The media industry is without argument the world's most dominant business sector of the 21st century. Broadly defined, the media industry consumes a large part of our waking hours, when we consider the time we spend at our computers, in front of our television sets, on our mobile phones and at the movie theater. The industry's reach is impressive and its role as messenger, indisputable -- it comes into our lives and leaves us with information that influences many of our choices, from what we buy to how we vote.
Decades ago, the idea that the people behind generating all this content had a responsibility both to consumers and to the planet was important only in as much as it pertained to legal compliance. However, over the past 20 years, the industry that gained its wealth generating messages started listening to the voices of the consumers it has informed. The media industry is becoming responsible.
As of this writing, most of the major media conglomerates, including Time Warner, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Vivendi, Bertelsmann and Sony Corporation have fully defined Corporate Social Responsibility reports published and available for download on their websites. Each company pulls back the curtain, allowing audiences to learn about their social, ethical, cultural and environmental practices.
Each company also makes an effort to use their entertainment wings to integrate positive messaging into content when possible. (Note: the companies, however, do respond to the market. Frank Allen, of the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, observes that media may be able to choose the diet but they won't get far if the audience doesn't like what's on the plate. "Spinach journalism." Media can be good for us but we should be honest with ourselves... a lot of us still prefer doughnuts.)
Having said that, what they can do is lead by corporate example, and they are.
Viacom, whose media networks include Nickelodeon, MTV and BET, as well as Paramount Pictures, champions a variety of causes such as healthy living, volunteerism and their company-wide Get Schooled initiative, which focuses on public school reform. Many of these campaigns get airtime on Viacom networks and portals and also involve partnerships with nonprofit agencies where viewers can learn more or take action.
Paramount Pictures, located in Hollywood, California, has a number of programs that work directly to impact the lives of those in their neighborhood. "At Paramount, we've had a robust employee volunteer program for many years. By offering opportunities to give back to the community, we're not only serving our neighbors, but also empowering our employees around the world to make a difference," says, Anita Ortiz, vice president of corporate responsibility.
The environment is a high priority for all of the media giants and each has mandated goals to reduce output and be more thoughtful of company input.
Newscorp, the parent company of Fox Studios, announced in early March 2011 that they have achieved their goal of carbon neutrality through a combination of increases in efficiency and renewable energy as well as carbon offsets. The company boasts a green culture which involves minimizing landfill waste, using clean electricity wherever possible and engaging audiences on sustainability issues through partnerships.
Sony has aligned its humanitarian reach with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and disease. In 2010, the company partnered with the FIFA World Cup to use soccer to contribute to social development through accessibility, play and art-based education.
In response to the recent multiple disasters in Japan, Sony also announced a donation of 300 million yen (approximately $3.6 million) in relief to the Central Community Chest of Japan. The company has also donated, at the government's request, 30,000 radios and 500,000 batteries for emergency use and launched a gift-matching program, whereby employees' contributions to designated relief agencies will be matched dollar for dollar by the company.
Says Janice Pober, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility:
"Doing the right thing feels good and inspires action. More businesses are embracing this principle in a way that helps them... and helps the world; that's our goal here at Sony Pictures. As an entertainment company, we have a unique opportunity to influence our community on multiple levels through our CSR efforts -- making Sony Pictures a company our employees, our neighbors here in L.A. and our audiences around the world can be proud of."
John Rego, Sony's executive director of sustainability, adds that the company is also using its storytelling talents to boost the public's acceptance of sustainability.
"Our business is to make interesting stories that people want to watch, but within those stories we can include some very simple behaviors that should be standard in society right now," he said, "like having recycling bins in an office that are actually being used."
Why am I interested in this subject? Because I believe that being responsible can also be joyful. No company articulates this better than Vivendi with their Create Joy initiative.
Vivendi's Create Joy program has two objectives: To foster happiness through communications and entertainment, and to support young talent. "To foster happiness." I have yet to come across a simpler mission, one that underpins one of the most basic human needs: our need for joy. Joy builds our confidence, creates social cohesion and influences our choices, which, in turn, impacts our relationship to the world around us.
No industry is as powerful as media. The messages communicated by the entertainment sector reach into the dustiest corners of the world. By choosing to create infrastructures that tread more gently on the planet, involve their employees in volunteer efforts and move toward using their programming to spread positive messages, the industry communicates how doing good can be good. A message worth passing on.