Politics and corruption

A substantial literature exists in the disciplines of economics, political science, communication research and others on the impact of the media on accountability. The media has been shown to play a role in fighting both systemic and petty corruption (Box 9.3). Media coverage of corruption can lead to investigations, trials, resignations, and government policies. It can also influence the social climate in a society towards more openness and less tolerance of corrupt behaviour.

Journalists in free media systems have fewer constraints on their reporting and more incentives to actively investigate the misconduct of public officials. This is reflected in empirical evidence showing that countries that score high on the Press Freedom World Wide Index or that have high coverage of information and communications technologies and high newspaper circulation also score lower on international corruption indices (Stapenhurst, 2000; Brunetti and Weder, 2003; Bandyopadhyay, 2006). Evidence also shows the causal direction of this relationship: more press freedom leads to less corruption, there is no evidence that more corruption leads to less press freedom (Ahrend, 2002).

On a project level, studies have shown that citizens use the media as a channel for accountability to monitor the delivery of public services. Once a grievance has been made public, public outrage and increased public monitoring will motivate public authorities to correct it. For example, media coverage has been shown to level prices for school lunches (Ahrend, 2002), increase the portion of public funding that actually reached intended programmes (Reinikka and Svensson, 2005), and curb corruption in public sectors Franken (et al., 2005). By using adequate statistical controls, these studies were able to ascertain that media was indeed the main factor contributing to improved domestic accountability.

Box 9.3. The power of the media as measured by the corrupt

“Which of the democratic checks and balances - opposition parties, the judiciary, a free press - is the most forceful? Peru has the full set of democratic institutions. In the 1990s, the secret-police chief Montesinos systematically undermined them all with bribes. We quantify the checks using the bribe prices. Montesinos paid television-channel owners about 100 times what he paid judges and politicians. One single television channel's bribe was five times larger than the total of the opposition politicians' bribes. By revealed preference, the strongest check on the government's power was the news media.”

Source: McMillan, J. and P. Zoido (2004), “How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 69-92.

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