By Courtney C. Radsch/CPJ Advocacy Director
The links between press freedom, good governance, and economic development have been established through a decade’s worth of research, as outlined below. Academic and multilateral institutions, including UNESCO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the World Bank, have shown that free, independent, and diverse media are the bedrock upon which such vital development outcomes as poverty eradication, economic growth, transparency, gender equality, strong institutions, and vibrant civil society are built.
Democracy, corruption and transparency
Press freedom is essential to the exercise of democracy, the prevention of corruption, and the promotion of transparency. The World Bank has underscored the link between these, stating that “A free press not only serves as an outlet for expression, but it also provides a source of accountability, a vehicle for civic participation, and a check on official corruption.” Harvard professor Pippa Norris tested the assertion of a link between media freedom and governance and concluded, “Overall the analysis lends considerable support to the claims of liberal theorists about the critical role of the free press, as one of the major components of both democracy and good governance.” And a more recent study confirmed, “More media freedom has been found to contribute to more political knowledge and greater political participation” and to be contagious in terms of influencing neighboring countries.
“A free press not only serves as an outlet for expression, but it also provides a source of accountability, a vehicle for civic participation, and a check on official corruption. A free press also helps build more effective and stronger institutions.” – Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn
A 170 country study spanning 14 years found that democratic elections only work in controlling corruption if there is a certain degree of press freedom to enable detection of misdeeds and make information more symmetrical. Other experts have established a causal relationship between a freer press and lower corruption, and found a positive impact of education. In fact, promoting democracy without press freedom, if such a thing were possible, could mean more widespread corruption. Case studies have similarly found that the free circulation of information on corruption by the media impacts the incumbent’s electoral performance and that independent media coverage correlates with voting choices.
“Just as voice and accountability are now considered crucial to development outcomes, an independent media sector is crucial to achieving voice and accountability objectives” World Bank author Shanthi Kalanthil
Furthermore, without press freedom, other types of socio-political openness have little impact on reducing corruption. And corruption clearly leads to inefficiencies in economic distribution, impairing poverty alleviation.