Why the Russian Media Ignore Charity

Elena Barsukova
Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager
Philip Morris Sales and Marketing Ltd.

Recently, while speaking at a roundtable devoted to corporate responsibility, I witnessed an interesting conversation. The talk was about the attitude of Russian society and media towards business on the whole and in particular its responsibility. Society and national media as an integral part of that society tend to be skeptical towards business and are rather far from believing in its corporate responsibility. In cases when responsibility and charity visibly and undeniably exist, our society and media usually take it for granted. Unfortunately, this attitude cannot be called surprising. Experts claim that the Russian national mass media write about charity only on two occasions — either when the charity issue is inevitable (for example in an interview with a CEO or CFO who is mentioning charity and stressing its importance), or when charity issues are associated with a scandal. Check it out — enter the word “charity” in the search bar on any Russian mass media web site and read the headlines. Just a few articles will be truly devoted to the topic.

International media, on the contrary, are very scrupulous and attentive towards corporate charity, since the theme is interesting in its own right. Why is this? Why are the attitudes of Russian and international media towards corporate charity so different?

Let us take our company as an example. Our charitable projects in Russia are primarily devoted to addressing issues of hunger, poverty and education. Geographically, our charity projects in Russia cover almost the entire country. Many projects are being implemented in the Leningrad and Krasnodar regions where our factories operate. I deliberately mentioned the geography. At the regional level, including St. Petersburg, we see higher engagement of media. Regional journalists are more eager to come and see the progress or results of our charitable initiatives with their own eyes. Their articles are neutral and reasonable but tend more to analyze the sphere of charity itself, such as the current state and outlook of vocational schools in the country and how business could be truly helpful here. In the regions, the media also tends to describe a charitable project as a model if it finds it interesting and then calls for local companies to follow that example.

Things are different with national media. If it is not associated with a scandal, charity is hardly featured on the national media agenda. Try to get in touch with a journalist writing about charity. In 90 percent of cases you will be immediately put through to a commercial department. But do we indeed sell anything? All we are saying is that we, as a business, are an integral part of society, and need to talk to society and share information. We do not “patent” our charitable ideas, and we are ready and eager to share project models with other businesses.

Coming back to the essence of the problem, Russian society cannot be skeptical towards business for no reason at all. The history of the national market economy is still very short, and Russian business in terms of charity has a lot of learning ahead. But this learning cannot be achieved in isolation from society. “Ignore” and “ignorance” have the same origin. If we do not talk about charity, then we cannot learn more about it.

At the roundtable, I mentioned that I have heard of a “revolutionary” idea to pay the media for attention to business responsibility and charity — an idea that was immediately rejected by us and all the other business participants. We cannot buy attention and respect. But we can work for it. All we need is a dialogue with society, which is an impossible dream unless the national media in this country turns its attention towards business and corporate charity.