The Role of Mass Media in Corporate Governance: A Study of How Swedish Corporations Are Not Affected By the Character of Publicity

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
219 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Andreas Jansson, Linnaeus University, Vxj, Sweden
Anna Stafsudd, Linnaeus university, Vxj, Sweden
Anna Andersson, -, Vxj, Sweden
Lisa Petersson, -, Vxj, Sweden
Large corporations are the objects of large amounts of media attention. Despite this, the literature pertaining to the role the media may play in shaping corporate governance structures and processes is at a fairly rudimentary state (Bednar, 2012). The media has, nevertheless, variously been portrayed as an ally to shareholders that monitors and reports corporate misbehavior (e.g., Dyck & Zingales, 2008); as an agenda setter that shapes priorities in corporate decision making and corporate reputations (e.g., Carrol & McCombs, 2003); as a propagator of legitimacy defining acceptable corporate behavior (Bednar, 2012; Jansson, 2013); and as an arena for collective meaning making of corporate events (Jansson, in press). While the literature converges on the idea that the media by ‘naming and shaming’ certain practices can delegitimate corporations and thereby change corporate behavior, issues such as whether variation in types of publicity creates varying outcomes and how institutional differences affect the impact of the media on large corporations, remains largely unresolved.

In this paper we report a study of how various types of publicity in the press affects corporate governance in large Swedish listed firms. Building on previously published instruments, we develop and validate an instrument for capturing the intensity of both positive and negative publicity using quantitative content analysis that we apply to Swedish print media pertaining both to the firm and its CEO specifically over the period 1999-2013. We analyze the impact of this publicity on corporate governance in terms of CEO resignation and CEO pay level as well as distribution.

Interestingly, our tentative results suggest that neither positive nor negative publicity on the CEO or the corporation affects either CEO resignation or CEO pay level and distribution. Thus, our results do not conform to previous research having established the importance of media as a gate-keeper. Whereas Bednar (2012) questions the role of media as watchdog in that largely symbolic actions may have important corporate effects, we instead find that media reports have no effect at all. A possible explanation for this may be that the information reported in media is already well-known to the business society, therefore having no effect when published. This is perhaps not very surprising given how close-knit Swedish business relations are (Sinani et al., 2008) and indeed how close the relations between Swedish corporations and the business press tend to be (Grünberg & Pallas, 2013).

Our paper contributes to the literature on the role of media in corporate governance in illustrating how patterns of response to media attention among Swedish firms differ from that of U.S. firms, suggesting that while the media may function as propagators of legitimacy, the underlying normative model propagated may differ among national contexts, implying that the media will have different outcomes in different parts of the world (cf. Jansson, 2013) and indeed sometimes no results at all.