Media must improve accountability for brain print

Source: Sustainability, 17 June 2004

A new report by SustainAbility and WWF-UK, Through the Looking Glass: Corporate Responsibility in the Media & Entertainment Sector, calls for media
and entertainment companies to be more transparent and accountable for their brain print on society.
The biggest players in the media and entertainment (M&E) sector account for revenues of US$162 billion and directly employ nearly half a million people around the world. M&E companies, through the messages they convey, exert a powerful influence on the decisions we make, the questions we ask and the products we buy. Their role in framing debate, image and policy is more powerful and more controversial than ever before. They have been described as the Fourth Estate and the likes of Rupert Murdoch as the king-makers of the 21st Century, but how accountable are they for the power they wield?

The report from SustainAbility and WWF-UK has assessed and ranked a select group of media and entertainment companies to see how they measure up in their efforts to be transparent and accountable to society.

The report found that M&E companies:
Are facing increasing pressure from non-governmental organisations, socially responsible investors and the public to acknowledge and address their corporate responsibilities.
Focus on the direct footprint of their immediate operations rather than on the far greater though indirect brain print they have on audiences through their communications.
Have a host of policies and commitments on integrity, editorial, diversity, coverage of social and environmental issues, media literacy and the like, but are poor at explaining how the policies are managed, assured and governed.
Fall far short of other big business sectors in their efforts to define their key impacts, set targets for improvement and concertedly manage and report performance.
The report highlights BBC and BSkyB, of those companies reviewed, as leaders, but concludes that the sector as a whole could learn lessons from some of the businesses they so often pillory.

While pressure on the sector is growing, what it means to be a responsible media company has not been well articulated. The Media Manifesto presented in the report is intended to help the sector understand and address its corporate responsibilities.

Seb Beloe, Director of Research at SustainAbility said: The media and entertainment sectors biggest social and environmental impact is the role that it plays in shaping audience behaviours. Our analysis shows, however, that only a small group of M&E companies is taking responsibility for this impact. This report is intended to catalyse the wider sector change that is needed if we are to address key social and environmental challenges.

Download the full report (pdf)