Peace and the Press

Media bolster social cohesion


Does a free press enhance social peace? According to Sudeshna Pal, an economist at the Georgia College and State University, the answer is yes.

In a paper published in the spring issue of the journal Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, Pal analyzed data from 98 countries. Her goal: to see if there were statistically significant correlations between press freedom and seven measures of instability, including ethnic tensions, external and internal conflicts, crime and disorder, military participation in government, and religious tensions. An increase in press freedom, she concluded, reduces all seven measures of instability. Pal also noted that state ownership of media is associated with higher corruption, weaker civil liberties, insecure property rights, lower education and life expectancies, and higher infant mortality and malnutrition.

What's the connection? Pal suggests that a free press encourages the authorities to be more responsive by making government more transparent and answerable to the public. The study bolsters Thomas Jefferson's wisdom when he wrote, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."