The Correlation Between Press Freedom and Democracy: A Report

Democracy and media freedom are joined at the hip, right? Everybody knows you can’t have one without the other. But has anyone set out to prove it?

As Karin Deutsch Karlekar of Freedom House and Lee Becker of the University of Georgia write in CIMA’s latest research report, By the Numbers: Tracing the Statistical Correlation Between Press Freedom and Democracy: “The exact relationship between them and the degree of causality between changes in one with changes in the other has not been the subject of extensive research.”

Their paper aims to fill this gap in research through broad empirical analysis and country case studies.

Through rigorous statistical and qualitative analysis of two annual indexes by Freedom House–Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Pressthe authors were able to track trends over time in 156 individual countries and to graph the trends “in a way that has hitherto not been easily possible,” the report states.

Freedom House press freedom correlation

This graph shows this same relationship between Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press for calendar year, 2012 (index edition 2013). Because the measures in this year are based on a 100-point scale, the data are shown in a scatterplot. Each dot represents a country or countries based on the score each receives on each of the two indexes. See Appendix B for country names. The Spearman’s rho for this analysis is .95. (The Kendall’s tau b is .81, reflecting the correction for ties in this measure; the Pearson’s r is .95). So even with the increased variability of the 100-point scale, the relationship between freedom and press freedom is very strong.

The takeaway from this analysis: Press freedom is indeed an integral part of freedom in general.   “Trends in one move most often in tandem with trends in the other, suggesting both that media freedom is unlikely to emerge and be sustained in the absence of improvements in broader political rights and civil liberties and that declines in press freedom almost always accompany or foreshadow a downturn in freedom more broadly,” Karlekar and Becker write. “These findings have implications for academic or theoretical analysis, as well as for those who work in the fields of democracy promotion and media development.”

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