There are some leading public figures the media just can’t seem to get right. Or worse yet, as is the case with Finnish energy trading businessman Gennady Timchenko, there are some people the media can only get wrong.
Known for his discretion and for valuing his privacy, Gunvor’s co-founder Gennady Timchenko is ironically mentioned very frequently by the international press. And almost without fail, the press stands corrected for errors in their published stories about Gennady Timchenko’s business history. Consider the following three examples made by a few of the world’s most well-respected news sources:
On November 29, 2008, The Economist ran a news story on corruption in Russia and published libelous claims that implied Gunvor or Gennady Timchenko received special favors following payments to Russian political leaders. This report was followed by a correction published in The Economist three weeks later on December 18, 2008.
Just three months later, on March 1, 2009, The Sunday Times—one of the U.K.’s leading news outlets—published a correction noting that in one of its articles the paper “stated wrongly that Gennady Timchenko is a close friend of Vladimir Putin and is a former KGB agent.” The Sunday Times admitted that while Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Putin know one another, they are mere acquaintances and not friends. Further, the newspaper admitted, Gennady Timchenko has never been a member of the KGB or any other Russian security service.” The Sunday Times apologized to Gennady Timchenko.
More recently, Reuters on June 9, 2011 corrected reports that Gennady Timchenko was seeking to acquire coal miner Raspadskaya (he is not) after Gennady Timchenko’s spokeman denied these reports and stated this wasn’t the case. “Neither Gennady Timchenko himself, nor entities, controlled by him, are interested in acquiring shares in Raspadskaya or in talks to enter the company’s share capital,” Reuters clarified.
This reoccurring theme of journalistic mistakes from well-regarded publications begs the question: Why is the truth so difficult for today’s journalists to ascertain? Where are the world’s fact-checkers who readers depend upon to ensure the newspaper headlines they’re reading are truthful? Clearly the damage has been done. But when will journalists begin to take accountability for what they write before their ideas go global?