Portrayals of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Comparative Analysis of a Russian and a Canadian Newspaper*

Article excerpt

The general public learns about the social role of corporations from the media, yet little research has been conducted into the media portrayals of corporate social responsibility, particularly in the post-communist countries. Analysis revealed that in both countries corporate social responsibility was portrayed from the perspectives of the enterprises, the state, and the civil society. While there were similarities in the depictions of types of social activity undertaken by corporations in the two countries, significant differences emerged as well. The influence of the state was emphasized in the Russian articles, while the Canadian articles focused on the role of the civil society. The paper places the findings in the theoretical context of the social role of business in different institutional settings, and points out directions for further research into the media representation of corporate social responsibility.

Die Öffentlichkeit hört über die soziale Rolle der Aktiengesellschaften aus den Medien, es wurdenjedoch nur wenige Forschungen im Bereich der Darstellung durch die Medien durchgeführt, insbesondere in ehemalig kommunistischen Landern. Analysen enthüllten dass in Russland und Kanada die soziale Verantwortung Aufgabe der Unternehmen, des Staates und der Zivilgesellschaft war. Es gab Gemeinsamkeiten, aber ouch Unterschiede in den Typen der sozialen Betätigung. Der Einfluß des Staates wurde in den russischen Artikeln betont, wohingegen die kanadischen Artikel die Rolle der Zivilgesellschaft hervorhoben. Der Aufsatz platziert die Ergebnisse im theoretischen Kontext der sozialen Rollen von Unternehmen und weist auf weitere Forschungen in der Medienrepräsentation von sozialer Verantwortung von Aktiengesellschaften hin.

Key words: Corporate social responsibility / media portrayals /Russia / Canada

Introduction

By virtue of pursuing their goals, corporations are pictured in literature as sources of both destruction and support in the development and implementation of the social policy regimes. On the one hand, they lobby governments worldwide to deregulate, reduce taxes, and curtail welfare spending. On the other hand, they are seen as starting to accept and perform social functions that go beyond the immediate needs of capitalist production. Corporate social responsibility, its extent and implications remain a heavily contested terrain. While many see it as a very positive phenomenon, some (Mendes 2003; Rozanova 2005) warn against hopes that socially responsible corporations may replace governments as social policy providers. By adhering to the principles of social partnership and through charitable donations, corporations invest into their social and political capital anticipating it to translate into higher economic returns in the future. While business operations may positively contribute to social policy, corporate mandate is not to resolve all the social problems. Thus expecting corporations to fill the social spaces vacated by the state is unrealistic because in building a positive public image, corporations ultimately pursue their business goals.

Despite abundant research on corporate social responsibility, little is known about the role that the media play in its design and implementation. In particular, the socially responsible images that the media help corporations to build have received little attention, especially in the Eastern European countries. Yet, this question merits careful analysis, both theoretically and practically. Since the media in most developed countries are increasingly controlled by a few powerful corporations it calls for a critical examination of the media portrayals of corporate social responsibility and discerning the agendas and interests underlying them. My essay starts filling the gap through knowledge and exploration of corporate social responsibility discussions in the newspaper articles published in The Globe and Mail and in Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 2004. …