Dr. Lee B Becker at IAMCR Conference, Dublin, Ireland.

Report Challenges Way Media Freedom and Corruption Have Been Measured

Two University of Georgia researchers and their colleagues told a gathering of communication specialists from around the world in July that the relationship between media freedom and corruption may be less pronounced than many have believed.

While the dominant view is that increased media coverage, more likely in a free media environment than in one that is not free, leads to lower levels of corruption, the researchers reported data that show the relationship to be quite modest.

The finding is based on a measure of corruption based entirely on the perceptions of the general public and a measure of media freedom, also based on public opinion.

The expectation of a negative association between press freedom and corruption is correct, the research team said, but “the relationship is quite modest.”

Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, presented the findings to a group of about 40 researchers at the gathering of the International Association for Media and Communication Research.

That conference of 1,400 media scholars and educators from around the world took place at Dublin City University from June 25 to 29.

Other members of the team were Dr. Teresa K. Naab from the Hochschule fuer Musik, Theater und Medien, Hannover, Germany, Cynthia English from Gallup, and Dr. Tudor Vlad, associate director of the Cox Center.

The Cox Center is the international outreach unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The team drew on data from the Gallup World Poll, which regularly surveys adult residents in more than 160 countries and areas, representing more than 98 percent of the world’s adult population.

The World Poll includes questions asking respondents about their perceptions of media freedom in their country and about the level of corruption in that country.

The two measures are correlated, indicating that, in general, those countries where media freedom is high, based on public opinion, are those where corruption is low, again, based on public opinion.

But the relationship is more modest than earlier research has shown. That earlier research has relied on the perceptions of elite evaluators both of media freedom and of perception.

“The findings raise challenges to the way corruption is measured and to the way that media freedom is measured,” the research team wrote.

“Are elite measures necessarily superior to those derived from surveys of the general public? That is, do elite evaluators know something that the general public does not?

“Or it is possible that the general public is actually better at assessing both media freedom and business and government corruption?” the researchers asked.

This paper presented to the Journalism Research and Education section of IAMCR is one of a series authored by University of Georgia researchers, often in partnership with other researchers, on the measure of media freedom and the relationship between media freedom and other characteristics of countries around the world.

The report is available here.