Arab News has published MERS kills woman. In its entirety, and then a comment:
Health authorities on Wednesday announced a new MERS death, raising to 54 the number of people killed by the coronavirus in the Kingdom with the most fatalities.
A 73-year-old Saudi woman, infected by the virus and who had suffered chronic illnesses, died in Riyadh, the Health Ministry said in a statement on its website.
It also reported a new infection of a 65-year-old Saudi man in Al-Jouf province, currently receiving treatment at a Riyadh hospital.
In any country with a reasonably free media, a reporter handing in this story would be thrown out of the editor's office. And I can even write the editor's response:
"Who was she? What were those chronic illnesses? Where exactly did she fall ill? When did she fall ill, and how long before she went into hospital? Why did she fall il? How sick was she before she caught MERS?"
Then she'd pull the hapless reporter to his feet, shake him warmly by the lapels, and continue with the lesson:
"What do her doctors have to say about her case, and who are they? Any connection to earlier cases in Riyadh? Any comments from the Ministry of Health? What about her family? Was she someone's grandma? Did the MOH test the family and neighbours? If not, why not? If yes, when do we get the results? And what about the 65-year-old?"
If the editor were fairly sophisticated on health issues she'd also ask:
"Is the MOH responding according to the International Health Regulations? If yes, where's the evidence? If not, have you asked the ministry why not?"
But Saudi media, according to Freedom House, were "among the most repressive in the world in 2012." Freedom House also notes that Saudis' internet access is controlled and the 13 daily newspapers in Saudi Arabia
are privately owned but controlled by individuals affiliated with the royal family. Members of the royal family also control two popular London-based dailies, Asharq al-Aswat and Al-Hayat, that serve a wider Arab audience.
Broadcast media are controlled by the government, which owns and operates all terrestrial television and radio stations. Since 2011, the government has required all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a special license from the Ministry of Culture and Information.
Although satellite dishes are illegal, satellite television has become widespread and is an important source of foreign news. However, key regional satellite channels, including the popular Al-Arabiya news channel, are controlled by Saudi investors and adhere to local media norms.
In other words, MERS news from Saudi Arabia is tainted at the source, effectively worthless as a contribution to global health.
I will continue to post Saudi MERS news just as I post Haitian cholera news, with little trust in its veracity. But every time I do, I will feel a pang of sympathy for the people in WHO, ECDC, and the US CDC who have to deal with the Saudis on a professional basis.