Media Freedom in the Shadow of a Coup
29 Pages Posted: 31 May 2019
Date Written: January 25, 2019
Popular protests and palace coups are the two domestic threats to dictators. We show that free media, which informs citizens about their rulers, is a double-edged sword that alleviates one threat, but exacerbates the other. Informed citizens may protest against a ruler, but they may also protest to restore him after a palace coup. In choosing media freedom, the leader trades off these conflicting effects. We develop a model in which citizens engage in a regime change global game, and media freedom is a ruler’s instrument for Bayesian persuasion, used to manage the competing risks of coups and protests. A coup switches the status quo from being in the ruler’s favor to being against him. This introduces convexities in the ruler’s Bayesian persuasion problem, causing him to benefit from an informed citizenry. Rulers tolerate freer press when citizens are pessimistic about them, or coups signal information about them to citizens.
Keywords: authoritarian politics, media freedom, protest, coup, global games, Bayesian persuasion, signaling
JEL Classification: H00, D82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation