Ukraine was a part of the USSR, where media outlets were never viewed as business enterprises, but were rather a site for the ruling party’s propaganda. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 certain practices and cultural peculiarities did not vanish in a day or a decade. Until today Ukrainian media outlets are prevalently non-business projects, but rather platforms for oligarchs and politicians, to broadcast messages beneficial for their interests.
Natalia Lihachova a media expert, reiterates in her article «MediaRear or mediaAvantgarde?» just that: «Owners use media outlets as tools for serving their political and business interests, and sometimes for revenge, in their wars with competitors, for cynical self-advertisement, covert advertisement, and corporate dzhynsa» (derived from 'jeans' as a reference to money being kept in jeans pockets allegedly used for illegitimate transactions). Therefore, the key problems of Ukrainian media are the owners’ influence over the editorial policy and the so-called dzhynsa.
Dzhynsa is a material written by a journalist or released by a press service, aimed to improve or create a positive image of a political party, politician, or other individuals, trademarks and brands or specific goods, governmental structures, charity foundations and religious organizations, and which is not marked as advertisement in a way understandable to the audience/reader.
Dzhynsa can be categorized, based on who orders it, into political, commercial, or image-improving. Political dzhynsa is commissioned by political parties, politicians, or other individuals who have political interests; using these materials, these players try to improve their rating. Political dzhynsa may appear as a simple article about a political party, or a politician, but it is a paid content.
Example: "Opposition bloc" claims that authorities conceal budget "loopholes" – is a material about the opposition party «Opposition bloc», which accuses the government, yet does not present any arguments, facts or opinions about the opponents. The article promotes the interests of this political organization and includes populist statements like «… we demand that the authorities abolish all increases of tariffs and decrease taxes to give the country an opportunity to develop».
Commercial dzhynsa is commissioned by commercial companies to promote certain goods, services or the company itself with the goal of increasing their revenue. This dzhynsa also includes material commissioned not by a specific company, but by a group of companies that focuses on lobbying of adoption or not adoption of certain legislation.
Example: "PrivatBank" issued series of banking cards dedicated to 25th anniversary of the Independence of Ukraine"– covert advertisement of «PrivatBank» aimed to attract new clients with patriotic attitudes. Or “Mass export of metal scrap abroad can stop the manufacturing industry, say metal works directors – MMK and "Azovstal" promote the adoption of the draft law on limiting export of metal scrap from Ukraine. A series of similar materials are used to lobby for the approval of this draft law: which is aimed at increasing the export tariff giving metal works an opportunity to obtain cheaper raw materials.
Image-improving dzhynsa are materials commissioned by charity foundations, religious structures, and government institutions. Such materials might not bring direct political or economic benefits, yet they support the social rating or recognition of such structures.
Example: Akhmetov's Foundation conducted first training for future mentors of orphans; or Orthodox Christians of Zakarpattia conducted procession involving many people. Such materials focus on supporting a positive image.
So why do all these structures refrain from paying for advertisement, and instead prefer paying for dzhynsa?
He also emphasizes that it is beneficial not only for the politicians, that order it, but also for the media outlets, which publish it, «This way, media outlets can dodge taxes, because payment for the covert advertisement is, as a rule, in cash. The accounting records, of course, do not show this money at all».
Dzhynsa is characteristic not only for Ukrainian journalism: there were attempts to use it in media outlets in neighboring Western countries. An example of dzhynsa published abroad is an interview with the former MP from the Party of Regions Oleksiy Plotnikov for the Polish daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita". The interview was taken by a Ukrainian national, Tetiana Servetnyk, who resides in Warsaw: "The Ukrainian economy is growing". An interview must include important and burning questions; as BBC anchor Robina Day describes it, «A journalist always has a right – and even a duty – to ask uncomfortable questions on behalf of the audience». If this is not the case, there is no need for an interview with a politician. And in the interview mentioned above, the questions are in fact mostly compliments.
The phenomenon of dzhynsa cannot be justified, as what it does is manipulation of public opinion and fooling the audience of the media in question. Also, dzhynsa harms the media outlets, as the audience loses trust in the media as an honest and independent structure, and when social networks provide an alternative, the very institution of media becomes compromised.