Iraqi regulator wants to suspend Reuters over coronavirus reporting
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Iraqi authorities to rescind their decision to suspend the Reuters news agency’s licence to operate in Iraq for three months because of an article suggesting that the government was vastly understating the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.
The decision was announced by the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) on its Facebook page just hours after Reuters published a story headlined: “Iraq has confirmed thousands more COVID-19 cases than reported, medics say.”
“Iraq has thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many times more than the 772 it is has publicly reported,” the Reuters story said, citing “three doctors closely involved in the testing process.” They could not be named because the “Iraqi authorities have instructed medical staff not to speak to the media,” the report said.
Denying the story, the CMC statement said that Reuters, “which is supposed to be professional (...) and report news from official sources,” was instead “relying on vague sources and false, fabricated and untrue information on the ground” and was therefore violating the rules of media reporting.
“We call on the Communications and Media Commission to rescind its decision and not apply the envisaged sanctions,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The authorities can exercise their right of response if they think the facts reported by the news agency are inaccurate.”
As well as suspending Reuters’ licence, the CMC said it was fining the news agency 25 million dinars (20,000 euros). “We have not received notification from any Iraqi authorities regarding our licence and are currently seeking clarification on the matter", Reuters said.
From September to November last year, the CMC imposed suspensions on ten media outlets because of their coverage of anti-government street protests. It also suspended the US-funded Arabic-language TV channel AlHurra for broadcasting a report about corruption within Iraq’s religious institutions.
Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.