Independent media publicist, Cheryl Clarke, believes all is not fair and sustainable in the world of media, and asks where is the leadership going to come from?

Oona King, former Chief diversity officer of Channel 4

November is when we think about ‘The Bigger Picture’, encouraged by the week-long sustainability event of the same name hosted by Planet Mark-certified The Hospital Club – where media professionals like to meet.

But what does sustainability mean to media professionals? Is it greener production? Is it social sustainability problems thanks to poor workforce conditions, audience fragmentation, lack of diversity? And then even if we do work out what it means for us, what can we do to make change happen while surviving? And who are the leaders in this race? Whose example should we follow?

I’ve earned my crust as an independent publicist in the media and content industry for almost 20 years. In that time, I’ve floated along a continuum of feeling a mild sense of discomfort to utter rage at the lost opportunity for unlocking the potential of creativity and commerce to work towards a more fair and sustainable world. It seems to be staring us in the face, but we’re limited by this powerful language of how things ‘are’.

As a complicit link in the chain of creating blanket discourse that values unsustainable growth over new ideas for a better world, I’ve started to look more systematically into how we’re all susceptible to this language. When you flip the same coin and see the other side — how things could be — with exactly the same people, resources and profitability, then you start to see the possibility of the magic of change.

I’ve been talking to people in influencer roles in media, television and the environmental sector. You might even call them ‘leaders’. They have some really interesting things to say when they’re not in the board room.

Put simply, apparently people do not want, or have the time, money or motivation to contribute to matters of environmental or social change. The media industry doesn’t even seem to be having the discussion in any cohesive way (bar initiatives such as ‘The Big Picture’). But is this because we are all held captive to this language of helplessness — the constant buck passing, our resentment at being told what to do?

So where’s the leadership going to come from? If we look over the top of the media garden wall, we know businesses can’t continue to mow through resources and people in the blind pursuit of growth, as it has for the last 50 years. Our people and planet simply can’t sustain it.

So, do we wait for ‘the people at the top’ to have an epiphany — like Stuart Murphy at Sky sticking his neck out on diversity targets, or a well-connected Oona King (pictured) at Channel 4 now at YouTube using persistence, action, energy and commitment to get things moving? These are laudable efforts, of course, but the separation between ‘I, you, them and us’ helps only to serve this rhetoric of compromising values and leaving your purpose at the door when you come into work.

There is a small percentage of people who got into the media business simply to make as much money as possible and to feel as powerful as possible — just as recent research from the University of San Diego found that around 20% of senior managers are psychopaths. But what about the other 80%? What about them? What about you?

Where’s this perceived resistance in finding true meaning in our work and allowing sustainability to infuse the very essence of everything we do? Aren’t we all then part of the resistance, calling out others to take the responsibility for enabling change while knowing in our hearts that we’re all one?

It’s my assumption, and it certainly was true for me when I started out, that I wanted to work in the creative industries because I wanted to be close to those I saw as having a creative purpose. They wanted to make beautiful films or art, to inspire, educate and entertain — and, shhhh, make a difference.

In the foreword of the 2013 Media CSR Forum’s Sustainability Does It Matter? Report, which came to the depressing and limiting conclusion that no, not really, it said: “Sometimes we need to readjust our social architecture so that it better enables us to make habit patterns out of our good intentions.” This has never been more true. The media industry has such enormous power and its very existence thrives on the creation of ideas and the ability to deliver these to mass markets. Yet the near silence on sustainability is so widespread that the potential in each of us remains locked in. Set it free. Be the leader.

Cheryl Clarke is founder of Mushroom Media, which a provides bespoke publicity and consultancy services for content producers and distributors active across the media spectrum.She is currently studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership

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