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Media's Role in Corporate Social Responsibility

6 March 2002 at 12:03 pm
Staff Reporter
The media is rarely praised and often blamed when reporting controversial outcomes in our community.

Staff Reporter | 6 March 2002 at 12:03 pm


Media's Role in Corporate Social Responsibility
6 March 2002 at 12:03 pm

The media is rarely praised and often blamed when reporting controversial outcomes in our community.

A new report spotlights the media’s role in corporate social responsibility and the sustainable development debate world wide and warns that it risks missing the biggest story of our time and falling short on standards of accountability and transparency! The report on CSR and SD says the media has the most powerful influence on how people and politicians think about and act on these issues, but typically overlook significant long-term trends in favour of dramatic and immediate news.

The report also finds that, as businesses themselves, key media institutions are amongst the least transparent and accountable organisations in the world, and are likely to come under increasing scrutiny in their own right.

The report, entitled Good News and Bad: The Media, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable development, has been produced by SustainAbility and Ketchum, in co-operation with the United Nations Environment Program. It was inspired by the upcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa in September 2002, and the desire to reflect on how the CSR, SD and media agendas have evolved during the decade since the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

Over 50 people were interviewed from diverse fields, including editing, reporting, advertising, business, research and campaigning, with the focus both on trends in CSR and SD media coverage as well as the media industry's own performance in this area. The report also analysed ten years of news media coverage regarding CSR and SD issues, including globalisation, ethical investment, climate change, genetic modification, and key non-governmental organisations such as Greenpeace, Global Exchange and Transparency International.

Key findings include: Interviewees from the media industry are demanding better case studies and evidence from business and industry on their performance regarding key CSR and SD issues. Companies and organisations too often view media relations as a crisis management tool or "just PR", and need to develop a strategic and integrated approach to communicating with key audiences, including media, in order to build their confidence and ensure informed decision-making. The report forecasts that the media sector will attract growing scrutiny into its own CSR and SD performance from stakeholders, particularly socially responsible investors.

One analyst observed that "about six players now own virtually all aspects of the media experience", but the report finds that few have switched onto the wider transparency and accountability agendas. The report's authors, John Elkington and Francesca Muller of SustainAbility, said the editors and journalists that were interviewed are among the best brains on the subject in the world, but they find these issues tough to communicate in a sound bite culture. While the media tends to cover dramatic events, such as anti-globalisation protests or the destruction of GM crops, there is typically less examination of the broad CSR agenda.

As Greenpeace campaigner, Chris Rose, observed in the interviews that this is equivalent to covering economies by only reporting bank robberies. Ketchum CEO, Ray Kotcher, said businesses, whose brands are often the lightning conductor for CSR issues, need to have a strategic approach to communicating their CSR performance with a plethora of stakeholders, including the media. Kotcher said this isn't just about PR.

Today's most progressive companies are putting these issues on the board agenda and at the heart of their decision-making. Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel of the United Nations Environment Program said if media companies are to remain credible in the 21st century, they must increasingly look at their own corporate social responsibilities. SustainAbility, Ketchum and the UNEP plan to publish a follow-up report in a year's time, to review evolving trends regarding media coverage of CSR -and what has been described by one media world CEO as "the biggest story of our times."

SustainAbility is the longest established think tank and consultancy dedicated to developing the business case for sustainable development. Based in London and New York its current clients include Ford, Nike and Shell. Ketchum is one of the world’s leading public relations and reputation management consultancies with offices in thirty countries. Its current clients include FedEx, Dow Chemical, Starbucks and Levi Strauss. 

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