With the spread of COVID-19 impacting the world, the United States Agency for Global Media and its networks have remained committed to providing accurate and unbiased information about the coronavirus, clarifying any misinformation, and exposing disinformation related to the pandemic.
Fact-Checking COVID Conspiracies
- Voice of America covered the release of an Australian parliamentary report debunking a widespread conspiracy theory that links COVID-19 to 5G technology.
- VOA 365 uncovered how internal strife and widespread corruption led to bad information and misreporting of cases in Iran, distorting the severity of the situation.
- VOA Russian’s Social Distancing show featured anthropologist Alexandra Arkhipova, who discussed the origins of disinformation and myths about the novel coronavirus, and how to identify them, receiving over 28,000 views on Facebook.
- VOA Mandarin examined how Fort Detrick Laboratory in Maryland found itself in the middle of one of the most prominent conspiracy theories about the novel coronavirus, tracing the timeline of the theory and examining how it came about.
- Polygraph, VOA’s fact checking service, fact-checked a report by RT suggesting that George Soros is benefitting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Polygraph also demonstrated how the Orthodox clergy in Georgia are recycling narratives currently promoted by anti-vaccination activists as well as Russia-linked operatives to suggest that the pandemic is a hoax and an attempt to control the global public.
- Polygraph debunked statements by Russian president Vladimir Putin claiming that hospitals across Russia are well-equipped and have “everything necessary” to deal with the pandemic and highlighted reports from doctors and other healthcare professionals saying they have little to no access to the basic equipment that they need.
- RFE/RL paid special attention to the controversy surrounding Russia’s underreporting of COVID- 19-related deaths. According to several prominent Western news organizations – such as the New York Times and the Financial Times – Russian authorities are undercounting the number of pandemic-related deaths, instead classifying them based on their direct cause (e.g. pneumonia or heart failure), suggesting that the true death toll could be over 70% higher than currently reported. Current Time’s weekly Footage vs. Footage show also looked at underreporting of the COVID-19 death rate in Russia, as well as at the toll the pandemic is taking among Orthodox clergy due to church leadership initially dismissing the threat.
- MBN covered WHO’s decisive statement that smoking does not protect people from the coronavirus and that, in fact, it is likely to increase the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
Threats to Journalistic Freedom
- Adding to the map released two weeks ago, VOA launched the “Risk and Reporting At The Pandemic’s Front Line” project, which highlights the profiles of reporters from around the world who are facing persecution or restrictions due to their COVID-19-related work.
- In response to the reports that Russian authorities are undercounting pandemic-related deaths, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called them “yet another anti-Russian fake” and demanded that the news organizations retract these articles, threatening to terminate their reporters’ accreditation.
- RFE/RL reported on the Russian media regulator’s request for Google to block an article also questioning Russia’s death toll by MBKh Media, claiming that it included “calls for riots, extremist activities, [and] participation in mass public events held in violation of the established order.”
- RFA reported on the detention of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported on the emerging coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan. He was arrested on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” which is often used to target peaceful critics of the CCP.