Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Not chicken in Kiev

Apologies. Crap half-pun. With a trace of meaning.
Just spent half a week in the Ukraine capital with the UN there trying to explain Corporate Social Responsibility ... with a bit of journalism ethics on the side.
CSR is one of those things that you either get or you don't - and, no, it's not a typically lefty, BBC type thing aimed, at best, at taking the edge off raw capitalism, at worst, returning the globe to a tankie-style planned economy. It's rooted in business and profit; why are energy companies amongst the biggest CSR fans? Because they want to be still making profits in fifty years' time.
In Ukraine, as in most other places - including this sceptical blast from the Economist (login required, but you can get it free) - CSR is confused with philanthropy; supporting the arts or buying a local orphanage. It isn't - as the fons et origo of global CSR the UN Global Compact makes clear; at root, it's about respecting the law, fellow humans and the environment. Which lets the sceptics in from both sides; either it's chucking profit away on the feckless or the aesthetic or it's no more than the law prescribes.
The Global Compact is far from ideal; its 'precautionary approach' to the environment is bonkers, effectively legitimising as it does even the daftest allegedly (untested) eco-plan ... so long as it's done in the name of environmental protection.
But the worst thing about it by far is its failure to pay even lip service to the role of the press, the media, journalism as either watchdog or platform to debate the merits of the whole idea.
Which was my theme ... so I witter on about that; and press freedom; and media ethics. And I point out that Ukraine has only one choice about CSR; fast or slow. Access to western capital, markets etc depend on it.
There's a forest of hands. 'What do you do in the UK when a businessman pays your editor to spike your story?' Or 'What do you do about TV owners who tell their newsrooms not to report certain stories?' Or 'What's the point in signing up to the CSR agenda if media companies refuse to report it even exists?'
Ok. Slow dawning. Wrong starting point. Like other dilettantes, I assume the Orange Revolution has licked the land of the Cossacks into some sort of recognisable shape ... decent by EU standards, that is.
On the face of it, Ukraine's media and journalists are free ... constrained by the constitution, the legal code (which is extensive) but most of all the raw power of the oligarchs. There is something brutal in the air, which you kinda catch from the muscle bound, smoke-fugged, shaved-heads driving the cabs and dooring the pubs, or the ads for prostitutes and 'try before you buy' brides on the tourist office givewayws. But here in a five star hotel in central Kyiv a couple of hundred journalists spend a day and a half railing against it, asking for help with a way through. A way through that doesn't go the Georgiy Gongadze way. And then the journos from Moscow, Tbilisi and Almaty pitch in. Judged by their tales, Ukraine is not that badly off.
I've never had the thugs come round so I don't know what I'd do if they did. Nothing heroic, I'm sure.
So I lecture them on accuracy, the journalism of verification, independence and impartiality. And then go to the airport to catch up on Queengate.

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