Corporate Responsibility … Misplaced

Zibby Schwarzman’s article in Viewpoints last week raises an interesting issue. Is the airing of sensational news as part of the media ratings battle worth the cost of traumatizing people who do not wish to see it? She was referring in particular to CBS’ decision to air never-before-seen graphic footage of the September 11th attacks.

Is the cost to those affected justified by higher ratings and the ensuing increase in revenue? Is that not what it ultimately comes down to? Maximizing ‘shareholder value.’ Not freedom of the press, not a responsibility to society but good old fashioned, plain and simple money.
And while we’re at it, why stop at the news industry? Is the value to the video games industry worth the Columbine high school massacres? Is the value to the alcohol industry worth the battered wives and broken childhoods? Indeed is the value to the oil industry worth the floods in Bangladesh and skin cancers that our progeny will inevitably have to bear?

Are these corporations even wrong, or merely behaving ‘rationally’? What is rational in this context? Just how much economic growth for the few does it take to justify the cost to the many? And how will we behave when we become the ‘ethical and principled leaders of society’ that we are supposedly being groomed to become?

As leaders of the future it is our responsibility to resolve this trade-off between shareholder value and value to society. We must all come to our own personal decisions on these issues, but what we must not do is dodge the questions. Where does our ultimate loyalty lie? To society or to shareholders? Let us not forget that our example will be followed by the world.