What the Babchenko “Murder” Case Says About Journalism

Published: 15 June 2018

Country: Ukraine

DfVIKTNX0AMnXjzOn May 29th the case of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko made the headlines. At first, most of the media reported that he was shot and killed in Kiev. Less than 24 hours later, the same prominent media reported that they were wrong –  Babchenko appeared alive and well on a press conference talking about the ‘murder’ that was staged in order to uncover Russia’s plan to assassinate him.  The German broadcaster DW interviewed some of the Babchenko’s colleagues in Moscow and Kyiv who criticized him for faking his death saying that the stunt has undermined trust in independent journalism. Many agree that Babchenko’s ‘fake murder’ and the way media reported on it can be added to the list of excuses to mistrust media.

Some of the most prominent media outlets including BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, CNN, Reuters and many more covered the news pre and post the revelation of the murder setup. According to CNN, “no fake news ever shocked reporters working in Russia and Ukraine more than this story.”

The news has added a whole new chapter in the series of fake news across the world. Different media outlets and journalists have slammed this incident and blamed it for contributing towards the perception that media is manipulative, untrue and not to be trusted.

Writing for the Guardian, author Sophie Pinkham called out the authorities for “severely undermining both Ukraine’s credibility and that of honest journalism.”

Next time a journalist is killed in Ukraine (and, unfortunately, it seems certain that there will be a next time), even the least cynical observers, the kinds of people who wept all night over Babchenko’s supposed death, will likely wonder whether they should believe in a tragic death until they’ve inspected the corpse themselves,” wrote Pinkham.

BBC called this stunt a “glaring example of fake news.” Different media outlets covered this incident in the light of fake news and how it can potentially damage the reputation of media, in general. The role of journalists is examined by prominent media publications in an attempt to see how it is a perilous game to play by the state agencies, especially when involving journalists. The global media watchdog Reporters without Borders stated that “it is always dangerous for States to play with the facts, and also on the back of journalists.”

The Telegraph covered the entire story in depth and explored how this might put the lives of other journalists at risk.  The media has also covered how this incident might lead to public apathy towards the killings of journalists in the future or even in the past. While speaking to CNN, a journalist called this staged murder act “a mindless and tragic mistreatment of public empathy that discredits so many things at once — Ukraine, Russian liberals, journalists. Only the Kremlin wins.”

Overall, the media has been highly critical of the murder ploy set up by the Ukrainian security agency, especially because it involves a journalist. Different publications feel that because a practitioner from within the media was involved in the whole stunt; it really puts the credibility of journalism at stake. Credibility, impartiality, truthfulness and accuracy are some of the virtues media outlets and journalists are supposed to live by. Due to this incident, it is felt that these codes have been severely violated. This may adversely impact the way in which public perceives the institution of media and journalism, across the globe.