Opus Dei on Business Ethics @ Sony


OK, so by now everyone is really, really aware of the controversy over the new movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Here’s a new twist that makes the controversy germane to this blog. The movie’s most vocal critic, the Catholic prelature Opus Dei, has issued a press release criticizing Sony (the firm behind the film) for having violated its own Code of Conduct. Here’s the press release: Sony’s Other Code.

The press release quotes the following passages from Sony’s code:

“Recognizing that conduct that is socially acceptable in one culture or region may be viewed differently in another, Personnel (of Sony) are required to give careful consideration to cultural and regional differences in performing their duties” (section 1.3);

“No Personnel may make racial or religious slurs, jokes or any other comments or conduct in the workplace, that create a hostile work environment” (section 2.4);

With respect to publicity, Sony commits itself not to engage in false publicity that misleads or slanders others (section 3.4).

Holding Sony to its own code of conduct is a nice (and very legitimate) tactic. But I’m not sure that the passages cited by Opus Dei support the group’s claims.

  • Section 1.3 only enjoins “careful consideration,” rather than any particular behaviour. Sony may well have given such consideration, and arrived at the conclusion that this movie doesn’t fail to respect social & cultural differences.
  • Section 2.4 is about ethics in the workplace, so it’s not terribly relevant, here.
  • Secion 3.4 forbids slander. Whether a work of fiction can count as slanderous is open to question. Lots and lots of movies attribute evil deeds to all kinds of groups and organizations (drug companies, the CIA, Freemasons, various govenments, the legal profession, and so on). I have to admit, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know whether the portrayal of Opus Dei in the book is so outrageous as to be different in kind from these other portrayals.

OK, so let’s look beyond the “letter of the law,” to look at the spirit of Sony’s code. Perhaps the point of the Opus Dei press release is that Sony has violated the spirit of its own Code of Conduct. It’s pretty clear that the Code requires Sony employees to be sensitive to other people’s values. Does that requirement preclude distributing a movie that the members of a particular religion (or perhaps a range of religions) object to? Is that how we should read Sony’s Code? That depends in part on whether the “sensitivity” is synonymous with avoiding all insult. It also depends in part upon the observer’s views on what sorts of values & beliefs ought to be protected from criticism. To a committed, principled atheist, a negative portrayal of a religious group (or of a religion, or of all religions) might be a positive good. Some people believe that religion ought to be mocked. I’m not about to promote that idea, but it’s worth noting that a movie (a work of fiction, let’s recall) that makes a bad-guy out of a powerful institution is quite different from a movie that, let’s say, demonstrates insensitivity by making villains out of a disempowered or threatened minority.

(p.s., It’s also worth pointing out — lest anyone should overreact to Opus Dei’s protests — that the group’s protests most definitely do not count as an attempt at censorship. The group is decrying the move, and has asked Sony to put a disclaimer on the film, informing audiences that it is a work of fiction, rather than a portrayal of history. They’ve got every right to make their views known, and to encourage changes in corporate behaviour.)

Relevant Links:
Sony‘s corporate website
Sony Group Code of Conduct (pdf file)
Opus Dei page at Wikipedia

Book Links:
The Da Vinci Code (by Dan Brown)
The Da Vinci Code Illustrated Screenplay: Behind the Scenes of the Major Motion Picture
Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church
Sony (a history of the Sony corporation)


Thanks to Michael Cook for alerting me to Opus Dei’s press release.

1 comment so far

  1. […] in any way in the game. So this is unlike the dispute that went on back in 2006, when Opus Dei tried to get Sony to remove references to the organization from the movie version of The DaVinci Code. The issue in the present case is […]


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