The kings of “jeansa”: who buys influence in Ukrainian media – and how they do it


Olena Makarenko

Jeansa, the menace of Ukrainian media, is one of the main vehicles for the power of oligarchs in the country – and one of the obstacles to a functioning representative democracy. Thanks to this disguised political advertising, the media – and political – discourses in the country are permanently altered, allowing to propel the "needed" candidates to victory.

Free independent media is a necessary condition for democracy to function in any country. Censorship, on the other hand, is rampant in all its forms in dictatorships. These definitions may be relevant in a black and white world; in reality, there are many more shades of grey. When discussing Ukraine, international organizations quite often "buy" into fake alarm calls regarding pressure on media – like after protests near some TV channels criticized for their pro-Russian position. The real threat, however, comes from another direction.

Despite all difficulties, the last few years has seen Ukraine progress as a democratic country. Thus direct censorship cannot be so very widespread here. But when a stick does not work, there is always the carrot. As making a media self-sufficient in Ukraine is nearly impossible with the overall economic situation, some fall for the temptation of trading their power for the money of oligarchs and politicians.

This material is devoted to a specific widespread phenomenon in Ukrainian media called "jeansa," which means disguised paid-for material. To understand what it is, let’s take a look at a phenomenon which can be compared to it.

Buying influence from doctors for the interests of pharmaceutical companies is quite a common phenomenon in the world. For example, in 2013 Chinese police said they uncovered over 700 middlemen through which the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline had allegedly been giving money to health officials and doctors in order to prescribe their drugs. Later the company said it would stop paying doctors tens of millions of pounds a year to promote its drugs.

"Influential doctors are paid thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to teach colleagues about which drugs are best," a doctor commented to the Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre. "I suspect that there are doctors whose lectures aren’t entirely independent."

Just as doctors have promoted medicine required to treat ordinary patients, some Ukrainian media sell their airtime or space on their pages disguised as news or other useful information. If medicine influences the health of particular people, media materials influence the beliefs of the entire country, which can lead to tragic results. In the case of Ukraine, to war and occupation.

From censorship to jeansa

It was not always like this. There was also a time where everyday hidden censorship in Ukrainian media ruled.

It was 2001-2004, during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma (now a member of the trilateral group on the implementation of the Minsk agreements), when the so-called "temniki" were popular in Ukrainian media.

The word "temnik" comes from the world "tema" (a topic). "Temniki" were the documents sent to Ukrainian editors with pieces of advice resembling orders on how to cover particular topics or whether to cover them at all. This idea was brought to Ukraine by the Russian political strategist Marat Helman. The idea was employed most of all by the then head of President Kuchma’s administration, Viktor Medvedchuk (now the leader of the pro-Russian political organization ironically named as Ukrayinskyi Vybor (‘Ukrainian Choice’) and also a member of the trilateral group on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements). It appeared during the preparations for the parliamentary election campaign in 2002.

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April 6, 2018
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