Abu Dhabi prosecutors arrest two over fake claims that family of five died of Covid-19

A reporter and his interviewee were detained over a broadcast that was found to be entirely false

Federal prosecutor Salem Al Zaabi speaks at a televised briefing on the latest Covid-19 situation. He said two people were detained over a fake news report carried by Abu Dhabi Sports Channel. Wam
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Two men have been arrested over a "fabricated" television report that claimed a family of five Emiratis had died of Covid-19.

Federal prosecutors issued a warning to media outlets and the public over the spread of false information following the broadcast on Abu Dhabi Sports Channel on Thursday.

The segment featured a social media influencer who works as a reporter interviewing a man at his home in Abu Dhabi.

The man claimed his family had succumbed to the virus - which was later found to be entirely false. Officials said the family members did not even exist.

Both men were detained and investigations are ongoing. Officials spoke at the regular Covid-19 evening briefing, at which it was revealed the UAE saw a 10 per cent spike in the number of active patient cases in August.

This story negatively impacted UAE citizens and residents and created chaos, anxiety and fear. It was false.

Salem Al Zaabi, acting director of the Federal Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Prosecution service, warned that media outlets which act in an irresponsible manner will face criminal action.

"This negligence in the media's role in exceptional times, will lead to negative repercussions for our community," he said.

"This story negatively impacted UAE citizens and residents and created chaos, anxiety and fear. It was false. It impacted the safety and security of the community."

He added: "It is extremely dangerous and will impact on the trust of people in the precautionary measures and procedures adopted.

"We call on every official in the media field to exercise responsibility when dealing with the topic of Covid-19, in order to preserve the efforts made by our leaders and their relevant authorities."

Mr Al Zaabi said authorities said investigations will continue into the motives behind the false news story. However, he also stated that ‘The national media has played an important role in correcting the course’ of rumours and inaccurate information on social media playforms.

In a statement, channel owner Abu Dhabi Media’s Board said measures it had taken after an investigation was launched into an interviewee's story about his family was found to be "fabricated".

The broadcaster said it has taken disciplinary action against the programme's staff, "including their suspension from work, issuance of final warning letters and financial penalties".

The original story had been widely shared on social media users in the UAE, as was the consequent clarification by Abu Dhabi Media Company, which did not name the journalists who had been disciplined, in an effort to protect their privacy.

Dr Saif Al Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (Ncema), said it was crucial to protect the public from unverified information, particularly during the pandemic.

"Strict measures will hold to account every person not adhering to the protocols for media information," he said.

'Since the outbreak, social media has circulated false information and rumours. We have had to combat false information in addition to the pandemic.

"The media must make sure they do not create fear and chaos in our communities by fabricating stories, which will threaten national security."

The message was delivered as the UAE recorded 339 new Covid-19 cases, bringing its total to 67,621.

A further 172 people recovered from the virus, as the overall tally climbed to 58,754.

One more patient died as the death toll in the Emirates rose to 377.

The latest infections were identified after an additional 69,000 tests were conducted.

There are 8,490 patients currently receiving treatment for the virus across the country.

Government spokesman Dr Omar Al Hammadi, renewed the call for residents to play their part in the recovery.

He said there had been a 10 per cent spike in cases since the start of August, highlighting the need for the public to act responsibly.

"Other indicators show we are on right track and reflect strength of health sector," he said.

"Deaths remains at 0.5 per of total cases. We must continue to co-operate with our first line of defence.

"There have been pictures on social media of gatherings at hotels, without precautionary measures, which contradicts what we are working on.

"All members of society must be responsible and comply with these measures."