency said Tuesday.

In a report published on April 2, Reuters quoted doctors saying there were more than 3,000 novel coronavirus cases in Iraq, well over the 772 cases confirmed by the health ministry at that time.

The Iraqi health ministry denied the allegations contained in the report while the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) accused Reuters of violating broadcasting rules and demanded the agency make a formal apology.

The CMC revoked Reuters' operational licence for three months and fined it $21,000, according to a letter to the agency seen by AFP.

The Reuters report "endangers the safety of society, hampers the government's huge efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus and gives a negative picture of the crisis cell" formed to deal with the pandemic, the CMC said explaining its decision.

In a statement on Tuesday, Reuters said it "regretted" the move but that it stood by the story.

According to the last toll published Monday by Iraq's health ministry there have been so far 1,378 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, of which 78 have died.

The United Nations mission in Iraq said earlier this month that underreporting of Covid-19 cases was "inevitable, due to factors such as fear, cultural issues including stigmatisation, undocumented asymptomatic patients, lack of active surveillance and limited testing".

Authorities have processed tens of thousands of tests in a country of 40 million people, a quarter of whom live in the sprawling capital city of Baghdad.

Iraq has imposed a country-wide curfew since March 17, closed schools and shops and banned all international travel as well as movement between the country's provinces.

Health Minister Jaafar Allawi has expressed worry that a spike in cases would overwhelm hospitals left under-staffed and under-funded after years of conflict and poor maintenance. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Iraq's press freedoms at 156 out of 180 countries.

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