Culture of corruption permeates newsrooms in Ukraine
The term “jeansa” comes from the idea of slipping money into the pocket of one's jeans to broker a deal off the books.
When asked how corruption began in the Ukrainian media, Syumar said that journalists deserve as much of the blame as politicians.
“I remember the press officers who approached parliamentary correspondents and said, 'Write positively about our chief, and we will give you $200.'”
From there, Syumar said, the practice jumped to editors' desks, and then to the ownership, the size of the payoffs increasing at each level.
“Now this is a very serious part of the budget of any TV channel or publication [in Ukraine.]"
Half of most media outlets' budgets come from formal advertising, while nearly 50 percent is provided by backroom “jeansa” deals, according to Syumar.
“This is nothing else other than corruption! Already, journalists cannot say 'No! I won't write about that, I'll write about what I prefer to write,' because they know that they will lose their job,” she said.
At the root of the problem, Syumar said, is a media market monopolized by the state. Like fancy cars or mansions, owning a newspaper is a point of pride for regional politicians and oligarchs.
“If you are a serious man, you have to own a newspaper,” Syumar said. “And if you are the editor of that newspaper, there is little choice: either you serve the owner, who is in power, which means that you actually serve the government, or you don't.”
Two newspapers Syumar cited as examples of independent media not owned by oligarchs and politicians were Mirror Weekly, which is funded by Western non-governmental organizations, and the self-owned Ukrainian Truth.