Media Matters for Anti-Corporate Activism

Posted: 6th December 2012
Media Matters for Anti-Corporate Activism

Rebellion against corporate leadership dubbed the “Shareholder Spring” occurred earlier this year. Companies on both sides of the Atlantic felt the heat; British companies removed top executives while American companies faced a rash of protests. But the Shareholder Spring narrative was more pronounced than the ground effort in the US turned out to be, and media coverage was an important factor.

The movement began in April with several major UK companies (CSC and Barclays among others) experiencing upheaval when shareholders rejected proposed CEO compensation plans. The concept quickly carried over to protests against US-based companies, but dissent was different on the respective continents; the US movement was tinged with Occupy Wall Street characteristics leading to less shareholder resistance (the WSJ explains) and more physical demonstration.

The contrast between UK and US action against corporate powers is clear in the media coverage of the “Shareholder Spring” versus the almost exclusively US-focused “99 Percent Spring”. We use source analysis from Recorded Future to describe the difference in media coverage for the respective campaigns:

The notable distinctions:

  • Action defined as part of the “Shareholder Spring” drew significant attention in non-US media. And while there was coverage by US channels, particularly business press, it was a lower volume and typically trailing the UK press, as shown in the boxes sized by “first to report”.
  • There is very little advocacy group activity reflected in the UK news on the movement. The events there were largely driven by shareholders and investors. In contrast, US protests were pushed strongly by advocacy groups and labor organizations.
  • Looking at this from the other direction, the differing forces are even more clear: reference to the “99 Percent Spring” received coverage almost exclusively from US sources and was dominated by the progressive forums and blogs that amplified NGO efforts.

Final Thoughts

The success of protest movements can be measured in several ways aside from the obvious achievement of a foundational goal. Media exposure and the nature of that public portrayal are important metrics to understand. The “Shareholder Spring” tagline drew more notable attention and was fueled by mainstream media adoption of the title while the “99 Percent Spring” tag was largely limited to its progressive base. There are relatively few instances where the two – “Shareholder Spring” and “99 Percent Spring” – share space online; one wonders if the organizations behind the 99 Percent Spring would have captured more of the spotlight had they more openly co-opted the already media friendly “Shareholder Spring” campaign.