On April 2, Reuters was suspended for three months following a story detailing a greater number of coronavirus cases than had been officially reported by the Iraqi government. The international news agency was also asked for an apology and fined 25 million Iraqi Dinars ($21,000).
Salih called the decision “regrettable” and said it had been taken by the country’s Communications and Media Commission, which is “independent of the government.”
He told Amanpour the reporting of Covid-19 cases and deaths had “to be based on transparency and openness.” He added: “From my vantage point, you will not get me in a situation where I would defend [suspending Reuters].”
Salih said officials were distressed with Reuters as the report “implied a deliberate falsification of records by the government.” The president cited reports from the World Health Organization and the United Nations “confirming that there has been absolutely no evidence of deliberate falsification of records.”
He also said the discrepancy in numbers “is the norm in Iraq as well as other countries because we have not been in a case of active surveillance early on.”
Reuters has said it regretted the decision to suspend the news agency, and that it stood by the story, which it described as “based on multiple, well-placed medical and political sources.”
“We are seeking to resolve the matter and are working to ensure we continue to deliver trusted news about Iraq,” the agency was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
A statement from the Communications and Media Commission on April 2 said Reuters’ “approach to the Iraqi situation places the security of society at risk.”
The story published by its Baghdad bureau said that “Iraq has thousands of confirmed Covid-19 cases, many times more than the 772 it has publicly reported, according to three doctors closely involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official.”
CNN could not independently confirm the numbers in the Reuters article.
However, the latest official tally, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is keeping a running tally of global cases, is that Iraq has 1,400 cases of Covid-19 and 78 deaths.
Salih on Tuesday met with medical staff and praised their efforts to fight the virus, adding, “the battle has not ended yet, and we have many challenges ahead of us, and the final victory over the epidemic has not yet been achieved.”