Statement by the Area Representative at the "Media, Companies and Corporate Social Responsibility” conference held in Belgrade on June 7, 2010
by Judita Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative - Media and Corporate Social Responsibility Conference, 7 June 2010
by Judita Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative - Media and Corporate Social Responsibility Conference, 7 June 2010Good day. It is a great pleasure to be in the company of so many creative people, who want to deliberate specific ways to increase the private sector’s contribution to overall societal development today.
I will focus on the media within this interesting topic, because, given their multiple roles, they are in a complex and, at the same time, an extremely privileged position. The media can simultaneously be promoters of, and actors in, corporate social responsibility. They can also model such conduct as they themselves apply social responsibility concepts in their own business practices. Although it may occasionally seem that the media have to opt for only one of these roles, their privileged position actually allows them to merge all three roles and thus achieve triple, long-term, even commercial effects of their activities.
Many amongst you (editors-in-chief) know what I am talking about, because you yourselves have for a long time investigated this avenue, aware of the manifold powers of the media. You have already been investing diverse efforts to:
- Point out society’s problems and priorities and help to link those priorities to the actions of others;
You may be asking yourselves now, so what’s the point? If all of this is already being done, what are we missing? In my view, we still actually lack a deeper understanding of the importance of corporate social responsibility. It seems that we have somehow accepted a simplified understanding of the concept, equating it with corporate philanthropy. For instance, it goes without saying that raising funds to aid the most vulnerable or those who have been forgotten is desirable, be they groups, families or individuals - on condition, of course, that their dignity, and in the case of children, their identity, is always protected. But such corporate philanthropy, while commendable, is only a small part, and perhaps the simplest part, of full corporate responsibility.
Corporate social responsibility has a deeper meaning. It entails a corporation’s commitment and decision to manage each of its diverse roles in a socially responsible manner, as employer, service provider, client and citizen. A corporation embracing corporate responsibility principles will seek to achieve a new balance between its economic objectives and its social involvement. This logic applies to the media as well – embracing such principles entails incorporating them both in one’s business model and one’s editorial policy.
Some will say that the chief problem stems from the commercial pressures on the media and that these reflect on the final product in different ways. You probably know this better than I do. But, today, I want to draw your attention to something some corporations have already realized. In the longer term, socially responsible conduct actually also leads to the achievement of economic goals. There are some good illustrations – how the effect of incorporating the environmental protection principle or the principle of decent wages and the protection of workers and their fundamental rights contributes to the much better position of the corporation in the competitive market.
You don’t always need a lot of money for the real thing - often, all you need to do is think outside the box, apply new knowledge and ethical principles, improve the organization of your business, design the right strategy...
For a media corporation to embark on the road of true social responsibility, it must articulate new principles for its business model, its editorial policy and the way it organizes everyday work in the editorial offices. As I already mentioned – if they combine their various roles, the media have a unique opportunity to highlight their influence and shape socially responsible conduct by other stakeholders as well.
What would that imply – if the media were to incorporate human rights principles or, to be more specific, the principles of the rights of the child, in their various roles?
Where should the process begin? First of all, they need to have sufficient knowledge about the rights of the child, their indivisibility and universality, to be able to analyze what they specifically mean for a media outlet as an employer, service provider and client. How would the human resources policy change, for instance, if it were viewed from the perspective of the rights of the child? How would it respond to the reality of workers who are parents or have lower incomes and more children, or a child with a disability? What principle would guide policy with respect to single parents? From the perspective of the best interests of the child, changes would definitely have to be made in the human resources policy.
The role of media outlets as service providers would change in a similar manner if they decided that they needed to have knowledge at hand about the position of children and the rights of the child in Serbia. If they knew how many children with disabilities there are in Serbia, how and where they live, how many of them go to kindergarten, to school. If they knew why all of them do not attend school and what the law on education says on the issue. Is there a social policy supporting their social inclusion? Who is responsible to implement it? What percentage of the budget is allocated for the realization of the rights of these children? Why are these children invisible? Why don’t we see them in parks, on the streets, in the theater, at Patron Saint’s Days? What are the national child policy priorities and are they implemented? And so on… If you were to decide that knowing this is of major social importance, you would also review the principles of your editorial policy….
I know, some will say that the rights of the child are not the topics that sell newspapers or ensure high ratings of radio or TV programmes. But, these topics are actually behind virtually every front-page story and news headline. Everything happening in the country impacts the status of children. From the VAT rate and monetary policy, the decisions on spatial planning, to the social housing budget. Everything! Everything that affects a child’s development opportunities affects the development opportunities of the society and the country.
We can only imagine how the role of the media as clients would change if it were re-examined from the perspective of the rights of the child.
One can, however, also take smaller steps towards social responsibility. For instance, if a media outlet cannot afford to have journalists specializing only in specific topics, it can at least assign someone to cover a topic in the long term. This would merely require a reassignment of tasks within the editorial office while knowledge of the topic would thus be gradually enriched. There are more than enough topics that journalists can pack into an attractive format commanding relevance and ensuring their continuous coverage thanks to their ingenuity, knowledge and skills. Add to this the promotion of good practices in addressing social problems and additional incentives in the form of public recognition and symbolic awards and you will have strategic moves, which will definitely yield good results, but not cost too much.
It is sometimes enough to seek inspiration for our own campaigns amongst others. Many media experiences demonstrate that linking up with the public through activities which are not strictly programmatic yields good marketing results - with a topic, for instance, focused on addressing a social problem.
For example? I will say only two words: Kika Bibić. Some of you are too young to remember the popular TV literacy campaign in the 1960s - ask your elders about it. It is called “Edutainment” today – education and entertainment. TV series are now being filmed.
As I already said, there are more than enough topics where children and their rights are concerned. You will say that the production of a quality TV series on a topic concerning the rights of the child is too expensive to produce? Maybe. But there are also funds to assist well formulated rights-promotion programmes. All you need is the right idea.
Here’s just one: you can define the dates of relevance to the topics you have decided to cover in your annual plans. Plan your programme, the one you produce yourself or get in exchange, or else purchase quality foreign documentaries. Launch an international network of similar media outlets and organizations producing similar programmes, create a base for exchanging appropriate thematic programmes. Look for potential financiers (some of them may be here with us today). The new knowledge and the new skills you acquire in the process will remain with you forever.
Long gone are the times when the state system was the only engine of social change. Today, the state is merely one actor, alongside civil society, the private sector and especially the media. Strategic partnership between socially responsible stakeholders is the only way to achieve auspicious social change and the realization and protection of human rights, particularly the rights of the child, are actually the minimum standards at which all social change needs to be directed.
We at UNICEF stand ready to actively involve ourselves in building the strategic partnership needed for a movement for the rights of the child in this country. And, we have no doubts, so are some of you.