Discussion paper

DP17143 The Political Economy of Lockdown: Does Free Media Matter?

This paper studies the role of free media in the responsiveness of governments and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a panel data of daily COVID-19 deaths, mobility and lockdown decisions for all countries, we show that, as the initial number of deaths increased, governments were more likely to impose a lockdown and citizens reduced their mobility. To account for inaccuracies in death reporting, we simulate deaths from a calibrated SEIR model as an instrument for reported deaths. Using this approach, we find that responsiveness to deaths was limited to governments and citizens in free-media countries, and responsiveness account for 40\% of the difference in lockdown decision and mobility between free-media and censored-media countries. In support of the role of free media, we show that differences in responsiveness are not explained by a range of other country characteristics such as the level of income, education or democracy. We also find evidence that citizens with access to free media were better informed about the pandemic and had more responsive levels of online searches about COVID-19.


Besley, T and S Dray (2022), ‘DP17143 The Political Economy of Lockdown: Does Free Media Matter?‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17143. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17143