Political Communication, "Fourth Estate or Mouthpiece? A Formal Model of Media, Protest, and Government Repression"
New media dramatically increase citizens’ access to information and decrease governments’ ability to control the flow of communication. Although human rights nongovernmental organizations have advocated that access to independent news media will improve government respect for human rights, recent empirical studies have shown this is not always the case. We posit that media independence and the presence or absence of democratic characteristics, in particular political competition, have substantial effects on government repression because these factors determine the degree to which the government is vulnerable to public pressures. The model developed here includes three equations that encompass the impact of interaction between and among the news media, citizens, and government. The first equation specifies the influences on the news media’s decision whether or not to perform a “watchdog” role regarding government repression. The second equation represents public reaction to the news media’s coverage of government repression (i.e., protest). Here access to news media via traditional and new media is an important factor. The third equation represents government repression. Solutions to the system of equations are derived for four scenarios (a) Democracy and media independence are both present, (b) democracy is present but media independence is absent, (c) democracy is absent (autocracy) and media independence is present, and (d) democracy is absent (autocracy) and media independence is absent. We then consider interesting properties of the anticipated behavior from the government, media, and general public through case illustrations for the Netherlands and Myanmar/Burma.