The profession of journalism has News International and News of the World to thank for launching a period of intense global scrutiny of the media sector – who regulates, owns, manages and creates content and to what ethical standards.
So will this crisis of credibility in journalism be the media sector’s watershed moment in relation to corporate responsibility? Pretty much every other sector of the economy seems to have had theirs or moved onto the next one.
It may be too late for the media sector to avoid the regulatory stick. However I would argue that those companies that have already made serious attempts to demonstrate and communicate a commitment to corporate responsibility – accountability and transparency above and beyond compliance – will be in a far better position to be heard within a hostile stakeholder environment.
Perhaps the inevitable inquiries and reviews may have a positive outcome – we may start to see more corporate responsibility or sustainability reporting from the sector.
As luck would have it, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s latest sector supplement is designed specifically for the Media Sector and is open for comment until 4 August 2011 (note for Australian readers, the ABC is represented on the global working group). This presents an obvious starting point for those media organisations that want to learn more about how to start or further develop their reporting approach and in the process, share information and practices with stakeholders that builds (or restores) trust.
Yet reporting alone will not guarantee any improvement in reputation, corporate culture or ethical standards. In fact, corporate responsibility reporting that follows hot on the heels of crises inevitably raises eyebrows. Authenticity and motivations are questioned. Rightly so. Stakeholders expect to see evidence of real change and improvement in performance and not a tokenistic effort that tells them what they want to hear.
The Guardian in the UK and it’s “Living our Values” sustainability report is an excellent model to examine. Not only does it report extensively on its sustainability performance, it has its performance externally assured and publishes this statement on its website. Read the introduction to its 2011 Sustainability Report and you’ll get a seat in the front row feel for the complexities of managing a media business these days. Or if you don’t have time, they’ve even written a condensed 15-minute version. Nice. The important point to note is that the Guardian has been doing this for a while and it shows, not only in their performance but in their governance.
In Australia, it appears our media sector has still got its trainer wheels on in respect to consolidated external reporting on its corporate responsibility or sustainability efforts and governance of these issues at the Board level.
Australian media organisations should be encouraged to adopt corporate responsibility reporting as a means of demonstrating accountability and transparency to their audiences, employees and external stakeholders.
The only way is up.