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CSR in the Media: Fall-out From News of the World “Hackgate”

| Tuesday July 26th, 2011 | 1 Comment

The scandal that is currently rocking the media world puts Rupert Murdoch clearly in the epicenter of the storm. News of the World (NoW), a UK based publication of News International (NI) has been accused of hacking a murdered school girl’s phone. The scandal has resulted in the resignation and consequent arrest of Rebekah Brooks, NoW’s Chief Executive and has earned America’s most dreaded suffix, becoming “hackgate”. It has also resulted in Murdoch himself being questioned by the House of Commons.

All this is rather ironic, considering that NI has always placed a high regard on truth and transparency in its operations. The first edition of NoW in 1843 proclaimed:

“Our motto is truth. Our practice is the fearless advocacy of the truth’. Now they say that ‘Here at NI, we concern ourselves with more than just news headlines. We think about the people that make them, the communities that read them and the societies that shape them.”

CSR in the media brings with it a unique set of challenges. There needs to be balance of transparency and privacy especially when dealing with vulnerable members of the society such as minors, and victims of crime and war. There needs to be a certain kind of discretion to decide when exposure causes more harm than good by publishing bodies.

The core of the scandal involves illegal means of obtaining ‘news.’ Not only did it involve hacking phones of individuals, it also involved allegedly bribing the police. When such matters come to light, the company not only suffers a massive financial loss but also a loss of reputation that may take many years to regain.

CSR reports are not always the only insights to a company’s operations. In this regard, NoW has been rather careful in the past not to build on its social capital by means of publishing CSR reports or talking about their responsibilities. This gives them vast wriggle room now that times have gotten hard. Beyond CSR, this scandal raises important questions about corporate accountability. It seems very possible that the entire media industry could be using similar tactics to obtain information. Even those media houses that do not, will face the same scrutiny.

The NoW scandal shows that CSR is extremely important for stakeholders. Claiming to be the “advocacy of truth” is simply PR if it does not translate into action. It is yet unclear how this scandal will affect the larger interests of the Murdoch Empire, however it remains clear that media now requires tougher CSR regulations.

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