Mass media is exhibiting bias toward instances of corporate social irresponsibility

New research in the Journal of Marketing suggests that news media outlets frequently brush off reports of corporate misconduct, corruption, and societal violations. These media outlets are generally influenced by their own interests through advertising funds paid by offending companies, according to researchers.

In the study, a team of researchers from Tilburg University and the University of Cologne probed media coverage of more than 1,000 corporate social irresponsibility events among 77 prominent media outlets based in France, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, and the United States.

News tips surrounding corporate social irresponsibility are considered newsworthy and of high value for media reporting. However, based on the results of the study, corporate social irresponsibility are less likely to receive any coverage if closely affiliated with advertising partnerships, in which the findings showed that the probability of coverage decreases from 45 percent to nearly 9 percent.

The lack of media coverage may also have economic implications, as the study indicates that the reporting of a single corporate social irresponsibility event could tilt the U.S. stock exchange by more than $300 million if several news outlets covered it. The inability to publicize coverage would also represent a compromisation by conflicts of interest.

“The results show that advertising investment—and in particular, investments in selective partnerships—helps shield against broader media coverage of a corporate single irresponsibility (CSI) event,” the study’s co-authors stated in the findings.

“This finding points to an overlooked role of advertising investment in traditional, high-reach newspapers, which have come under increasing pressure from digital media channels.”

The study, published under the title: When Does Corporate Social Irresponsibility Become News? Evidence from More Than 1,000 Brand Transgressions Across Five Countries, declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of the article.

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