Media Responsibility

Across Asia, many companies have a love-hate relationship with the media. Happy to talk with journalists when there’s a positive story to tell, senior executives complain bitterly when media adopt a critical tone.

A more nuanced – and well-rounded – approach should be adopted in recognising the media’s dual role in covering the commercial sector: it promotes best practice and innovation but also criticizes failures which adversely affect stakeholders. But that’s often more easily said than done especially when trying to convince a C suite audience.

Corporate responsibility provides an opportunity to reframe corporate approaches to media. The first step in shifting the corporate paradigm involves asking: what is the media’s role in CR? The answer is straightforward. Media should be an active stakeholder, holding companies up to scrutiny and embracing the opportunities provided by corporations’ increased adherence to CR.

In reporting on companies, media in Asia generally focus on two areas. Firstly, media highlight business trends as well as innovative products or services. Secondly they increasingly are taking companies to task when things go wrong, harming consumers, damaging the environment or breaching regu-latory standards. [Listed companies also receive coverage in another area: financial performance.]

In short, media have promotional and watchdog functions. Publicity for corporate successes provides support for the business sector while promotion of product or service breakthroughs fuels innovation throughout the economy.  

As economic development and liberalisation continue sweeping across Asia (and it will continue despite recent economic setbacks), both traditional and online media will heighten their scrutiny of the corporate sector, particularly where it intersects negatively with stakeholders’ interests. That’s because communities, NGOs, governments and the broader public have ever higher expectations of corporations.
Media in the region have high expectations of CR. They have been enthusiastic advocates of the notion that companies can not only carry out core operations and generate a profit but also take good care of employees while minimising or ameliorating their impact on third parties and the environment.
Companies adopting CR for all the right business reasons can also harness it for the benefit of better media relations, enhancing corporate reputation.

On the positive side, CR when embraced at the heart of a business often drives innovations in products or processes which media are always enthusiastic to cover. Journalists want to satisfy readers’/viewers’ growing appetite to be more environmentally responsible or ethical. At the same time, these positive steps as well as embrace of CR build the “bank of goodwill” with media and stakeholders who are more willing to support companies which do the right thing. And if a negative situation arises, media are inclined to give such companies the benefit of the doubt for a period.

A rigorous approach to CR also involves a stakeholder-driven approach to dialogue, consul-tation and transparency with third parties which have an interest in the business. The process of consulting and reporting should be beneficial for risk management, helping attune management to areas of weakness or which threaten good relations with stakeholders. CR processes provide companies with an opportunity to address the root causes of issues or manage them. The involvement of communi-cations teams with these activities also allows media relations to be undertaken in a more proactive and integrated manner.

Effective management of CR within the business and linkage of it with communications efforts can help companies deal with an increasingly complex stakeholder environment. It also allows companies to put their best foot forward via media when telling their many positive stories and better manage the downside should negative situations arise.

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Author Information

Glenn Schloss is Hill & Knowlton's Regional Dirctor for Corporate Communications, Asia Pacific.

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