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PHE confirms providing manipulated data for racist story against Pakistan

Top Story

July 10, 2020

LONDON: Officials at the government-funded Public Health England (PHE) manipulated the data of imported cases of coronavirus in the UK and provided it to several right wing papers which led to various racist stories against Pakistan, it has been learnt.

Mainstream British news outlets like The Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail ran stories which claimed that travellers from Pakistan were responsible for 50 percent of the UK's imported COVID-19 cases on the basis of merely 30 cases since June 04.

After this issue was raised by The News, the headlines of those stories have now been changed by the major UK news platforms but after multiple correspondences with Public Health England, The News has learnt that officials within the government-funded PHE collaborated with The Telegraph and provided data targeting Pakistan.

The PHE has confirmed to The News it didn’t collect and share data on any other country other than Pakistan. The PHE officials confirmed that they didn’t have comparative data on other South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

It’s believed that nearly five times more people came to the UK from India through chartered flights after the lockdown was imposed. It’s understood that over 220,000 people came from India after the painful lockdown and just over 50,000 people came from Pakistan for the same period but only data on Pakistan was leaked to the media by the PHE.

Responding to a request for comment, a spokesman for Public Health England said that they had confirmed the data of Pakistan being responsible for 50 percent of the cases to journalists in The Telegraph although they claimed that the newspaper received this information from somewhere else and PHE simply confirmed it.

After nearly 10 days of silence and repeated requests for comment, the PHE said that it had told the paper that the data of Pakistan – 30 cases only – was a “small number” but it’s believed the paper chose not to publish it in favour of a spicy headline.

Despite multiple requests for data about imported COVID-19 cases from countries other than Pakistan, the PHE did not provide the figures. When asked for similar data regarding India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, a spokesman for the PHE replied: "Apologies but this data isn’t available at the moment. We are looking to publish it in the future and will keep you updated on when it is expected."

When asked whether PHE singled out Pakistan and only collected data on one particular country, the press officer responded by saying that data from all countries had been collected. When asked data on Pakistan was shared, the official didn’t have an answer.

The PHE spokesman claimed that The Telegraph obtained figures on Pakistan about the number of imported cases from Pakistan “through several international sources” and that “their story would have been published regardless of PHE’s involvement”.

The spokesman said that the PHE did not tell the Telegraph about the figures in the first instance but for accuracy it did confirm the approximate number of cases on its records and highlighted that this was a small number.

The spokesman said that the PHE collects data on all imported cases into the UK from all countries but it has not published any of this data. The spokesman denied that Pakistan was singled out by the PHE but didn’t have an answer as to how the PHE issued data on Pakistan only and not on any other country. It’s understood that racist and Islamophobic attacks, particularly against Pakistani Muslims, have increased in the aftermath of the misleading story by right-wing British newspapers.

MPs Naz Shah and Afzal Khan also wrote to the editors of these publications demanding the misleading and baseless stories to be brought down but only the headlines were changed in response to their strongly worded letters.

Brian Cathcart, who is a Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London, wrote a detailed piece forensically analysing the baseless reporting by The Telegraph and other right-wing British newspapers.

The professor wrote: "As the paper must have expected it would be, this was swiftly repeated in the Sun and MailOnline, to be seen by millions more readers. Just as predictably, it soon featured in far-right anti-Muslim propaganda, which declared – among other things – that this was the explanation for the renewed lockdown in Leicester."

Questioning the paper's credibility, Professor Cathcart wrote: "This is gravity-free journalism, its content untethered to the real world. Any conscientious editor requires reporters to quote real people and identify them clearly unless there is a strong reason for anonymity. That is essential for credibility. Yet, in the whole of this article, only two elements were properly attributed and even with those the Telegraph was scarcely candid."