Media Attacks and Political Institutions



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My dissertation examines media freedom’s measurement and then more specifically the institutional determinants of (1) government attacks against media and (2) journalist killings. Media's ability to freely gather and disseminate information remains a critical aspect of democracy. Studies link media freedom to other concepts ranging from human rights, corruption, the democratic peace and conflict, natural resource wealth, political knowledge, and foreign aid. However, media freedom's many dimensions make it difficult for any one index to reliably measure it. In the first part of my dissertation, I propose a new method for measuring media freedom. To develop a more robust measure, I treat media freedom as a latent variable and analyze 12 extant indicators using an Item Response Theory (IRT) model. Utilizing a Bayesian approach, the IRT model generates time-series, cross-sectional (TSCS) data on a bounded, unidimensional scale from 0 to 1 that measures media freedom in 196 countries worldwide from 1960 to 2016. I then apply the data in a replication of Egorov et al.'s (2009) analysis of media freedom and natural resource wealth. The findings indicate that the published results do not hold once I include the more robust measure. Next, I focus on the institutional determinants of government perpetrated attacks against media. The ability for media to produce news content without government interference remains an important cornerstone of a healthy democracy. However, the influence of institutions on the government's decision to censor, jail, harass, or perpetrate other attacks against media remains understudied. In this analysis, I argue that countries’ judicial independence in low and moderate levels of electoral democracy reduces government attacks against media. Using panel analysis on 170 countries worldwide from 1948 to 2012, I test my hypothesis and find results supporting my theory. I also find cross-national evidence for an untested assumption in the literature that these attacks positively associate with greater media self-censorship. Taken together, the results point to a ceiling effect of judicial independence's protection of journalists in media systems as countries move toward greater democracy. The study takes a more nuanced approach to studying democracy by recognizing countries may possess or develop different democratic components like electoral democracy and judicial independence at different levels. Finally, I turn to the institutional conditions that determine journalist killings. Previous research argues (counterintuitively) that journalist killings are more likely to occur in democracies rather than non-democracies. While these findings provide an important first step in exploring regime type's effect on journalist killings, the study assumes no variation in how long countries have remained a regime type. In this study, I argue that as regime types endure in a country, the likelihood of seeing journalists killed there will decrease. Using regression and survival analysis on a sample of journalists killed for their professional work in countries worldwide from 1992 to 2014, I find evidence that as regime type endures, journalist killings decrease, on average. When I stratify the sample by regime type, I find this effect holds in autocracies, anocracies, but not democracies. Further, the findings show a null result regarding the effect of democracy level on journalist killings once I account for regime-type durability, though in the stratified samples I find higher democracy levels negatively associate with journalist killings in democracies. The results provide a broader picture of the working dynamics between regime type and journalists’ safety in a country's media system.



Media freedom, Media, Mass communication, Political communication, Politics, Journalists, Journalist killings, Measurement, Item response theory