Job market paper: Tell Me the Truth: (Un)committable Media Freedom in Dictatorships
The emerging literature on dictatorial media politics rationalizes the cross-country variation in media freedom by the dictator’s demand for truthful information. Yet, this line of research ignores the fact that the media are shadowed by the regime’s inherent commitment problem. As the dictator can always punish the media for their truth-telling ex post, the concerns of being censored could induce self-censorship and invalidate the dictator’s promise to media freedom. Hence even if the dictator requires truthful reporting ex ante, the media may not “tell the truth.” We formalize this commitment problem with a stylized model and show that the dictator suffers more severe information insufficiency when the society is stable and when he is more capable in manipulating information. Our analyses are illustrated with real-world cases and provide empirical implications for future research.
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