A week after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the Soviet media are blaming the West for creating a "propaganda cloud" out of the incident in order to "poison the international atmosphere."
Today in Pravda, the Communist Party daily, and three times on national television, attention has been shifted away from Chernobyl to alleged sensationalism in the West.
At the same time, the Soviet news agency Tass has been keeping up a steady stream of reports -- some new, some almost 10 years old -- chronicling accidents at nuclear plants in the West.
The pattern is not new in the Soviet media, and reflects a basic Soviet defensiveness, a suspicion of the role of the western press, and the Soviets' incessant comparisons contrasting the Soviet Union and the western world.
It also is an example of how quickly events here are fitted into overall Soviet political themes. Another case was the explosion of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger, which within a few days was used as evidence to make the Soviet case against the Reagan administration's "Star Wars" program.
Pravda argued today that the "fear campaign" whipped up in the western press over the Chernobyl accident is designed to detract attention from the U.S. bombing of Libya and U.S. nuclear testing.
"It is this rather than public health that is the concern of the organizers of these propaganda shows," Pravda said.
The Soviet government several times has denied reports in some western media that the death toll in the accident ran into the thousands and that the population around Kiev is living in fear.
Tass said tonight that "rumors and fabrications" were being used for propaganda purposes by those for whom "it is customary to kindle strife among nations."
On television, foreign tourists were interviewed Friday saying that they felt exploited by the western press, and that they had been told by their embassies to leave. Asked whether western press reports were a "provocation," one British tourist agreed they were.
Several foreign embassies have advised their nationals in the Kiev area to leave -- not because of known hazards, but because of the uncertainties created by the lack of full information.
The interviews with foreign tourists formed one of the longest segments on the accident shown on Soviet television. Echoing that report, on the following night three Soviet citizens were interviewed on the same news program and complained that western coverage of the event was deliberately exaggerated and exploited for political aims.
Given the government's almost total control over information here, it is highly unlikely that any of the three Soviets interviewed last night on television had read a western newspaper or seen western television reports on the accident.
Politburo member Boris Yeltsin, attending the West German Communist Party congress in Hamburg, has told foreign journalists that 49,000 persons were evacuated, that 25 persons were in serious condition, and that the levels of radiation had fallen to 150 roentgen.
But so far none of this information, nor any of the information provided by other Soviet officials abroad, has been reported here. In fact, one caller on a call-in show in England featuring Georgi Arbatov of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute complained that Russians do not have the opportunity to ask questions of such high-ranking officials.
So far, people here have not heard of the radioactive fallout that first alerted foreign governments to the potential health hazard. Nor has there been any reporting of the safety measures taken in other countries, such as banning the sale of milk in eastern Poland.
Meanwhile, Tass has been keeping its subscribers up to date on any item in the western press that addresses nuclear accidents.
Readers have been informed today, for instance, that 20,000 accidents have taken place at U.S. power stations since 1979. Quoting Critical Mass, a nuclear watchdog group, Tass said "dangerous accidents happen at U.S. atomic power stations virtually every day."
Not only are western nuclear power stations dangerous, but authorities in the West also provide only limited information, according to Tass. For instance, after an accident at a nuclear plant in Kent, England, on March 31, the "British Central Energy Board threw a wall of silence around information only after repeated and persistent requests, " Tass said.
Last Thursday, Tass reported that seven years ago, the United States concealed the truth about Three Mile Island and that British authorities were guilty of criminal negligence when 16 workers at one nuclear plant were found with radiation levels "above normal."
In the past, Soviet concern about local anxiety over nuclear power -- an increasingly important component of the overall energy program -- has meant relatively subdued coverage about nuclear accidents in the West.
Still, in reporting the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, Tass wrote that the population near Harrisburg was "panic-stricken" by the threat of radiation, and the government newspaper Izvestia compared the fallout from the accident to an atom bomb explosion.
But on the whole, coverage of the event was minimal and avoided comment, except to say that such accidents were virtually impossible in the Soviet Union.