Russia asks Google to block article questioning coronavirus death toll

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Russia’s state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has demanded that Google block a Russian news website’s article that claims Moscow may have dramatically undercounted coronavirus deaths.

The watchdog is also investigating reports by The New York Times and The Financial Times that analyzed official mortality data to see if Russia is undercounting deaths, to determine if the media organizations violated Moscow’s law against disinformation, The Moscow Times reports.

Roskomnadzor sent a letter to Google calling on it to take down a write-up of FT’s analysis, written by MBKh Media, which estimated that 70 percent more Russians may have died from COVID-19 than officially confirmed by the country.

Next, Google informed MBKh Media, whose website is apparently hosted on the Google Cloud Platform, of the letter. Fox News reached out to Google for comment on this story.

“I believe the demand to remove the news about this article is pure political censorship,” MBKh Media’s chief editor Veronika Kutsillo said in a statement to Open Media on Friday, claiming that the outlet won’t be deleting the story.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained about what she called ‘disinformation’ by the two newspapers and said letters demanding a retraction would be passed on to both.

The New York Times is standing by its report becuase it was based on “publicly available government records and interviews with experts from government-run institutions,” its VP for communications told CBS News. Neither the Times nor the FT plan to retract their articles.

Fox News reached out to Google for comment on this story.

Critics have said that Russia is under-counting deaths to downplay the virus.

Moscow’s Health Department reacted to the press reports by putting out a statement saying that more than 60 percent of deaths among the city’s coronavirus patients are not being included in the official virus death toll because their deaths resulted from underlying causes. Officials defended their methodology as “exceptionally precise.”

As of Monday afternoon, there are 290,678 coronavirus cases in Russia but only 2,722 deaths. Worldwide, the virus has claimed the lives of at least 316,898 people.

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