Editor’s note: we are republishing a note that previously appeared in The Fix Media’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe to get everything you need to know about the European media market every Monday.

European outlets have long loved to cover Vladimir Putin’s illnesses and (mis)reportedly imminent death. According to the count by Ukrainian Detector Media, the media has been diagnosing the Russian autocrat with cancer since as early as 2003. 

In 2022, as Putin had ordered a deadly war against Ukraine, killing many thousands of innocent people and displacing millions, reports of the dictator being on the verge of death have abounded – mostly, it seems, out of wishful thinking rather than real changes in Putin’s health.

The speculations about Putin’s health have so far mostly been relegated to tabloids and low-quality outlets. When reputable publications like The Guardian cover them, the focus is on the spread of rumours rather than on their content. 

Still, it’s worth looking at a cautionary story offered by the coverage of another dictatorial regime – North Korea. A new study by Soomin Seo in Journalism demonstrates how news media fail at covering the country by mistakenly reporting “that generals, diplomats, and artists have been shot, poisoned, or even fed to dogs”, only to see them later alive and well.

Dear Respected Leader Kim Jong-un himself has also been reported to be close to death by major outlets – reports that generated a lot of clicks but were disproven later. Soomin Seo says that journalists wrongly relax standards when covering North Korea because of how closed the country is. “Even after such stories were proven erroneous, corrections were rarely issued, with journalists conceding they do not think of North Korea as a subject worthy of clarification”, Seo observes.

As Russia is growing increasingly isolated from the world – and more similar to North Korea – it’s important both journalists and readers keep Seo’s findings in mind and avoid similar mistakes.

Source of the cover photo: https://depositphotos.com/