New Evidence on the Role of the Media in Corporate Social Responsibility

Abstract

Prior research suggests that the media plays an important information intermediary role in capital markets. We investigate the role of the media in influencing firms’ engagement in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Using a large sample of 4396 unique firms from 42 countries over the period 2003–2012, we find strong evidence that firms engage in more CSR activities if located in countries where the media has more freedom. This relation is robust to using various proxies for media freedom, an alternative source of CSR data, and to applying the instrumental variables approach to address endogeneity. In additional analyses, we find that the positive relation between media freedom and CSR engagement is stronger for better governed firms and for larger firms. Since the media have the ability to impact reputational capital, we conclude that media freedom affects firms’ incentives to engage in costly CSR activities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We provide a comprehensive review of these related studies on media visibility and CSR in the literature review, “Media visibility and CSR” section.

  2. 2.

    One may argue that only new content is relevant for the media’s informational role. However, there is evidence that rebroadcasting publicly available content also matters. See, for instance, Huberman and Regev (2001), Liu et al. (2014), and Dai et al. (2015).

  3. 3.

    The finance literature also documents the effects of CSR on firm value (e.g., Fatemi et al. 2015), idiosyncratic risk (e.g., Lee and Faff 2009), financial distress (e.g., Goss 2009), the cost of capital and access to finance (e.g., El Ghoul et al. 2011; Cheng et al. 2014), and merger performance (Deng et al. 2013). This literature further suggests that CSR activities result in higher firm valuations by mitigating information asymmetry between firms and investors (Kim et al. 2012), by inducing more analyst coverage and reducing analyst forecast errors (Dhaliwal et al. 2012), and by decreasing agency problems (Freeman 1984).

  4. 4.

    Prior finance research on whether CSR activities are consistent with shareholder wealth maximization or represent the interests of entrenched managers is mixed (see, for example, Deng et al. 2013). Our results suggest that better governed firms are more responsive to media coverage than poorly governed firms. To the extent that better corporate governance is value-enhancing, our findings suggest that CSR activities are consistent with shareholders’ interests.

  5. 5.

    Unlike the study by Toffel et al. (2015) which used the media freedom metric from Reporters Without Borders, Hartmann and Uhlenbruck (2015) measure media freedom with the Press Freedom statistic from Freedom House.

  6. 6.

    Hartmann and Uhlenbruck (2015), along with Bansal and Clelland (2004), Bertels and Peloza (2008), and Bansal and Roth (2000), recognize that concerns about CSR likely vary across industries and thus call for the extension of the analysis of the CSR/media relation to a broader array of sectors.

  7. 7.

    Fransen (2013) contends that the firm’s social and environmental activities are driven by different national institutions. In our subsequent empirical analysis, we test that contention.

  8. 8.

    Hubbard and Lindsay (2013) and Uncles and Kwok (2013) define differentiated replication as an empirical undertaking to extend an initial study by deliberately and purposefully introducing changes in various conditions and aspects of the analysis. With a goal of verifying validity and establishing empirical generalizations, the process of differentiated replication, as documented by Uncles and Kwok (2013, p. 1399), involves “checking empirical findings from an initial study under varied conditions (validity across conditions), using multiple methods (convergent validity), by different researchers (inter-investigator validity).” As part of our empirical analysis, we apply this protocol to the study by Hartmann and Uhlenbruck (2015). Easley and Madden (2013), Easley et al. (2013), and Evanschitzky et al. (2007) note that replication, a critical component of the scientific method, is now becoming more valued in the social sciences.

  9. 9.

    Cline et al. (2016) study the consequences of allegations of CEO personal indiscretions (e.g., drug abuse, extramarital affairs, violence). They find that CEO turnover increases and CEO pay decreases after such allegations. They also find that directors overseeing indiscreet CEOs receive significantly fewer votes at the following annual meeting. Gilson (1989) further shows that more than half of the CEOs of firms in or near default are replaced and that these CEOs are not hired again at publicly listed firms, while Gilson and Vetsuypens (1993) show that the CEOs of firms in or near default that are not replaced experience significant pay cuts.

  10. 10.

    Dyck and Zingales (2002) note that Sears’ directors despised Monks because they were subject to mockery in their social circles following the WSJ ad. Other shareholder activists have used a similar strategy of naming and shaming in the media. For instance, CalPers used to publish an annual Focus List of underperforming firms that was widely rebroadcast by the media, and Hermitage Capital Management used to mediatize corporate malfeasance in Russia (Dyck et al. 2008).

  11. 11.

    This example suggests that the media can play a role in disciplining managers and directors when formal means of doing so fail.

  12. 12.

    Both studies find that firms from more Collectivist (or less Individualistic) cultures engage in more CSR activities.

  13. 13.

    Kennedy (2008) similarly notes that the media is typically perceived as more independent and therefore a more credible source of information.

  14. 14.

    One might wonder whether, as significant advertisers, large firms leverage their importance to deter the media from revealing their malfeasance. We argue that this is unlikely when the media are free. Anecdotally, despite intense lobbying efforts, Enron—the seventh-largest company in the U.S. at the time—could not dissuade Fortune from publishing Bethany McLean’s article. In addition, Miller (2006) shows that U.S. corporate fraudsters that happen to be among the largest advertisers are not less likely to attract media attention. Thus, large firms are unlikely to cause a media bias in the presence of media freedom.

  15. 15.

    Indeed, Burgess (2010) observes that the indices from these three institutions comprise “an oligopoly of media ratings systems” (p. 7). The Media Sustainability index (MSI) from IREX reflects the degree to which the nation’s legal, political, social, and professional environments contribute to a sustainable and independent media. IREX works in conjunction with USAID to compile the MSI for countries throughout Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and the Middle East. Because this geographical concentration limits coverage across our sample to only two countries (Russia and South Africa), we do not include the MSI in our analysis.

  16. 16.

    Jensen (1979) and Jensen and Meckling (1978) similarly conclude that alliances between politicians and the press may reduce the media’s effectiveness.

  17. 17.

    The alleged deficiencies in the primary measures of media freedom (from Freedom House and RWB) are a lack of transparency, potential cultural bias, and a focus on “old media.” We mitigate concerns about these weaknesses by also measuring media freedom with the Freedom on the Net index and the State Press measures. The former focuses on freedom of the “new media”; the latter are based on objective and verifiable market-based data.

  18. 18.

    We also obtain alternative measures of CSR and press freedom, as we explain earlier. However, we do not use these alternative measures in constructing our main sample.

  19. 19.

    The sample countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.

  20. 20.

    In our regressions, we include several country-level variables to better isolate the effect of media freedom on CSR. To ensure that multicollinearity is not driving our results, we replicate our analysis after excluding all country-level controls except for LOG(GDP/CAP). Our core findings persist. In addition, we compute the variance inflation factors (VIFs) for all variables included in our main regression in Model 1 of Table 5. The results show that the VIFs are all below 10, with a mean regression VIF of 2.75, suggesting that multicollinearity is not affecting our results.

  21. 21.

    However, contrary to expectations, we find that firms located in countries that have ratified more environmental treaties and countries with more economic freedom have lower CSR scores. The negative relationship between the number of treaties and CSR is similar to the one documented in Hartmann and Uhlenbruck (2015). These authors argue that international environmental treaties might signal negative CSR sentiment rather than stronger CSR regulations. The negative association between economic freedom and CSR is consistent with firms behaving in socially irresponsible ways when their governments adopt economic laisser-faire. This result is also consistent with El Ghoul et al. (2016) who find that CSR is more valuable in low business freedom countries, consistent with firms using CSR to fill institutional voids.

  22. 22.

    As a quick check for whether reverse causality is at play, we transform our baseline model (Model 1 of Table 5) by using FOP_FH as the dependent variable and CSR_S as the independent variable. We find that the coefficient on CSR_S is positive and significant at the 1%, indicating that reverse causality could be at stake. We thank the reviewer for suggesting this test.

  23. 23.

    As described by McKay et al. (2005), after the Napoleonic Wars until 1920, approximately 60 million Europeans immigrated to North America, Latin America (primarily Argentina and Southern Brazil), Australia and New Zealand. Essentially, Europeans settled in regions that were similar in distance from the equator to their home country. Those originally from higher latitudes in Europe (e.g., Germany, Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia) were more likely to immigrate to North America, Australia and New Zealand. Those from European countries of lower latitude (e.g., Spain, Portugal) were more likely to primarily immigrate to Latin America. For further documentation of the migratory patterns of European settlers, see Chapter 26 (“The West and the World”) of McKay et al. (2005).

  24. 24.

    Providing further justification as to why media freedom may be inversely associated with oil reserves, Egorov et al. (2009) argue that governments in resource-abundant countries may attempt to reduce demand for media freedom by using resource rents to compensate citizens for censorship and to “buy off” political opposition.

  25. 25.

    From Model 1, we can obtain the derivative of CSR_S with respect to FOP_FH as \( \left( {\partial CSR\_S/\partial FOP\_FH} \right) = \beta_{FOP\_FH} + \beta_{FOP\_FH \times SIZE} \times SIZE \) where \( \beta_{FOP\_FH} \) is the coefficient on FOP_FH and \( \beta_{FOP\_FH \times SIZE} \) is the coefficient on FOP_FH × SIZE. Since the estimate of \( \beta_{FOP\_FH} \) is not significant, the derivative reduces to \( \left( {\partial CSR\_S/\partial FOP\_FH} \right) = \beta_{FOP\_FH \times SIZE} \times SIZE = 0.037 \times SIZE \). Recall that SIZE is the logarithm of sales in millions of USD, so it is positive for firms with sales greater than $1 million. In our sample, only 15 firm-years have negative SIZE. Therefore, the marginal effect of FOP_FH on CSR_S is mostly positive in our sample.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank an anonymous reviewer, Najah Attig, Narjess Boubakri, Ruiyuan Chen, Jun-Koo Kang, Greg Shailer (Editor), Helen Wang, Ying Zheng, and participants at the 2016 FMA Asia/Pacific Conference and the 2016 Conference on the Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility for constructive comments. We appreciate generous financial support from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the School of Business at Wake Forest University and excellent research assistance from Ruiyuan Chen.

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Correspondence to Omrane Guedhami.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 12, 13, and 14.

Table 12 GMI KeyMetrics
Table 13 Key areas of concern by industry sector
Table 14 Variable definitions

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El Ghoul, S., Guedhami, O., Nash, R. et al. New Evidence on the Role of the Media in Corporate Social Responsibility. J Bus Ethics 154, 1051–1079 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3354-9

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Keywords

  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Media freedom
  • Corporate governance
  • Corporate reputation

JEL Classification

  • G34
  • M14