The media sector is far more comfortable asking the questions about business ethics and responsible business practices than being asked questions about its own. The GRI’s Media Sector Supplement (MSS) offers the media a framework through which to consider its unique societal impacts and improve transparency and disclosure on a number of key issues such as ownership, editorial independence, content and promotion of local creative talent in the workforce.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is represented on the GRI’s MSS international working group by Dr Mike McCluskey, the Chief Executive Officer of Radio Australia and former Head of Corporate Social Responsibility.
This post is the second part of an interview I conducted with Dr McCluskey recently where he described his experience as a member of the MSS working group and shared some of his thoughts on corporate responsibility.
On encouraging other Australian media organisations to examine the GRI Media Sector Supplement
It’s slightly disappointing – not just in Australia but internationally – in relation to the level of engagement and feedback for the GRI. I think there may be many reasons for that. But it is important to say that those involved with it think it’s very important. Media organisations have a very special and significant role in society because of the massive influence that we have.
Recent events in the UK [News of the World] would indicate that when the public finds out and the corporate world and governments in different countries find that their media has not been self regulating properly and not been accountable in terms of their social imprint being for the good of the community, then there’s wide dissatisfaction and wide backlash at the media organisations that haven’t been acting responsibly, as well as the ones that have been acting responsibly. Effectively being tarred with the same brush.
We tried to have one of the working group meetings here in Australia and host a stakeholder meeting yet unfortunately it proved too difficult to organise. That was disappointing because I think it would have engendered a great deal of interest and a lot more support for what we have been trying to achieve.
On the challenges of measuring social impacts in the media sector
That’s the area that’s hard [social impact] for media organisations to measure. Environmental impact and social impact are addressed through the GRI’s framework and can be measured reasonably well through your capacity to educate and provide equity to a community. It’s not necessarily easy to succeed in, but moderately easy to measure. However, it is not so easy when you try and measure brainprint and influence. It’s difficult to measure but perhaps as important to measure because we are having an impact on people’s lives on a daily basis.
The ‘brainprint’ concept was coined by debate in the UK and is used in the supplement; we adopted it like a footprint that is measuring environmental impact. Some of it is extremely subtle, some not so subtle. For example, the brainprint of a book publisher as opposed to a game publishing organisation. They have just as much responsibility to think about their social impact and influence as a news and current affairs organisation does.
The role of trust in an increasingly complex media environment and greater choice for audiences as consumers and content creators
Media organisations are faced with the issue of how we manage debate that at least goes through our portals and platforms. It’s complex. It’s not just about our editorial content, it’s about an editorial focus of engagement with the community and feedback from the community. We still have the capacity to influence people significantly.
What all that means is that’s it’s a much more complex world for media organisations to operate in, far more than it ever has been before.
It also comes back to the issue of trust. Who do you actually trust in the community – the media and their platforms of social engagement, or do you go outside these because you don’t trust the media and you want true social engagement? These are issues that media organisations have to come to terms with because we have to demonstrate to the public that we are valuable and trusted and the place to engage in this discourse and what we offer is educative, informative and valuable. That we are a safe and a trusted place to have this type of discourse and that you can air a huge diversity of views as part of this discourse.
On whether journalists should pay more attention to CR reports
During a visit to New York for one of the MSS meetings, and in discussions with CSR practitioners, I had the opportunity to meet with the head of CSR for New York City who oversaw the retirement funds for NYC. Their first principle is to look at the financial risk of an organisation, yet they also want to look at the sustainability risk as part of their investment purposes. Is an organisation socially and environmentally sustainable in the long-term? Do they have responsible business practices? And then they rank them. They analyse those [CSR] reports with a fine tooth comb.
If organisations with billions of dollars to invest are analysing social and environmental reports as a way of checking if their investments are secure, why wouldn’t media organisations be more interested in these issues? We should. And that’s not to undervalue financial and economic data and analysis. We should be focusing on a more holistic approach to performance.
The public consultation period for the final draft of the GRI MSS was between May and August 2011; release of the final supplement is expected in early 2012.
You can read my post Four reasons why journalists should pay more attention to CR Reports (May 2011) here.