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Understanding the Role of Media in Economic Development

Originally published in Kyklos

This article seeks to outline under what conditions the media plays a role in the successful adoption of policies aimed at economic progress.

This paper explores the role of media in economic development. In particular, we seek to outline the conditions under which the media contributes to the successful adoption of policies aimed at economic progress. Our core thesis is that successful economic development requires the coordination of efforts by politicians with the interests of the populace on policies that bring about economic growth. However, the nature of the relationship between political actors in charge of reform is characterized by a conflict of interests. The role of media as a key mechanism for transforming these situations of conflict into situations of coordination between politicians and the populace is analyzed. Specifically, we consider four factors — media autonomy, legal structure, quality of the media and consumer demand — and how they impact media as a coordination-enhancing mechanism.

Historical examples of the media in developing countries provide further insight into the circumstances necessary for media to be an effective coordination-enhancing mechanism. We consider the impact of a free media in cases where successful economic development has occurred — Hungary and Poland. We also consider the Ukraine as a case where media has failed to overcome the conflict characterizing the reform process, and Bulgaria as a situation where politicians and the populace have failed to coordinate around ‘good’ reforms despite having a free media. Our paper concludes with some policy recommendations regarding the achievement of a free and effective media.