UK papers accept mistake in accusing Pakistan for imported COVID-19 cases

IPSO says headline gave impression that Britain’s imported coronavirus cases originated from Pakistan

Murtaza Ali Shah
  • Centre for Media Monitoring had complained to Independent Press Standards Organisation about false headlines
  • Articles had called for “tougher quarantine checks on arrivals from high-risk countries”, such as Pakistan
  • IPSO finds headlines gave strong and misleading impression that Britain’s imported coronavirus cases originated from Pakistan

LONDON: Five months after sensationally reporting that Pakistan was the origin of and responsible for half of Britain’s imported coronavirus cases, two influential UK newspapers have accepted that they published misleading and false headlines.

A story was first published on July 26 by The Telegraph newspaper with the headlines: “Exclusive: Half of Britain’s imported conronavrius cases originate from Pakistan”.

The same story was republished by Daily Mail, The Sun, Breitbart and several other papers.

The stories were highlighted by The News and Geo for the inaccuracies and stereotyping of Pakistanis. The news reports asked the Public Health England (PHE) to provide proof as Daily Telegraph had claimed it had received the information from the PHE.

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM), associated with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) that Mail Online, Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the articles, falsely accusing Pakistan of importing corona cases to the UK.

These articles had called for “tougher quarantine checks on arrivals from high-risk countries” such as Pakistan. The papers claimed that half the incidents of imported infections are understood to have come from Pakistan since June 4 as data from PHC showed 30 cases.

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The CfMM complained that the newspaper headlines were misleading as they “gave the false impression that half of all the UK’s imported COVID-19 cases originated from Pakistan during pandemic. This was not the case, as more COVID-19 cases originated in other countries over this period, particularly in Europe”.

The IPSO was told that these articles explained the headline figure related to the period since June 4 — which was an accurate representation of statistics released by PHE — did not consider that this mitigated the inaccurate and misleading impression given by the headline.

The CfMM told the watchdog that these articles should have also made clear that the specific figures came from the June 4-27 period rather than June as a whole. It also told the body that the 30 cases imported from Pakistan were small compared to the total cases in the UK during this period. It stated that the majority of imported cases during pandemic came from countries other than Pakistan.

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The publication of the headline, said the IPSO, amounted to a clear failure by the UK newspaper to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information, breaching Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors Code.

Following the verdict, Mail Online has now clearly mentioned on its website in a subhead and footnote that the figure of 30 cases was only from the period of July 4 to July 27.

Mail Online said: “The headline to this article has been amended since publication to make clear that the number of imported cases of COVID-19 from Pakistan into Britain related to the month of June.”

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Daily Telegraph tweeted: “Our tweets 26/6 “Pakistan origin of half of Britain’s imported virus cases was misleading as it suggested that half of all the UK imported cases originated in Pakistan, in fact, the figures only related to the period 4-26”.