Hundreds of news about the unexpected murder of Arkadii Babchenko, even more – about his sudden “resurrection“, the jokes of network users and the countless number of messages on Facebook – this is what happened to us over the past week. However, attention to the special operation of the Security Service did not stop there: journalists say that they were used and deceived, and the foreign press gives negative assessments of the activities of Ukrainian Special Services. Opinion learned whether the focus on the issue of distrust of the media was fair, did the Babchenko affair undermine the credibility of journalists, what could be the consequences of the special operation and the attitude towards Ukraine abroad.
Is the question of distrust of the media and state bodies justified in the focus of recent discussions?
In a comment for Opinion, Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine Dmytro Zolotukhin noted that now almost all media are focused on the problem of distrust of the media and state bodies, while it is much more important to find out who actually ordered the murder of Arkadii Babchenko. The expert noted that the communication work of law enforcement agencies very often leaves much to be desired, but it should be understood that this time human life was saved, and this, according to the European Convention, is the highest value.
“I am incredibly confused by the fact that absolutely without exception, media and journalists at this time are engaged exclusively in matters of trust, distrust to the state, to each other, to themselves and the like. At the same time, none of them is working on the questions, who actually ordered the murder of a colleague-journalist.
Indeed, the issue of trust in the National Security Service is very important. But for this, there is a journalistic profession to fight for the establishment of facts and the search for truth. Accused Herman in the process of an official open meeting voiced the names and provided the facts. This is not the SSU voiced the name of Pyvovarnyk, but the side of protection. Despite this fact, none of the journalists investigate his biography, his connections with Deev and Skipalsky, his connections with Russian business and the State Duma deputy.
It is necessary to recognize, and I have said this many times, that the communication part of the work of Ukrainian law enforcers often leaves much to be desired. And, in particular, it is my duty to change this, and I am working on it. But the European Convention on Human Rights says that human life is the highest value! And now the life of a man, husband and father, was saved,”- commented Dmytro Zolotukhin.
The Deputy Minister of Information Policy also recalled that today a hybrid war is being waged against Ukraine, and therefore the Special Services are not only entitled, but also obliged to conduct special operations. And the non-disclosure of their details can be the only possibility of saving not only human life, but also the independence of Ukraine.
“Some of our partners, that support us, were really embarrassed by the actions of the Ukrainian authorities in the process of this operation. And we need to make every effort to make sure that they know and understand all the details and nuances of what happened. But there are those, who first criticized Ukraine for allowing the journalist’s murder, and then criticized for not being allowed. Especially cynical were the statements of representatives of international organizations that Babchenko should have been hiding, hiring security, putting his life in danger, but in no case to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In conditions of hybrid war, which is conducted against Ukraine, Special Services not only can, but also are obliged to conduct special operations. Non-disclosure of their details is the only way to save human lives and the independence of Ukraine. But, of course, in the process of implementation, it is necessary to take into account all aspects of possible communication and political consequences. And we need to work harder on it,” the commentary says.
Did the special operation of the Security Service really undermine the confidence in Ukrainian journalists?
Political analyst Oleksii Minakov, reflecting on this issue, noted that the special operation of the Security Service did not change the level of confidence in the media, since even before that, almost every second Ukrainian did not trust journalists. The reasons for such despondency are quite simple: the spread of fake information, customized materials and the engagement of the media through their owners.
“What is dead can not die. And seriously, even without the dramatization of the SSU, Ukrainian confidence in the media – both the Internet media and national TV channels – was slightly more than 50%. In other words, every second Ukrainian does not trust journalists. Goebbels would not have become an outstanding propagandist in modern Ukrainian realities. The spread of fakes, customized news, the engagement of the media through proprietary oligarchs – all this undermines confidence and forms a relatively critical attitude to information. Therefore, the re-enactment of the SSU does not change the weather on this media swamp,” explained Oleksii Minakov to Opinion.
Alla Boyko, Doctor of Philology, Professor of the Institute of Journalism of Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University supported the opinion of the political observer. In her opinion, even before the special operation of the Security Service, journalists allowed themselves to spread false information, to substitute information for propaganda, sometimes even preaching the “Russian world”. However, the audience understands all this, and because of that, there are disdain and distrust of the media.
“And before this incident with Arkadii Babchenko, did journalists, editorial collectives of newspapers, magazines, television and radio studios always speak and write the truth? Didn’t anyone replace the information with propaganda? Didn’t we have a media that openly manipulate information, and therefore, public opinion? And in the country, which was attacked by the aggressor, was there no information war from TV screens and radio airwaves that function in the information space of Ukraine? Or didn’t some journalism teachers preach the “Russian world” with its Ukrainophobia and outright nationalism? Do journalists seriously think that the audience does not understand this? Of course they do, have no doubts. Therefore, there are disregard and distrust for some media representatives, and therefore there is a drop in the number of printed publications; viewers and listeners ignore television, radio programs, Internet websites.
Yes, in this case, journalists were deceived by state bodies (for the first time? or the last?). It’s not good, not too ethical. But Special Services are doing their job. And there are still naive people, who think that the security services of any country should report to everyone about their methods? Now they have chosen this one. Not the best? Maybe so. But, as it turned out, effective – it was possible to save lives of many. At least the representatives of the Security Service said so,”- told to Opinion Alla Boyko.
Political consultant Mykola Spiridonov also believes that the latest developments around the special operation of the Security Service and their coverage by the Ukrainian media have not increased the credibility of domestic journalists, on the contrary: it has demonstrated that they do not know how to properly work with information. In support of this thesis, Mykola Spiridonov adds that doubts about the truthfulness of the photo with the allegedly murdered journalist were repeatedly expressed by the doctors, but this remained without the attention of the media workers.
“In no way did it increase the credibility of journalists, because it became clear that journalists, unfortunately, either do not know how, or do not want to check the information, because immediately Babchenko’s murder was perceived as an axiom and discussed practically on all TV channels. Accordingly, for ordinary Ukrainians, it became clear: if you throw some thesis to journalists, then they do not even check it, but immediately carry it to the masses. Therefore, the confidence in the professionalism of media workers, to put it mildly, has not grown. On the other hand, I do not think this is a catastrophic blow, as time passes, and yet it will be forgotten. However, there were a number of inconsistencies, which journalists did not pay attention to. For example, this is a photo that went around social networks (photo of a “killed” Arkadii Babchenko – author’s note). The doctors said that the blood does not look right. But they did not pay attention to this. In addition, some political experts also had suspicions about that, but if they were expressing this before Babchenko’s “resurrection”, they could even be accused of disrupting the special operation”, the expert commented for our edition.
A similar position is shared by journalist Roman Revedzhuk. From his point of view, the tendency of distrust towards journalists is only growing, and at such rates Ukraine risks becoming the flagship of the destruction of journalism as such.
“And who is to blame for the stupidity of sensationalists, who put unchecked things on air? This indicates an unprofessionalism and absolute amateurism. There is no journalism in Ukraine. No, and there will not be until sanctions for yellow press, сustomized articles and all sorts of fakes are introduced. And about what kind of trust are we talking about, when the Ukrainian society has long ceased to trust the media? This trend of mistrust is only growing. With such a pace, we run the risk of becoming the flagship in the destruction of journalism itself. There is no media market, there is no development, a good journalist is a poor journalist. Independent can be counted on the fingers. It is necessary to carry out reforms not only in the country, but also in the field of journalism in particular”, – says in the comments for Opinion.
But the psychologist and analyst Ihor Lubkivsky assured Opinion that there is really no threat of losing credibility with journalists, because, according to the expert, the Ukrainian side has a completely adequate attitude to the media. This is not about complete trust in every news, but about the ability of consumers to compare information between different sources.
“It’s hardly worth blaming the media. Perhaps they reacted too emotional, but after the unresolved murders of Sheremet, Buzyna and a number of resonant cases, only in recent years, another reaction should not be expected. Therefore, rather, our media was being manipulated, than they are in some way to blame. The fact that Ukrainians will lose confidence in the media – no, there is no such threat. Our citizens, in general, have quite an adequate attitude to our journalists. Nobody ever really believes in any particular information, but fortunately, we have that freedom and that choice, that Russia doesn’t. You can turn on another TV channel, you can try to search the news on the Internet, you can find comments of specialists in social networks. Therefore, in this case, the reaction, I think, will be basically such that journalists have been played just like ordinary citizens – nothing more”, Ihor Lubkivsky is convinced.
What could be the consequences of this staging, apart from saving the lives of Arkadii and others from the “list”?
Political analyst Oleksii Minakov is convinced that in fact, the “list” around which more and more discussions are unfolding looks faked, because the number of people has changed in official statements, and some names have even been confused.
“First of all, it’s still a big question, how real and true the list is and whether it is not an artificially created one. I will say directly: it looks like a fake. After all, firstly, the Prosecutor General spoke of “about 30 people”, and then the list suddenly grew to 47 people. Not to mention some people on the list, whose presence there looks, to put it mildly, strange. Obviously, the list was prepared hastily, because even Bratushchak was written with the name Oleksandr instead of Oleksii. Therefore, what kind of preservation of life for someone other than Babchenko, we are talking about – it’s not clear. This situation really undermines the credibility of law enforcement agencies, which, under the influence of some political forces, turned a special operation into a cheap circus”, – said Oleksii Minakov.
Political consultant Mykola Spiridonov believes that the staging of the SSU can reduce the level of trust between journalists, state agencies and Ukrainians. After all, on the example of the “murder” of Arkadii Babchenko, we saw that even statements by officials are not always worth taking for truth and as an axiom. Also, the expert expressed doubts that the “list” appeared precisely as a result of the staging of the murder.
“At a minimum, journalists, like political experts, will more carefully check the information. For example, today they will report that, conditionally, they killed someone. In this situation, when referring to experts, the first thought will be: is this someone really killed, or is it some kind of special operation? After all, by default it is believed that if some information is confirmed by officials (for example, as the Prime Minister did), then the information is an axiom. And here we saw that the first persons of the state confirm this, whereas this information does not correspond to reality. That is, state agencies, journalists, Ukrainians in general, of course, will trust each other less.
With regard to other people on the list: there is no certainty that this is what saved people from the “list” because there is no causal link that it was after the Babchenko murder was staged, that this list appeared”, – the expert notes.
How relevant and justified was this strategy of the SSU?
Yurii Shulipa, director of the National Policy Institute, explained to Opinion that such a strategy was chosen by the Security Service of Ukraine for documenting of a fixing feedback from Moscow.
“The meaning of the special operation of the Security Service was not only to save the lives of Arkadii Babchenko and other 47 journalists, who were on the firing list, but also to confirm evidence that the political leadership of Russia was the customer of these particularly serious crimes in Ukraine. Such tactics are used by many Special Services in different countries for full and qualitative disclosure and investigation of certain categories of crimes.
Probably the chosen tactics of the SSU was due to the fact that among the customers of these terrible crimes from the side of the political leadership of Russia, in particular the Russian Defense Ministry’s main department (the foreign intelligence agency of Russia), the direct organizer of various especially serious terrorist crimes to Ukraine, there was little confidence in the organizers and the execution of this crime on the territory of Ukraine. Organizers and executors of the murder of Arkadii Babchenko and other 47 journalists, could, after receiving money from Russia, simply refuse to commit crimes. And since Arkadii Babchenko is a public person, known not only in Russia, Ukraine, but also in other countries, the murder of a person of this level always acquires publicity. Therefore, for the documentary fixing of feedback from Moscow, tactics of public disclosure of the perfect “murder” was chosen,” Yurii Shulipa argues.
Oleksandr Verbytsky, a political consultant, stressed that arguing with the SSU strategy is difficult, because this service has its own methods and forms of work. Therefore, there is no special point in discussing the actions of the Security Service: first of all, the assessment gives a state of national security.
“It is difficult to argue with the SSU strategy, since it is a special service that is subject to special legislation, which has its own methods and forms of work. Discussing the actions of the Security Service in the public sphere does not make much sense, since the assessment primarily gives the state of national security. What can journalists say about this? Almost nothing, but their own emotions, reflection and what they learned from detective works. Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klychko said in an interview with the Bild newspaper: “Of course, this was an unusual action, but if it was possible, then it was necessary and right”, commented Oleksandr Verbytsky for Opinion.
Is the staging of the SSU able to change the attitude of other countries to Ukraine?
After a sudden “resurrection” of Arkadii Babchenko, a considerable number of authoritative foreign publications negatively reacted to the special operation of the Security Service. Therefore, the issue of trust and attitude to Ukraine abroad is quite topical. So, in the opinion of Oleksii Minakov, the recent events have struck a considerable blow to the image of our country on the international scene.
“Undoubtedly, this is a blow to the image of Ukraine in the international arena. Just imagine any Western diplomat or politician, reads information that in Ukraine was killed a Russian journalist and Russia is guilty, then it turns out that this is a special operation of the SSU and the journalist is alive, but the Prosecutor General at a press briefing criticizes political opponents, is not related to special operations. Further, the “killer” declares itself, but the SSU says that this is a fake, and then apologizes and says that all the same is really a “killer”, who applied to the SSU. Further, the Attorney General is confused with the list of potential victims – from 30 to 47. After this trashy information flow, one thing is clear – nothing is clear. Of course, this casts a shadow over the entire special operation and, in general, on the Ukrainian state”, the expert believes.
With the likelihood of negative consequences, the political consultant Mykola Spiridonov agrees. In his opinion, as a result of a special operation of the Security Service, many international institutions and politicians were fooled, and therefore, in case of real killings, such information abroad will be treated with great distrust, and the reaction itself will be rather slow.
“For example, the President of Germany came to Ukraine and was forced to comment on the murder of Babchenko, that is, he was left with a nose. There have been a lot of messages from international politicians and institutions, which means they are fooled. This means that if in Ukraine another famous person is killed (unfortunately, this is an inevitable situation), then, accordingly, international institutions will at least give a slow reaction. After all, they will already know that the Prime Minister can lie to us, the leaders of the security forces can lie, so they will wait for several days and check the information in order to at least express sympathy. And in a few days, this sympathy may be irrelevant. That is, we will get a more delayed reaction, and react to events with less confidence”, – summed up Spiridonov.
Has a communicational reputation of Ukraine suffered?
Sergii Nizhynsky, chairman of the Union of Experts on Combating Corruption and a member of the Executive Committee of the Ukrainian Association of Prosecutors, is convinced that for the special operation should be involved not only professional communicators from Ukraine, but also from Britain, in order to create an idea of this situation from a different angle. Sergii Nizhynsky considers as the main communication goal the need to inform everyone that such actions were not a way to tease the enemy, but an instrument to prevent acts of terrorism and crimes.
“For me, this situation in the context of the information war with Ukraine and its communication reputation remains a sensitive issue. In any case, not this special operation. I am sure that it was necessary to involve professional communicators both from Ukraine and from Britain (who are engaged in the communication strategy of Ukraine) to represent this situation from a different angle. According to the head of the SSU: “And now, Arkadii – to the studio,” and when a paper falls to the floor from the Prosecutor General, and the head of the Security Service raises it from the floor for him – it caused my colleagues from law enforcement agencies to be amazed.
I also agree with the ex-head of the Pentagon, who noted that now every such action by the SSU or the GPU can cast doubt on other videos and statements. The fact that the British and the US media have swallowed this and have been brought out of inconvenient anti-Ukrainian issues to a positive level, does not mean the perception of this situation, but, rather, the protection of their earlier position in relation to Ukraine. I was personally concerned about the fact that the Prime Minister of Ukraine expressed his condolences at once, and the President was silent, that is, it turns out that he knew.
I cannot remember such cases even in Europe and the USA, except for situations when, after 2 years, this was manifested with some victims in the resonant murders. But this is for 2 years. I am sure that in the new body that will be responsible for the investigation, the SBI will study this case as an example of what needs to be done and what not. In my opinion, the main thing from the point of view of communication is to inform everyone that Ukraine does not irritate the enemy with these actions, but, on the contrary, prevent terrorist attacks and crimes. Therefore, it is very important that investigators and operatives take care of their work, and international communicators are engaged in covering this situation.
How will this situation affect news consumers in terms of psychology?
Commenting on this issue for Opinion, the psychologist and psychotherapist Olha Lugova-Stepashko noted that everything is all right with the media audience in this situation, however, according to the expert, it is worthwhile to think about the state of those, who give themselves the right to reflect on the events and keep society for unable to analyze the situation consumer.
“About the consumers of the news, everything is all right here. The product is consumed. And forgotten. There will be an impression when something like this happens. I am more concerned not with the state of the consumer of news, but the state of those, who give themselves the right to reflect on the events. Here is the usual feeling that society is still held to be a consumer, unable to analyze the situation. No one counts on the feelings of society.
People do not think about the existence of people, who live, think in our country. A thinking person is different in that it requires meaning. The search for meaning is what makes a biological person a person. Animals do not search for a meaning, for children it also makes no sense to find it. Children are able to find meaning only in their own fault – that’s why they always come up with their own fault for the sake of calming anxieties and stresses, when there are no normal sources of comfort. Only psychologically adult people could search for the meaning.
And the neglect of this need is at least disrespectful. And experienced as the maintenance of us for fools. Common situation. We are used to it. Ukrainians again, for the thousandth time, are exposed as naive children, not worthy of dialogue with the power. The absence of forms of explanation and dialogue with society in these situations (as in many others) is diagnostic. The diagnosis is immaturity, infantilism. Primitive psychology does not try to find and create the Word. Simply not capable. Therefore, it often assumes the mystery. Because words do not exist yet. The ability to talk is the highest mental function”, the psychologist said.
The psychologist Ihor Lubkivsky also said about the fact that the situation with Arkadii Babchenko does not affect the consumers of news. From his point of view, the dramatization of the SSU could negatively affect only the close relatives and friends of the journalist.
“Death is always painful and always a loss. But it is unlikely that it could hurt at least somehow those, who were far from the situation. But for the family and relatives – this is indeed a real test. Especially for the wife. I was relieved to learn that she was aware of this situation, otherwise her condition would be even hard to imagine. Because sometimes such an “imaginary” death can become worse than a real death. I know cases with ATO fighters, when the one, who was not even touched in battle or when attacked, received a much greater psychological trauma than the one, who was wounded. Because if you were wounded – that’s all! – death passed by. And if you saw how others die, but was not hurt yourself, then it is still here. Therefore, by analogy, we can assume that this situation with Babchenko will not affect news consumers in any way, except that they will less trust the news. But it can have a negative impact on someone from close relatives or friends of Mr. Arkadii, or on those journalists, who could imagine themselves in his place. Now they will also trust themselves and their profession less, as well as the fact that our Special Services are able to guarantee them some kind of security”, Ihor Lubkivsky told to Opinion.
Text: Dmytro Zhuravel