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In Autocracies, A Little Media Freedom Can Go A Long Way

March 16, 2022
Martín Macías Medellín, Mauricio Rivera, et al.


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Martín Macías Medellín, PhD Student at the University of Michigan, Mauricio Rivera, Senior Researcher at PRIO, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Regiua Professor at the University of Essex, analyze the effect of media in nondemocracies.

Mobilization in autocracies is inherently difficult. Potential dissidents face several hurdles, even when grievances are widespread and a regime is unpopular. Participating in dissent is dangerous and leaves individuals at risk of repression by state security forces. Safety in numbers is possible if others also mobilize, but in autocracies people often lack information about what others think and what they are going to do.

In a recent article, we show how even partial media freedom can make a major difference to nonviolent mobilization in autocracies. It is often assumed that media freedom is limited to democracies, and that autocratic regimes fully control the media and suppress independent information. But many autocracies have some degree of media freedom, and many news sources are not fully controlled by the authorities (see Figure). The editor of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, for example, was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. Moreover, the number of nondemocracies with partially free mass media has increased notably since the end of the Cold War.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.