Can Autocratic Power Influence Media in Democracies? Evidence from China’s Expulsion of American Journalists

37 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2023 Last revised: 19 Jun 2024

See all articles by Ruilin Lai

Ruilin Lai

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 14, 2023

Abstract

Autocrats not only exert control over their domestic news outlets, but also strive to influence media abroad with the aim of shaping foreign public opinion and enhancing their global image. This study examines whether and to what extent autocratic governments can sway media in democracies through political pressure. Exploiting China's sudden expulsion of American journalists in March 2020, I find that U.S. news outlets impacted by the expulsion adopted a positive tone towards China in their subsequent coverage, compared to outlets that weren't affected. Further analyses confirm that the observed pattern is not driven by un-expelled outlets presenting a more negative coverage of China, and the expulsion has similar chilling effects on media that could have been affected. These findings underscore the overt threats autocracies pose to media freedom, a fundamental pillar of democratic societies.

Keywords: media bias, media capture, international news, foreign coverage

JEL Classification: D725, L82

Suggested Citation

Lai, Ruilin, Can Autocratic Power Influence Media in Democracies? Evidence from China’s Expulsion of American Journalists (April 14, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4418488 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4418488

Ruilin Lai (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )

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