Sky reports impressively, if avoiding any mention of its company chairman

You will search in vain for mention of James Murdoch within the 117 pages of UK television company Sky’s latest corporate responsibility report, even though he is chairman of BSkyB (which trades as Sky).

To be fair, the Bigger Picture Review covers the year to June 30 2011, a period that did not fully embrace the unsuccessful investor initiative to oust Murdoch over concerns that his links to the phone-hacking scandal at News Corporation would damage BSkyB’s reputation. But a more ambitious organisation may have bitten the bullet and at least alluded to the affair.

It will be interesting to see how Sky tackles the subject in next year’s report, if at all. Looking at this year’s document, the suspicion is that it will be brushed under the carpet.

Why does this feeling arise? Sky has been producing generally commendable reports since 2002, yet one gets the sense that it would always rather accentuate the positive than contemplate anything of a negative hue. This is a common and understandable corporate trait. But unfortunately the tone of Sky’s report suggests the relentless positivity is underscored by a degree of self-satisfaction.

Influence outreach

This is partly evidenced by the opening statement of chief executive Jeremy Darroch, who proclaims confidently that “with our own house in order” Sky now needs to focus its attention on influencing the behaviour of others. Even if this rightly recognises that as a UK and Irish broadcaster, one of Sky’s key contributions is the persuasion it can wield through its programming and community efforts, it sounds dangerously complacent. It may also explain why the Bigger Picture Review gives only brief attention to some areas of potential impact that deserve more consideration.

There is, for instance, just one brushstroke paragraph on responsible gambling, even though Sky, through its Sky Bet subsidiary, is now a major player in the UK’s sports betting market. And there is nothing of any note on the journalistic standards of Sky’s news coverage, despite the debate raging on this – not least because of News Corporation’s failings.

This air of “all is well, don’t worry” extends to the review’s treatment of various setbacks and challenges during 2011. For example, we discover that there was a rise in employee absence figures during 2010-11, but we are offered no interpretation, discussion or comment other than that Sky “will seek to address this in the coming year”.

Easy ride?

More evidence of Sky giving itself an easy ride emerges in the environment section, where the review describes the company’s 10 green targets as “very challenging”. Figures in the data section suggest otherwise. Sky has set itself a target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020 on a 2008-9 baseline, yet it has already comfortably exceeded that figure – with eight years to go. It wants to cut CO2 equivalent emissions by 25% by 2020, yet had already made reductions of 19% by mid-2011.

The over-riding sense that Sky would rather not look too critically in the mirror takes away from what is in many aspects an impressive report. As one would expect from a broadcaster, information is well presented, nicely illustrated, clearly written for the most part, and almost entirely jargon-free. It’s an easy read.

The PDF version hangs together well, even if its web counterpart is rather less cohesive and tends towards duplication of information. Aside from the written material there is plenty of useful data – including a helfpul snapshot of performance against key financial indicators.

Throughout, there is a clear sense of what Sky wants to achieve and how it wants to get there, aided and abetted by a sensible framework articulated early in the document. In many places the review sets out the business case for making social and environmental improvements very clearly.

It also ably demonstrates that there is much for Sky to be proud of. The company has racked up some impressive achievements, and a corporate responsibility report is of course the right place to showcase these.

But Sky should leaven this information with more self-examination. It needs to ask questions about whether it is really making the great progress it seems to think it is making, and to look more deeply for potential problems hiding around the corner. If it can do this then it will improve its reporting immeasurably. It might even pluck up the courage to mention Mr Murdoch.

Peter Mason is client director at Context.


Follows GRI? Yes, GRI Content index published for the first time this year. C (self-declared).

Assured? Yes, for community and environmental data.

Materiality analysis? Yes

Goals? Yes

Targets? Yes, but mainly on the environment.

Stakeholder input? Yes

Seeks feedback? Yes

Key strengths? Good structure, clearly presented and well written.

Chief weakness? Lacks a warts-and-all approach.

Pleasant surprise? Impressive amounts of data. 

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