Dzhinsa (Russia and FSU)

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Dzhinsa
Location: Russia, Former Soviet Union
Russia map.png
Author: Françoise Daucé
Affiliation: Centre d’étude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris

Original text by Françoise Daucé

Dzhinsa (derived from the English word ‘jeans’) is a term used in Russian journalistic jargon to refer to paid-for material presented in the media as ordinary news. It is a form of ‘hidden advertising’, a practice that is both cheaper for advertisers and lucrative for journalists. According to Irina Petrovskaya, a television journalist in Moscow, this term was first used in the 1990s when a firm selling jeans in Moscow asked journalists from the television station Pervyi Kanal (‘First Channel’) to promote its activities. It paid the journalists ‘in kind’ with jeans. This kind of practice has been known as dzhinsaever since (Petrovkaya 2005[1]).


The term is widespread in journalists’ milieu in Russia – as shown by the numerous press articles on the practice – but the term is not widely recognised by the general public. The term is also used in other former Soviet republics, for example by Ukrainian journalists (Iwanski 2012[2]). The verbal form dzhinsit’ expresses the act of receiving money for the publication of paid materials in the media. It is one of a range of informal practices known collectively as chernyi piar (literally ‘black PR’) or chernukha, which developed after the fall of the Soviet Union (Ledeneva 2006; see also entry on chernukha in this volume). Dzhinsa can be used as a tool to both promote (also known as zakazukha), or to discredit (see entry on kompromat in this volume) (Iwanski 2012[3]). Academic works on the Russian media make little reference to dzhinsa, despite the term’s common use in journalistic circles. Lack of sources makes empirical analysis difficult. Journalists speak of it as a widespread phenomenon, but are reluctant to provide concrete details about it, such as information about prices, frequency, and the actors involved. Nevertheless, Koltsova (2006[4]) succeeded in gathering and analysing data about dzhinsa in the Russian media at the beginning of the 2000s.


In Russia, the emergence of dzhinsa is intimately linked with the marketisation of economic relations in the media. It results from the commodification of media products, which began in the late 1980s. The practice of publishing dzhinsa developed in the 1990s, during the economic reforms of the ‘shock therapy’ period. It allowed newly privatised firms to promote their products and work in a novel way, via journalistic articles. At the same time, the use of dzhina also came to be of great significance in the political sphere. From the early 1990s, politicians in their election campaigns used PR strategies based on the publication of covert political advertisements in the media. The privatisation of the media was the catalyst for this marketisation of journalism. The lack of resistance by journalists to dzhinsa was the result of economic difficulties encountered in the media business. As Australian scholar Brian McNair noted, during the 1990s, ‘those who work in the Russian media have struggled for survival in an environment characterised by chronic resource shortages, political instability and the ever-present threat of criminal interference’ (McNair 2000: 69[5]). According to Russian academic Olessia Koltsova, ‘in some extremely badly off publications, journalists lived almost entirely on ordered articles. Thus, dzhinsa is a form of latent privatisation of media organisations by individual journalists’ (Koltsova 2006[6]). Dzhinsa is just one aspect of the informalities, oligarchism and ‘black PR’, which are often considered as the main features of the ‘wild 1990s’ in Russia (Ledeneva 1998[7]). However, this practice did not cease during the 2000s. In the Russian media today dzhinsa remains a widespread informal practice, which is periodically denounced by journalists not involved in the practice. According to the Insider, an independent Internet web site, the leading Russian newspapers Komsomolskaia Pravda, Izvestia and Rossijskaia Gazeta continue to publish dzhinsa (The Insider, 2014 [8]). This was confirmed in 2014 by hackers from the ‘Shaltaj-Boltaj’ Internet site who published documents showing that government authorities in Moscow paid for the placement of articles in the main Russian newspapers. According to these documents, the newspaper Izvestia received 935,000 rubles, Nezavisimaia Gazeta – 760,000 rubles, and Komsomolskaia Pravda – 645,000 rubles to promote the polities of the government (Okrest 2014[9]). Journalists report that the development of the Internet in the 2000s has not diminished the appearance of dzhinsa in the media sphere and paid-for content in newspapers remains a common practice to the present day. Economic difficulties have not disappeared with the web economy; on the contrary, growing competition for financial resources between Internet sites and traditional newspapers has created further economic difficulties for journalists.


According to journalists, dzhinsa is a malady of post-Soviet media practices (Iwanski 2012[10]), which goes against journalistic ideals of independence and objectivity. Russian textbooks for students in media faculties condemn the practice and underline its negative effect on the public sphere. Dzhinsa contributes to the decline of public trust in the media in general, and to a growth in mistrust of journalists’ work. From a political point of view, the ideal of a Habermassian public space based on civic grammars is opposed to the mercantile practices of dzhinsa, which pervert public debates. From an economic point of view, dzhinsa runs contrary to the principles of free information in a free market. The strength of this informal practice is often considered by media scholars to be the result of the lack of judicial regulation of media activities. Brian McNair considered that the problem in the 1990s was that ‘No effective regulation of the changing broadcast economy was put in place and transparency in financial matters was absent’ (McNair 2000: 75[11]). At the beginning of the 2010s administrative measures to regulate dzhinsa were adopted by the Federal Directorate of the Anti-Monopoly Service of the Russian Federation, which has the power to punish media editors for the publication of PR texts not presented as advertisements. However, because of the informal practices sustaining dzhinsa and the difficulty of proving monetary exchange between a journalist and a client, the attempted clampdown on dzhinsa through federal regulation looks unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, in the context of growing political pressure on independent journalists, some fear that regulations may be abused and used as a repressive and arbitrary tool against them.

Notes

  1. Petrovskaya, I. 2005. ‘Novosti na zakaz: kak nam otlitchit’ informaciu ot piara (PR)?’ Ekho Moskvy, 18 July http://echo.msk.ru/guests/6767/
  2. Iwanski, T. 2012. ‘The press and freedom of speech in Ukraine ahead of parliamentary elections’, OSW Commentary: 90, [Policy Paper], 20 September http://aei.pitt.edu/58378/1/commentary_90.pdf
  3. Iwanski, T. 2012. ‘The press and freedom of speech in Ukraine ahead of parliamentary elections’, OSW Commentary: 90, [Policy Paper], 20 September http://aei.pitt.edu/58378/1/commentary_90.pdf
  4. Koltsova, O. 2006. News Media and Power in Russia. London and New York: Routledge
  5. McNair, B. 2000. ‘Power, profit, corruption and lies: The Russian Media in the 1990s’ in M.J. Park and J. Curran (eds.), De-Westernizing Media Studies. London and New York: Routledge
  6. Koltsova, O. 2006. News Media and Power in Russia. London and New York: Routledge
  7. Ledeneva, A. 1998. Russia’s Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  8. ‘Zolotye Slova. Kak rossijskie SMI zarabatyvaiut na dzhinse’ 2014. The Insider, 23 September, http://theins.ru/korrupciya/1631
  9. Okrest, D. 2014. ‘Zakazuha optom I v roznicu’, The New Times, 29 September, p.31 http://www.newtimes.ru/articles/detail/87750/
  10. Iwanski, T. 2012. ‘The press and freedom of speech in Ukraine ahead of parliamentary elections’, OSW Commentary: 90, [Policy Paper], 20 September http://aei.pitt.edu/58378/1/commentary_90.pdf
  11. McNair, B. 2000. ‘Power, profit, corruption and lies: The Russian Media in the 1990s’ in M.J. Park and J. Curran (eds.), De-Westernizing Media Studies. London and New York: Routledge