Jour­nal­ism stan­dards low in Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - News -

Post that Bara­nov – a mem­ber of Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s bloc in the Verkhovna Rada – bought the story.

Ishchuk also saw no rea­son to mark the ar­ti­cle as an ad­ver­tise­ment. “Ev­ery me­dia has its own stan­dards,” Ishchuk said.

And in Ukraine, those stan­dards are of­ten as low as many news­room bud­gets or even lower.

The Berdyansk case is one of many show­ing the weak state of in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism in Ukraine.

One of the pro­fes­sion’s big­gest can­cers is so-called “jeansa,” the pro­lif­er­a­tion of paid PR pieces dis­guised as news sto­ries.

Sev­eral weeks ago, jour­nal­ist Natalia Sokolenko left STB TV chan­nel over the sta­tion’s prac­tice of broad­cast­ing “jeansa.” Sokolenko said she “couldn’t bear par­tic­i­pat­ing in the mo­roniza­tion of mil­lions of peo­ple” by air­ing bla­tantly flat­ter­ing sto­ries about au­thor­i­ties and their al­lies. STB re­fused to com­ment on Sokolenko’s claims.

Me­dia watch­ers say the amount of paid-for news is be­com­ing more ubiq­ui­tous in the run-up to the Oct. 28 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion.

Rasto Kuzel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Slo­vak-based MEMO me­dia watch­dog, said the cam­paign looks sim­i­lar to the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, when fraud­u­lent elec­toral re­sults and me­dia smear cam­paigns trig­gered the Orange Rev­o­lu­tion and the elec­tion of Vik­tor Yushchenko in­stead of Vik­tor Yanukovych.

“In 2004 it was more of this ‘tem­nyky,’ now it is ‘jeansa,’” Kuzel said, ex­plain­ing the evo­lu­tion from po­lit­i­cal or­ders to po­lit­i­cal pur­chas­ing of news. “We have slightly dif­fer­ent meth­ods, but in essence it’s the very same way how politi­cians, how me­dia own­ers are ac­tu­ally un­der­min­ing the role of the me­dia.”

“Tem­nyky” were the di­rect se­cret let­ters sent to news me­dia by ex-Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion with de­mands to run one piece of news and keep silent about oth­ers. With the abo­li­tion of “tem­nyky” dur­ing Yushchenko’s 2005-2010 ad­min­is­tra­tion, the more elab­o­rate prac­tice of “jeansa” ap­peared, said Vik­to­ria Si­u­mar, head of In­sti­tute of Mass In­for­ma­tion, an in­flu­en­tial me­dia watch­dog.

Paid-for news crept into more and more news­pa­pers, she said, and is now flour­ish­ing more than two years into Yanukovych’s reign. “Now it is to­tally and al­most ev­ery­where,” Si­u­mar said. “The ex­cep­tions can be counted on fin­gers of two hands.”

An Au­gust me­dia mon­i­tor­ing study by the watch­dog Com­mon Space As­so­ci­a­tion re­vealed that most na­tional and re­gional me­dia run news sto­ries or edi­to­ri­als that strongly re­sem­ble po­lit­i­cal PR, or even black PR.

“We can di­vide the chan­nels into two groups, in­clud­ing those that di­rectly work a pro-gov­ern­ment line, and those that work in a more el­e­gant way,” said Olek­sandr Chek­my­shev, head of the Equal­ity Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mit­tee that par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey. “But all the chan­nels have some ‘jeansa’ pool.”

In a re­cent study by me­dia mon­i­tor Telekri­tika, two tele­vi­sion sta­tions – ICTV and Ukraina TV – were the lead­ers in Au­gust in the quan­tity of cov­er­age sus­pected of be­ing or­dered in Au­gust.

Olena Pavlenko, head of the in­for­ma­tion depart­ment of Ukraina TV chan­nel, re­fused to com­ment on the Telekri­tika sur­vey.

Olena Fro­liak, head of the ICTV news depart­ment, de­nied the Telekri­tika al­le­ga­tions, say­ing that ICTV cov­ers only the sto­ries with strong news­breaks. “Telekri­tika see only what they want to see,” Fro­liak said.

Only TVi chan­nel did not take “jeansa” in the past month, Si­u­mar said. But that doesn’t mean the sta­tion’s cov­er­age is fair or bal­anced. Natalia Li­ga­chova, head of Telekri­tika, said TVi gives sig­nif­i­cantly more time to the op­po­si­tion than to gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives dur­ing its Sun­day news pro­grams.

Si­u­mar noted Kom­so­mol­skaya Pravda in Ukraine was a leader in paid-for sto­ries among na­tional dailies, with “jeansa” reach­ing 9 per­cent of all con­tent in July. The news­pa­per pub­lished a num­ber of lauda­tory ar­ti­cles about gov­ern­ment mem­bers, in­clud­ing soft­ball in­ter­views with deputy prime min­is­ters Bo­rys Kolesnikov and Sergiy Tigipko and Health Min­is­ter Raisa Bo­hatyri­ova.

One PR spe­cial­ist said the price of one page in Kom­so­mol­skaya Pravda in Ukraine in­creased from $5,000 in Septem­ber to $8,000 in Oc­to­ber. He talked on con­di­tion of anonymity out of fear of be­ing fired if quoted by name.

Si­u­mar said UNIAN news agency led the “jeansa” way among on­line sources, pub­lish­ing a se­ries about politi­cian Olek­sandr Tre­ti­akov, who is run­ning in a sin­gle-man­date dis­trict. UNIAN chief ed­i­tor Mykhailo Gan­nyt­skyi re­fused to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions of paid-for news, but the ed­i­tor-in-chief of Kom­so­mol­skaya Pravda in Ukraine Ok­sana Bog­danova de­nied the prac­tice to the Kyiv Post: “Our jour­nal­ists do not write ‘jeansa.’”

The Party of Re­gions, Natalia Korolevska’s Ukraine-For­ward and the Com­mu­nists, lead the de­mand side, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute of Mass In­for­ma­tion. In re­cent months, how­ever, the op­po­si­tion Batkivschy­na and UDAR par­ties have also joined the fray, Si­u­mar said.

“Now it is al­most a le­gal busi­ness. If you open the In­ter­net you will see that PR agen­cies are openly propos­ing to dis­trib­ute ‘jeansa,’” Si­u­mar added.

PR spe­cial­ists say it doesn’t take much work to or­der paid-for sto­ries. In fact, many me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives them­selves call with of­fers to pub­lish “jeansa” ac­cord­ing to spe­cial pricelists.

“Usu­ally the news­pa­pers have some fic­tional char­ac­ters un­der whose by­lines ‘jeansa’ is pub­lished. Jour­nal­ists writ­ing this stuff nor­mally re­ceive dou­ble pay for each ar­ti­cle,” said a PR pro­fes­sional work­ing for a prom­i­nent politi­cian. He agreed to talk about the is­sue as long as the Kyiv Post did not re­veal his name for fear it could dam­age his work. “In other cases those who or­der pre­pare the sto­ries them­selves, (even send­ing) their pho­tos,” the PR spe­cial­ist said. “It all de­pends on the agree­ments.”

By his es­ti­mate, about 40 per­cent of all news me­dia con­tent in Ukraine is in­fected with “jeansa,” which is more ex­pen­sive dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns. Three PR spe­cial­ists polled by the Kyiv Post said prices jumped 60 per­cent ahead of the elec­tion.

De­spite the price in­crease, sell­ing one’s in­tegrity is rather cheap. Av­er­age es­ti­mates of paid-for sto­ries are cur­rently the fol­low­ing:

In­ter­net me­dia – About $100-$200 for paid-for news and nearly $3,000$4,000 for ar­ti­cles or in­ter­views with politi­cians;

Print me­dia take $300 for an ar­ti­cle at an av­er­age cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­per and up to $10,000 for pub­li­ca­tion in a pop­u­lar mag­a­zine;

TV sta­tions charge $200 to $10,000 for paid-for sto­ries.

An even more lu­cra­tive mar­ket has emerged to counter the paid-for puff pieces. It’s known as paid-for black PR and usu­ally costs 1.5 times more than flat­ter­ing news, ex­perts say.

But prices can vary widely, with steep dis­counts for long-term deals. Many cam­paign head­quar­ters are be­lieved to have spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives who ne­go­ti­ate with me­dia own­ers or man­agers about the costs for paid-for news, PR spe­cial­ists said.

Artem Bi­denko, head of PR and con­sult­ing com­pany SA Po­lit­i­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said or­der­ing “jeansa” of­ten helps politi­cians de­crease spend­ing on tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing and other cam­paign ex­penses. Some TV sta­tions might charge $200,000 for clear-

Tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist Natalia Sokolenko quit STB TV chan­nel in protest of the sta­tion’s ac­cep­tance of money for PR sto­ries dis­guised as news, or so-called “jeansa.” The sta­tion re­fused to com­ment on Sokolenko’s al­le­ga­tions. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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