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A Hippocratic Oath for Media Executives

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This week, as I prepare to teach my first graduate class, Media Sales and Sales Management, I'm recording the first two presentations I give to students: "What Is Selling" and "Sales Ethics."

I begin the semester with the ethics presentation/lecture to reinforce the vital importance of being honest with customers (advertisers) and consumers (readers, viewers, users), especially in the current environment in which the media in general has such a bad reputation and low credibility.

The slide of the media into the reputational gutter is greased by the emotional, hateful, and pandering ranting of entertainers, wearing the transparent mask of commentators, such as Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, and Rush Limbaugh. The consistently top-rated program on cable TV is "professional" wrestling, and porn or semi-pornographic content on the Internet continues to thrive.

Julia Angwin's excellent book, Stealing My Space tells a story of greed and unethical business practices in pursuit of personal wealth and individual interests rather than any consideration of the public's interest.

Rupert Murdoch bought the smarmy My Space for strategic reasons -- to make his News Corp. empire more profitable -- which is why he tolerates Beck's and O'Reilly's hateful ranting on Fox News.

I don't want my students at The New School in the Media Management Program to become Rupert Murdochs or Sumner Redstones (Viacom and CBS) -- people who are obsessed with their personal wealth and not in the least bit interested in the public interest. Therefore, in addition to teaching ethics as an integral part of the four courses I teach at The New School, I ask students to take the Hippocratic oath for managers, as proposed by Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria in "It's Time to Make Management a True Profession," (Harvard Business Review, October 2008)

Here's the oath:

A Hippocratic Oath for Managers

As a manager, I serve as society's fiduciary for one of its most important institutions: enterprises that bring people and resources together to create valued products and services that no single individual could produce alone. My purpose is to serve the public's interest by enhancing the value my enterprise creates for society. Sustainable value is created when the enterprise produces an economic, social, and environmental output that is measurably greater than the opportunity cost of all the inputs it consumes. In fulfilling my role:

I recognize that any enterprise is at the nexus of many different constituencies, whose interests can sometimes diverge. While balancing and reconciling these interests, I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. This may not always mean growing or preserving the enterprise and may include such painful actions as its restructuring, discontinuation, or sale, if these actions preserve or increase value.

I pledge that considerations of personal benefit will never supersede the interests of the enterprise I am entrusted to manage. The pursuit of self-interest is the vital engine of a capitalist economy, but unbridled greed can be just as harmful. Therefore, I will guard against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise I manage and the societies it serves.

I promise to understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct, that of my enterprise, and that of the societies in which it operates. My personal behavior will be an example of integrity, consistent with the values I publicly espouse. I will be equally vigilant in ensuring the integrity of others around me and bring to attention the actions of others that represent violations of this shared professional code.

I vow to represent my enterprise's performance accurately and transparently to all relevant parties, ensuring that investors, consumers, and the public at large can make well-informed decisions. I will aim to help people understand how decisions that affect them are made, so that choices do not appear arbitrary or biased.

I will not permit considerations of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, party politics, or social status to influence my choices. I will endeavor to protect the interests of those who may not have power, but whose well-being is contingent on my decisions.

I will manage my enterprise by diligently, mindfully, and conscientiously applying judgment based on the best knowledge available. I will consult colleagues and others who can help inform my judgment and will continually invest in staying abreast of the evolving knowledge in the field, always remaining open to innovation. I will do my utmost to develop myself and the next generation of managers so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.

I recognize that my stature and privileges as a professional stem from the honor and trust that the profession as a whole enjoys, and I accept my responsibility for embodying, protecting, and developing the standards of the management profession, so as to enhance that respect and honor.

Don't you wish we could get executives and managers in the media to take this oath and then to live up to it?