Independent Media and Religiosity
109 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2021 Last revised: 6 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 9, 2021
Can media affect religious behavior? We study the effect of a drastic change in media landscape on religious participation in Poland, a country, where vast majority of the population considers itself Catholics. Before 2015, news on mainstream public and private media outlets had a similar moderately-liberal slant. In 2015, a right-wing populist party Law and Justice (PiS) came to power and took control of the editorial policy of public media, introducing a substantial conservative pro-government and pro-Church bias in public-media broadcast. A private TV network, TVN, remained the main source of freely available independent-from-the-government news on the Polish television. In a difference-in-differences setting, we exploit spatial variation in TVN signal, sufficiently good for reception in about two-thirds of the country, and the overtime change in the content of the major state-owned TV network, which has good reception almost everywhere. We document that, after PiS came to power, religious participation fell more in municipalities with access to TVN compared to municipalities receiving only state TV signal. Using a large-scale online randomization experiment, we examine the effects of exposure to different types of content available only via independent media. We show that exposing both the pedophilia within the Church and the mutual financial and political support between the Church and the ruling PiS party decreases trust in religious institutions, but the effect of exposing pedophilia scandals is stronger. The experiment's results persist for at least three weeks.
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