15:56 GMT15 January 2021
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    Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was announced to be shot dead in Kiev on Tuesday by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. The next day Babchenko appeared alive and well at a press conference hosted by Ukrainian officials.

    As the country's security service explained that his "murder" was a part of a special operation to capture the professional assassin who was hired to kill Babchenko and expose the mastermind who wanted him dead. The SBU said that one assassin had been arrested as a result of the operation without giving further details.

    Journalist Organizations Question the Necessity of Falsifying Babchenko’s Death

    Journalist organizations and reporters around the world questioned the necessity of falsifying Babchenko’s death publicly and argued that the incident set a negative precedent that could diminish the credibility of Ukrainian authorities.

    The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the "distressing simulation" of Ukrainian authorities, stressing that there could be no reasons for staging a journalist's death.

    READ MORE: 'Murdered' Journalist Babchenko Fears New Assassination Attempts in Next Months

    "The RSF [Reporters Without Borders] is expressing its strong indignation over the discovery of a manipulation of the Ukrainian secret services [carried out] for their information war. It is always extremely dangerous for the states to play with facts," RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a tweet.

    The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), in turn, doubted the rationality of the Ukrainian authorities' explanation for the carried out operation.

    "Whenever subterfuge is used, journalists and media, like law-enforcement officials, have a responsibility to disclose how and why they used it and to justify their actions. The EFJ is not convinced by the so-called justifications of Ukrainian security services," the organization said in a statement.

    Harlem Desir, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, has joined the camp of those who condemned the SBU move, arguing that Ukrainian authorities were responsible for providing credible information to the public.

    "Relieved that Arkadiy #Babchenko is alive! I deplore the decision to spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the duty of the state to provide correct information to the public," Desir said in a tweet.

    The Issue of Public Trust

    Similarly, journalists who covered stories about Babchenko’s death expressed concerns over whether the general public would trust press reports if another journalist indeed gets killed in a similar way in the future.

    "So now every time a journalist is murdered, those responsible will unleash their bots and propagandists to say it’s fake news. Thanks, Ukrainian security services. That’s really helpful to all who care about journalists’ safety," Lindsey Hilsum, an international editor at British TV network Channel 4 News, wrote in a tweet.

    Alec Luhn, a correspondent of The Telegraph newspaper in Russia, argued that the staged murder had damaged the credibility of the press.

    "When a state says a prominent journalist who had received threats was murdered, I think the media have to report it. But with their fake news Babchenko & Ukraine have reduced all of our credibility. [US President] Trump would be proud," Alec wrote in a tweet.

    Jill Dougherty, a CNN foreign affairs correspondent, believes the incident could hurt journalism.

    "This is very bad for journalism. It plays into charges of ‘fake news.’ …. And using fake news even to avert a crime undermines trust and ultimately damages journalism," she said in two separate tweets.

    The reaction of US, EU

    US authorities, including the White House and the State Department, have yet to make a comment on the incident. Until the end of Wednesday, the only official US reaction came from the US Embassy in Ukraine, with only a condolence message mourning his "death."

    READ MORE: Russian Journalist Rises From The Dead Following Ukrainian ‘Hoax'

    "Another Kremlin critic is assassinated abroad, once again in Ukraine. We offer our deepest condolences to Arkady Babchenko's family and colleagues, and we join the government of Ukraine in support of a full and impartial investigation that will bring those responsible to justice," the tweet, which is still available on the Twitter account of the US Embassy to Ukraine, read.

    UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson joined the US embassy in its grief, expressing condolences to the family of the "murdered" journalist on his Twitter in absence of new posts almost a day after it was revealed that Babchenko was alive.

    "Appalled to see another vocal Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko, murdered. My thoughts are with his wife and young daughter. We must defend freedom of speech and it is vital that those responsible are now held to account," Johnson's tweet said.

    Similarly, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland offered his condolences as well.

    "We strongly condemn the murder of journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. It must be fully and rapidly investigated. Attacks on journalists and free speech are on the rise in Europe. We must do all we can to stop this trend, which is a dangerous threat to democracy," Jagland wrote in a tweet.

    Julian Assange Responds to Boris Johnson

    Founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing organization Julian Assange did not hesitate to deliver the good news to Johnson in a tweet.

    "A good place to start, Mr. Johnson, is by noting that Mr. Babchenko is, in fact, alive, but that the UK continues to spend millions on its illegal attempts to arrest @JulianAssange--in violation of two UN rulings explicitly requiring it to cease doing so," Assange wrote.

    Media Puzzled Over Ukraine's Motives

    While the general public has been analyzing the breaking news, the international news outlets have been trying to figure out the true motives of the operation and assess the propriety of Kiev's actions.

    Germany's Deutsche Welle broadcaster questioned the need for the staged attack and suggested that Kiev attempted to attract international attention putting Russia in the dock. The news outlet also doubted whether Ukrainian authorities' credibility, pointing to some discrepancies in the story presented by Kiev.

    The German Der Spiegel magazine, meanwhile, has launched a flash-poll on its website asking readers whether they believed Babchenko's story. Among the 1,204 respondents, 58 percent said they did not believe the story, 23 percent of readers said they did, while 19 percent were unable to answer the question.

    READ MORE: Arrests, Threats and Murder: Risks of Being Journalist in Ukraine

    The UK Guardian newspaper has acknowledged that Babchenko had reasons to fear for his life but doubted if the operation reduced the threat to his life, stressing the provocative nature of the operation.

    The Washington Post newspaper has viewed the SBU operation as part of the ongoing hybrid war which uses disinformation campaigns as one of its instruments. The news outlet criticized Kiev's approach — having the ends justify the means — arguing that the already low-level trust in the government among the people and media was likely to become even lower.


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    journalist, journalism, media, Wikileaks, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), OSCE, Arkady Babchenko, Thorbjorn Jagland, Boris Johnson, Julian Assange, Ukraine
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