Polio and ‘Public Figures’

Here we have a media watch item. A rather strange one.

I noticed it late yesterday when I posted this item on the polio outbreak in Indonesia (dated today but I saw and posted it yesterday my time – today UK time). I noticed something missing that I was pretty sure I had seen in previous BBC articles on the subject – a paragraph on how the outbreak was thought to have started. Previous articles had, I thought, mentioned the fact that Muslim clerics in norther Nigeria had urged people not to get vaccinated (and not to vaccinate their children – with horrible results) because the vaccine was contaminated in a US plot. That item wasn’t in this latest article. Later yesterday, I listened to the World Service, which reported the same story. This time, the reporter did mention what was thought to be the origin, and did mention northern Nigeria, whereupon I listened very closely – to hear that ‘public figures’ had spoken against the vaccinations. Public figures – period. I was gobsmacked, and outraged. The BBC is now keeping it secret that polio is making a comeback when it had been nearly eradicated, because of stupid, destructive clerical behavior? Keeping it secret on the World Service, which could be listened to precisely by people who might very well need to know that? Why?? And how can they?!

Allen Esterson noticed the same lacuna, and emailed me about it, with links to further sources that were not as forthright as they ought to have been – including UN sources. He also emailed the BBC, he told me. Well, they may have paid attention. (Perhaps other people noticed and emailed too. One can hope.) The story has been updated, and the paragraph is now there.

The country was free of the disease for 10 years – but in March 2005 a 20-month-old boy in Java was infected. Since then more than 200 polio cases have been reported in the country. Officials believe the outbreak can be traced to Nigeria, where vaccinations were suspended in 2003 after radical clerics said they were a US plot.

I was right about having seen the paragraph in previous articles, I found – this one from July 22 for instance.

Okay, Beeb, well done for correcting it on the screen. Now, include it in World Service broadcasts too, okay? Never mind ‘offending’ people: this is life or death, paralysis or non-paralysis. Don’t mess around.

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