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Responsible business: Is the BBC up to scratch?

Many of us in the in corporate responsibility field, at least in the UK, no doubt listen to BBC programmes such as “Costing the earth” on BBC radio.

The problem with these sorts of programmes, few and far between as they generally are in the media, is the incredibly simplistic approach they take to deeply complex issues.

No doubt the editors believe the audience on Radio 4 and the World Service won’t understand the programmes unless they are dumbed right down.

The last edition of Costing the earth that I heard last night certainly conformed to that description. The programme ended by essentially saying “you can have jobs or the environment, but you can’t have both”. Not award-winning stuff by any means.

The BBC’s listeners regularly engage in complex political programmes.

Why shouldn’t the BBC treat them as mature adult listeners when it comes to the environment and business issues in the social arena?

It’s something of a mystery to me.

Channel Four attempts, generally very badly, to cover green issues in the UK. Panorama on the BBC does the same, once in a very blue moon.

But if there is one organisation you would think has both the remit, audience and resources to broadcast on the complex issues facing business and society, you’d have to say that would be the BBC.

So why don’t they?

My guess, having been a guest talking head on Radio 4, the World Service and BBC1 to talk about CR a few times in the last decade, is that the producers of the programmes just don’t know the area really exists.

A few years ago, for a year, I was a member of the Front Line club, the networking and events club for journalists.

The mainstream journalists I met as a member essentially expressed zero interest in the topic.

They had no idea that for many larger companies, corporate sustainability is an increasingly serious business area.

At best they think it’s all just philanthropy dressed up in PR. Sometimes true, but by no means always.

I suggested to the management of the club that a public event on journalism and responsible business might be of interest. It was not to them. A deafening silence met my suggestion.

Among the journalists I know today, perhaps a dozen or so in the ‘mainstream’ media, the situation remains more or less the same.

Some issues are now better known, such as corporate governance, pay, and climate change and the role of business.

But the rest remain very hazy for mainstream journalists. Our media panel back in May showed this clearly to me.

I’d argue that the BBC is perfectly positioned to do a lot more in this space. Here’s what seems to be their website on the topic of CR, and it’s not terribly impressive.

Perhaps their next CR report will go beyond its current very basic form to address this issue of editorial coverage.

There’s a big opportunity for the BBC to produce more serious programmes on business and sustainability.

The place to start might be by making their existing programming more about business and the difficult choices facing all of us on sustainability issues.

NB, for any interested readers, here’s a few links to podcasts and radio sites that might be of interest if you like audio broadcasts:

Ethical Corporation podcasts

PBS environment

NPR environment

Treehugger radio

If any readers would like to post others in the comments section of the blog, I’ll do a round up at some point.

(And no, consultants, that doesn’t mean linking to your “thought leadership blog post/position paper on sustainability”. I don’t publish those comments that do commercial self promotion for vendors, sorry but this is not a sales forum, I hope you understand)

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