Sunday, December 11, 2005
FUTURE: Can social investor dollars improve the media?
ORIGINAL URL: http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1212/p25s01-wmgn.html
Posted December 12, 2005
Watch the entire webcast conversation at www.csmonitor.com/ethicalinvesting
Special Projects > Ethical Investing
By Laurent Belsie
Christian Science Monitor
If ethical dollars can change manufacturing and banking, can they improve the media, too?
Can investors help make the media better? Some investment firms are trying to do so in specific niches. For a look at two
of them, the Monitor's Laurent Belsie sat down with Dawn Wolfe, social research and advocacy analyst for Boston Common
Asset Management, and Chat Reynders, who is starting his own socially responsible investing firm here in Boston. Here
are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Dawn, your company wants Internet firms to stop giving too much data to foreign nations like China.
Ms. Wolfe: The incident you're referring to is the Shi Tao case, which has received a lot of press. Shi Tao was a
journalist living in Hunan Province and in April 2004, he attended a staff meeting where they discussed documents that
had been put out by the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda bureau, warning them about specific security implementations
that were going to be happening in advance of the 15-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Shi Tao sent an
e-mail that evening from his personal Yahoo! e-mail account to a website in the US. About a year later Shi Tao was
arrested, tried, and imprisoned for 10 years for distributing state secrets abroad.
What was Yahoo's role?
Wolfe: In September of this year, a founder of Yahoo!, Jerry Yang, admitted that the company had in fact worked with
Chinese authorities to help in their actions against this journalist. Certainly that case in particular raised the issue
for a lot of people.
Is this problem limited to Yahoo?
Wolfe: Microsoft just this summer agreed to censor words like "freedom," "human rights," and "democracy" on its MSN China
portal. So, for example, if you were to type the word "freedom" in that portal in China today, you would receive a
message similar to "Your request cannot contain forbidden words such as profanity." And it would ask you to type in
something else. Boston Common has been working with Cisco on the networking capabilities that they are providing [to
Chat, you're asking investors to fund educational films. That sounds risky.
Mr. Reynders: The first lesson I learned when I became an investment adviser was 'Never invest in films.' [But] for 15
years now, we've been investing in IMAX film properties.
Reynders: We've got four films out right now. The first film we did, years ago, was "Whales." That's grossed about $50
million. We've got a second film out, "Dolphins," which was nominated for an Academy Award. It raised $80 million and is
still out. "Bears" was another educational film that's raised about $30 million. "Coral Reef Adventure" was released two
years ago and that is now over $60 million in revenue. When I add all of those revenues up, it's nearly $200 million, 80
percent of which is going to cultural institutions.
What are the social benefits?
Reynders: When we started there were 57 theaters and now there are over 400 worldwide. We partner with the National
Science Foundation to create curricula that reaches, with each film, 2 million children. We have a website presence that
goes all over the world in 16 languages. So, the impact of these media properties has expanded to an incredible degree.
And the financial benefits?
Reynders: Our clients receive something on the order of 50 to 70 percent return on their dollar over six to eight years.
Dawn, how have investors reacted to your initiative?
Wolfe: Over the course of the last couple months, Boston Common worked with other organizations including an NGO by the
name of Reporters Without Borders and other social investment firms to put together a joint investor statement on human
rights and the Internet. We launched that statement in November with 26 signatories representing over $20 billion worth
of investments calling on US corporations within the technology sector to be mindful of what their potential impact could
be in certain countries where the government was actively suppressing human rights via the Internet.
So, can ethical investors change the media?
Wolfe: I don't think the socially responsible investing community alone will change how the Internet is censored and
monitored. But we are part of a much bigger group. I think it's important that investors are part of the debate.
Shareholders bring a unique voice in that we are talking with management as owners.
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