2009 September 21 Monday
Free Press Leads To More Oppression In Autocratic Societies

Lesson here for dictators the world over. If you let your people hear criticism you'll just have to throw them in jail. To avoid unnecessary and avoidable suffering keep them in the dark.

While many have argued that media freedom is integral to a functioning democracy and respect for human rights, a new study is the first to examine the effects of media freedom in countries that lack such democratic institutions as fair elections.

"We would expect to find most free media in democratic states and most controlled media in autocratic states, but this is not always the case," said Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, a doctoral candidate in political science and international relations at USC.

In the September 2009 issue of International Studies Quarterly, Whitten-Woodring shows that media freedom in autocratic states does not necessarily result in improved government treatment of citizens. Indeed, media freedom in the absence of other institutional outlets for dissent is actually associated with greater oppression of human rights, Whitten-Woodring found utilizing data from 93 countries for the years 1981-1995.

If people start complaining out loud and read the complaints of others it probably just increases feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger. This leads people to do things that any self-respecting dictator can't let them get away with. Before you know it the prisons are full of political opponents and you are spending a lot more money on interrogators and torturers.

Free media reporters think they are so righteous attacking The Man. But all they are doing is feeding vicious cycles of protest, police shooting protesters, and general repression.

Without democratic outlets for dissent, institutional cycles of protest and repression are likely to evolve, according to Whitten-Woodring, leading to the greater possibility of political imprisonment, murder, disappearance and torture in the short term. For example in Iran in the late 1990s, when President Khatami introduced some press freedom and newspapers began to report on violations of human rights, protests and calls for reform were met with further repression.

"I'm not advocating against free media," Whitten-Woodring said, pointing to instances in Mexico and Uganda where an independent media continued to operate despite state oppression and intimidation. "It is imperative to understand how the effects of independent media vary and are dependent on democratic characteristics . . . that make governments more accountable and vulnerable to public opinion."

She continued: "All in all, these findings suggest that although the free media is able to play a watchdog role over government behavior, this does not always result in improved government treatment of citizens."

Is improved government treatment of citizens the bottom line?

Maybe what is needed is a small amount of carefully controlled complaining.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 September 21 09:13 PM  Politics Free Speech


Comments
Nicolae Carpathia said at September 21, 2009 10:22 PM:

Well, there is no need to supress free speech; just deal with the dissents with the "loyalty enforcement facilitator."


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