Among business actors, as IMI calculates, the most active jeans users are alcohol producers (20% of the total), banks (20%), drug producers and medical service providers (11%), lotteries (6%), state-controlled Railway Administration company (6%). Lately, medium size businesses have been joining the bandwagon too.
Ukrainian political and economic analysts, who are often on the payroll of large political and business actors, have been deep into jeans practice too, many media managers and journalists say off the record. It is a role that sticks to the actor though: after an analyst crosses the line and starts jeansing his or her commentary and opinion pieces, media smell the money and become very reluctant to feature them later for free. And of course, the credibility losses, at least in the eyes of attentive observers, are substantial. The same logic applies to politicians and government officials: once they pay, media will often stop giving them floor for free.
Jeans’ biggest cost is, of course, the reputation of news organizations. “[The public] generally understands that too much positive information about some politician or businessman probably means it has been paid for,” says Natalia Ligachova, chief editor of Ukrainian online hub devoted to media industry Telekritika.ua. Obviously, a media entity cannot hope for the loyalty of its customers when the latter realize that they are being used. Thus, short-term profits come at a cost of long-term losses.
One important factor should also be emphasized: in general, major Ukrainian media are often more valuable to their owners as instruments of political influence than as stand-alone businesses. As a result, a lot of media outlets are dominated by oligarchs, who invariably have business interests that range far outside of media, with the latter serving subordinate roles in larger industrial conglomerates. For instance, country’s richest businessman Rinat Akhmetov owns Segodnya newspaper and Ukraina TV-channel, which are among the most popular Ukrainian media outlets; but his main businesses are in energy, steel and telecommunications. Ihor Kolomoyskyi controls 1+1 Media Group that includes several prominent TV-channels and online publications; and his business interests spread into the banking sector, metallurgy and oil extraction. Dmytro Firtash is an owner of Inter Media Group that is a major player on Ukrainian TV market; but his core businesses are in chemical, energy and titanium industries. Recently the list of such captured media has grown, as the largest independent market participant Ukrainian Media Holding, which has a strong presence in print, online and on the radio, has been acquired—at a premium price—by a business group with primary interests in banking and energy (this has already prompted many UMH journalists to resign).
At the same time, the dispersed Ukrainian media market also hosts a horde of minor independent players (hence media bazaar might be a more appropriate term), but for most of them reputation is not a valuable-enough asset to bring significant ad revenues, at least for the present. Future ramifications of decisions made today matter little in a country where the planning horizons of most businesses are ridiculously short even by emerging-market standards. Nevertheless, in the long-run, the media market, just like any other market, will reward suppliers that most efficiently satisfy the consumers’ demand. For media organizations, jeans should therefore be seen as a very expensive borrowing from the future.
And many journalists and others working in media fully appreciate the long-term consequences of wearing jeans. In an interview, Andrii Ianitskyi, Deputy Chairman of Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, says he hopes consumers will come to understand the need to pay adequately for quality information, generating a legitimate revenue stream and lessening the jeans temptation. He says it would also be helpful both if readers became more demanding and refused to buy publications pockmarked with jeans and journalists and even advertisers, too, stood against this shameful phenomenon.
Still many in media here are resigned to jeans. Oleksandr Chalenko, chief editor at news and opinions website Revizor.ua, says jeans have always existed in Ukrainian media market and always will. He sees them simply as a reasonable opportunity for our media and journalists to earn some money, and thinks in the future jeans, if anything, will just become pricier. Telekritika’s Ligachova says that jeans, regrettably, benefit all the main actors in the media market—from politicians to publications—and getting away with publishing “dirty” material is easy when there is so much on the market. But the IMI’s executive director Oksana Romaniuk sees hope in the fact that while jeans are not even noticed by the older generation, younger readers are more skeptical.