DP13189 Media Freedom in the Shadow of a Coup

Author(s): Ralph Boleslavsky, Mehdi Shadmehr, Konstantin Sonin
Publication Date: September 2018
Keyword(s): authoritarian politics, Bayesian persuasion, coup, global games, media freedom, protest, signaling
JEL(s): D72, D82
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=13189

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 benefi t from an informed citizenry. Rulers tolerate freer press when citizens are pessimistic about them, or coups signal information about them to citizens.