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News Limited: Limited News

By Serena de Kretser (Net Balance) on March 04, 2013 at 10:54am.

Context

News Limited is Australia’s largest print and digital media company employing close to 10,000 people in Australia. The company began in Australia with a single afternoon newspaper, The News, in 1954. Newspapers remain News Limited's primary business, and they publish over 150 metropolitan, regional and suburban titles, including the national daily, The Australian and a number of magazine titles.

News Limited is wholly owned by the American based News Corporation Inc. led by Rupert Murdoch as both its Chair and CEO.

Content

One degree (1°) is the name of News Limited’s environmental impact reduction initiative and also the theme of the company’s first public sustainability related report. The report only provides environmental disclosure with no discussion in relation to economic or social issues. This is disappointing seeing that a large part of News Limited’s business centres on providing information to society, and the issues and controversies the company faces are predominantly social.  This report would have been an opportunity for the company to demonstrate its strategic direction in terms of sustainability more broadly, and a commitment to transparent and open communication - building trust in the brand.

The fact that the company has chosen to tackle and report only on environmental indicators shows a lack of engagement with the broader issues likely to impact on the business and a disregard of likely stakeholder concerns regarding media’s role in society and ethical behaviour. The report contains no evidence of a materiality assessment to determine key issues or a formal stakeholder engagement process (both are key principles of accepted reporting frameworks). Despite the fact that this is an Australian report, the involvement of global associates, News International and News Corporation Inc, in the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK and an increasing distrust in large media conglomerates gives rise to the expectation that issues such as business ethics and privacy at the very least be acknowledged. The failure to produce a sustainability report addressing the broad range of issues facing the company is disappointing and a missed opportunity.

The report makes it clear that the company has put a great deal of effort into increasing recycling in Australia.  They have only recently begun focusing on their overall paper consumption however, along with other key environmental impacts. While emissions and energy targets were established in 2007, management of water and waste only began in 2011 and no targets have as yet been established in these areas.

The majority of the report content and data is focused on emissions and energy initiatives. Over half the report is comprised of double-page spreads showing the emissions and energy performance of each major newspaper division. While percentage increases and decreases are disclosed, no actual consumption figures, breakdowns by source, or impacts in the context of overall company performance, are provided. The same information could easily be presented and be more easily comparable, if combined into a single table.

Communication

News Limited’s report is very graphic in style and is easy to read with quite a few full page photos. Over half the report is devoted to a description of what each individual newspaper group has achieved. While the report contains plenty of info graphics covering a lot of different data points, much of the data is very high level and not very useful. Whilst the one degree (1°) website contains some support information, it remains at a very high level. Despite looking at both the report and the website, the reader is left with no idea of what News Limited’s overall energy consumption is or which parts of the business use the most energy.

The most useful spreads in the report are the timeline depicting News Limited’s long-term commitment to environmental management and its ‘Key Achievements’ graphic. These pages give a concise overview of the company’s carbon footprint (if nothing else) and the areas where mitigation is currently focused.

Credibility

The report is not aligned with any external reporting framework such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the performance data is quite difficult to interpret or make comparisons against. The report also lacks ‘balance’ in that all the news is ‘good’ news.

The report states electricity used in ‘print centres’ is responsible for the bulk of the company’s emissions (92%), but provides very little discussion on energy and carbon reduction initiatives in these print centres. The ‘Action’ section of the report highlights employee behaviour change which has reportedly achieved an estimated cost saving of only $1.1million. In relation to the size of the business, this may be a modest achievement, however, it is reported without any context.

Whilst the report is full of ‘info-graphics’ and graphs depicting positive energy and emissions performance data, the report fails to disclose total energy consumption data or Scopes 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions data. Individual performance disclosure against each newspaper group makes it difficult to gauge overall company performance.

Whilst News Limited’s carbon data, which is subject to mandatory reporting in Australia, has been externally verified, no further assurance has been undertaken.

Recommendations

• Give consideration to Social and Economic sustainability, in addition to Environment and develop and report a full Sustainability strategy for the business.
• Undertake a materiality assessment and structured stakeholder engagement to determine a range of sustainability issues relevant to News Limited and base report content around these issues.
• Attempt to produce a report that is aligned with an external reporting framework such as the GRI.
• Provide a summary of performance data in relation to a broad set of KPI’s, aligned with strategic targets and priorities.

Serena de Kretser is Senior Associate at Net Balance, a sustainability advisory services firm with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and London. www.netbalance.com