Media in CSR: The Jury’s Still Outby ipsintern ( )
BANGKOK, Mar 27 (Asia Media Forum) - Do Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and media make strange bedfellows? Some journalists say yes, some say no.
But CSR applied in the context of media organisations, however, elicits varied reactions. Some journalists were open to it, others had misgivings and yet others rejected it outright at discussions at the ongoing Asia Media Conference 2009 in Bangkok.
A media entity can have a good CSR model and be successful at it, argued Sharukh Hasan, managing editor of the Jang Group of Newspapers in Pakistan.
Since its CSR department was created six to eight years ago, it has launched many highly successful campaigns, including for the education for underprivileged children, particularly street children; scholarships for newspaper hawkers; a reading project and awareness raising about road safety.
"If you report facts accurately and you can champion causes, they you are a good corporate citizen," said Hasan, who heads Pakistan's largest group of newspapers, including the Urdu-language 'Daily Jang', 'The News International', and 'Awam'. Jang is also behind highly popular television channels that include Geo News, a 24-hour news channel; AAG TV, a music channel; GEO Super, a sports channel; and entertainment channel Geo TV.
Like other companies, media organisations are also contribute to the community they are part of, Hasan argued.
A couple of Jang’s more controversial CSR campaigns include an education campaign addressing discrimination against the girl child and the Hudood laws media campaign. Signed into law in 1979, Hudood was a set of laws based on Islamic decrees criticised as being anti-women. For instance, under this law it's usually the woman who is penalised while the rapist goes scot-free.
The media campaign reached out to various groups including those that drafted the laws, experts and religious scholars. Interestingly, Hasan said they deliberately left women out of the campaign so that they would not be accused of being a women's movement. "Our aim was to show that the Hudood laws were so un-Islamic and anti-women," he said.
In the end, the campaign Jang was pushing succeeded, and in 2006 became the Women's Protection Bill.
Jang’s biggest fundraiser was launched in August 2008 with its 'Help Educate Pakistan' campaign. Conducted in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, the Jang Group was able to raise 50 million rupees (990,000 U.S. dollars) in 28 days through a series of four articles about the importance of education among children.
"The lowest contribution was 200 rupees (4 dollars) sent by an old man from the Swat region who wrote on a piece of paper that his granddaughter used to go to school until it was blown up by the Taliban," Hasan said.
The largest donation? A whopping 2.5 million rupees (50,000 dollars) from an anonymous donor.
"Our readers see us not just as a medium of information but as an institution that have causes they believe in and identify with," said Hasan.
But Kunda Dixit, 'Nepali Times' editor, disagrees with the idea of the media engaged in CSR projects. "It is not the media's job to do CSR. Our role is public service, where we are asked to tell the truth and become a forum for independent public debate," he countered.
If a media outfit does make profits, Dixit said these are better invested in "sending reporters out to rural areas and investing in really good investigative journalism programme, as well as supporting rural FM radio through a democratised programming".
"Leave the CSR to the Nokias and the Unilevers of the world," he added in jest.
Media studies professor Shamsul Islam, too, has problems accepting CSR in the media industry. "I don't like the media's extended role, and I think we should devise an alternative theoretical framework," said Islam, who teaches media studies in Bangladesh.
Although inspired by the successful CSR campaign of the Jang Group, Actionaid (International) India's Sandeep Chachra asked why media institutions need to take on an "extended role" if they are already engaged in truth-telling and accountability. "I just can't help but wonder if somewhere, a particular group would want to sneak in these liberal corporate ideas into institutions which are already engaged in full public service," he said.
Taking a more neutral path is Nurul Kabir, 'New Age' editor from Bangladesh. "Media have become a profit-making industry and on that part, I don't think they're no different from other companies. On the other hand, this takes us back to the issue of the government's failure to take up the responsibilities being shouldered by these companies," he said.
"Every individual is free to do charity work if he chooses to, but as journalists, we have the responsibility to reclaim our right to the state by way of providing people with information and asking the right questions, and making institutions accountable to the public," added Kabir.
Besides, Muhammad al Masum Molla of Bangladesh said: "In our country, most of the newspapers don't pay journalists regularly. Why are they not responsible to their employees? How would they implement CSR activities? Is it fair?" (END/AMF/IPSAP/LLC/JS/260309)