Journalism standards low in Ukraine
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)