New Thinking in Political Economy series
Chapter 4: Inside the Black Box: Media Freedom, Political Knowledge, and Participation
INTRODUCTION A central argument in this book is that a free and independent media is a first-best solution to the Reformers’ Dilemma. An independent media provides an incentive for government actors to adopt beneficial reforms instead of focusing on their own narrow interests. The underlying logic is that a free media provides critical information to citizens regarding current events and political activities. As long as there is some political competition, politicians that fail to satisfy citizens’ desires will be punished by citizens. A free media serves as a source of knowledge of political activities, and a source of knowledge of other individuals’ knowledge of these activities, so that citizens can evaluate politicians and reward or punish them accordingly. As we discussed in Chapter 1, although democracy is not required for media to help check political actors’ behavior, media’s ability to perform this function and thus to facilitate policy and institutional change is much stronger when political competition is stronger. By giving people the power to punish politicians at the voting booth, democracy provides citizens with a straightforward and low cost way to use the information the media provides them to punish politicians who do not serve their interests and to reward those who do. In this chapter we focus specifically on media’s role in an environment of democratic political competition where citizens can use the voting booth to affect policy and institutional change. As Chapter 1 discussed, the existing literature exploring the relationship between media and economic development can be...
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