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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Press Is Too Silent On Disease

Russia is in the middle of a diphtheria epidemic, and the press has been conspicuously silent. Not one central newspaper has had a major front-page story on the topic, and very little information has made it onto the major television channels.


With thousands of Russians suffering from a disease that has been all but eradicated in most of the world, the press is devoting its columns to lengthy political analyses that have little interest and less relevance for the majority of readers.


In contrast, the spread of disease in Russia has been covered extensively by newspapers and television abroad. In England last week, for example, all the big dailies carried front-page reports on the diphtheria outbreak here.


The result is a situation reminiscent of the Cold War days: The West is better informed about what is going on in Russia than the Russians themselves. Unlike previous years, this is not due to any official attempt at a news blackout, but to the irresponsibility of the Russian mass media.


What could explain the lack of concern demonstrated by the press? One factor may be this country's tradition of suppressing bad news. Another may be an outmoded idea that it is vaguely indecent to speak about illness and disease. A third is that, in the current climate of permanent power crisis, Russia's newspapers have become so politicized that they are disregarding social responsibilities to their readers.


Whatever the reasons, the unfortunate fact remains that there have been no widespread official announcements about the seriousness of the situation. Arrangements are apparently being made to inoculate the population, but this is not being covered in any great detail in the press. and there has been no attempt to deal with some very real fears about prevention: Is the vaccine safe? Are disposable needles used?


The diphtheria outbreak has reached epidemic proportions: The number of cases in Russia has skyrocketed from 46 in 1988 to 4, 691 in the first seven months of this year. The number of cases in St. Petersburg so far this year is already 160 times last year's total, according to one Western expert. He estimated that the rate of increase of cases in Moscow is such that an equivalent escalation in the United States would mean 55, 000 cases by the end of the year.


It does not take much imagination to picture the public outcry that would greet such a situation in the West. But the Russian press is silent.


This is wrong. A free press has responsibilities. It is time for Russia's press to recognize that it should serve the people, and not some faction in the power struggle.