In a world where democracies are prominent, news organizations play an important role in the development of modern society. Not only do they provide room for public conversation, the media also has the powerful ability to set the agenda of discourse. In other words, media organizations significantly influence society through their content.
The character of the media is interesting in this regard. The media serves as a watchdog for public institutions and society but media outlets are also business entities with the baggage of potential bias and interests that come with commerce. In fact, the most influential media outlets in Indonesia are controlled by large business conglomerates, some even with owners that are affiliated with political parties.
Therefore, it is essential that media outlets are socially responsible and accountable. In our present age, are news organizations acting in a socially responsible manner? It is time for us to start talking about the social responsibility of news organizations.
As the press has mushroomed into a massive and powerful entity, especially with the emergence of online media, there has been a significant change in reporting news’ from things that already happened to things that are happening. However, in a bid to provide ‘real-time’ news, the essence of journalism, which should strictly rely on the verification of facts, seems to be often neglected.
During the terror attack in Jakarta in January, for instance, there was a report on social media alleging that one of the terrorists was riding a motorbike with an AK-47 assault rifle around Jl. Jend. Sudirman. Online media also picked up the issue. Only later was it found that he was just a reporter with a long lens camera trying to cover the incident.
As a matter of fact, this kind of ‘real time’ news often sparks public confusion, and even creates unnecessary panic among people in surrounding areas.
In another case, we can see how the media’s framing of the incident in Tolikara, Papua, last year, provoked social conflict and generated anger among religious groups. In less than an hour after the incident, some media outlets started to cover the issue in a rather provocative way without looking first at the context of the problem.
News was reported first, and corrected later without enclosing a correction statement. It surely makes business sense for news companies to be the first to publish something of public interest. But is it a socially responsible way of doing business?
Moreover, because news organizations are connected to business and politics, conflicts of interest may occur. We can frequently find biased coverage from the media, particularly when a certain issue contradicts the business interests of owners or advertisers.
Let’s consider the case of a news group that actively tried to frame the mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java, as a natural disaster rather than a problem of human error. In this case, we can see consistently one-sided reporting from one particular news outlet in order to protect the political and business interests of its owners.
Criticism was raised by the public, but nobody could actually do anything about it.
Some of the most important aspects of the media’s social responsibilities lie in the areas of ethical journalism, news accuracy and media bias. The failure to ponder upon those aspects might cause public misinformation and, in the Indonesian context, social conflict. And we have seen how these aspects are at risk of being disregarded by Indonesian media outlets.
Lately, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become more and more relevant. It is not about how much money has been thrown away in donations and to charity. CSR is about deciding where the company fits within the social fabric (Werther and Chandler, 2006).
The media should be in the front row in performing these responsibilities. Sustainability is not only about environmental impacts, but also about social impacts. Hence, CSR issues that are significant in the media industry include, among others, disclosure of ownership, policies on building and maintaining journalistic ethics, the political views and affiliations of editors, responsible advertising and media neutrality.
The globally acclaimed standards and guidelines for corporate social responsibility, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and ISO 26000, could be used as references for developing general approaches.
Reporting on social responsibility is an effective way to communicate a corporation’s commitment to managing its social impact on society and stakeholders.
Yet it is interesting to note that there are not many news corporations that have properly engaged in their social responsibilities in the same manner as corporations in other sectors such as banking, telecommunications, natural resources and consumer goods.
This is even more astounding when considering that news corporations, by nature, already have the means to reach out and report to the public. I believe the media should jump on the sustainability reporting bandwagon. Media organizations should start to articulate their role in society and their commitment to creating a more sustainable and healthy democracy in Indonesia.
Providing more transparency on CSR will help educate people about the source of their information. This will empower the media’s stakeholders to make better judgments on the news they obtain.
One of the clauses in ISO 26000, a globally accepted guideline for social responsibility, states that organizations should understand and recognize its social responsibility.
I believe, as a start, that news corporations in Indonesia should at least take this clause into consideration.
Melissya Debora Sitopu
The article published when the writer was a senior consultant at Kiroyan Partners. The views expressed are her own.
Source: The Jakarta Post, March 5, 2016, page 7.