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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Media Freedom, Bureaucratic Incentives, and the Resource Curse


How can a non-democratic regime provide proper incentives for a state bureaucracy? The dictator should gather information on the bureaucrats’performance. Such information can be collected either through a centralized source such as a secret service or a decentralized system such as free media. Free media aggregate information and thus constrain bureaucrats, but might also help citizens to coordinate on actions against the incumbent. Secret services do not leak information to the public but may also collude with the bureaucrats. We develop a simple dynamic model to argue that free media are less likely to emerge in resource-rich economies: the resource rents create incentives for dictators to cling to power. We then demonstrate that controlling for country …xed e¤ects, media are less free in oil-rich countries; the e¤ect is especially strong in less democratic countries. These results are robust to the choice of speci…cation and and a variety of controls including the level of economic development and democracy, literacy, Internet penetration, country and population size, size of government, and inequality.

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