Apr 15, 2024 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Collateral Censorship: Theory and Evidence from Venezuela

This talks centers around a book co-authored with Dorothy Kronick.

The authors provide a theory of censorship in contemporary electoral regimes. Censoring a critical media outlet increases support for the incumbent not only by curbing voters’ exposure to damaging news—a benefit recognized in the literature—but also by inducing favorable changes in the slant of other media outlets. But censoring a critical media outlet also hurts the incumbent when voters punish him for taking away valued programming. Marshall and Kronick demonstrate the salience of these competing considerations in the canonical case of Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez revoked the public broadcast license of RCTV, the country’s most-watched television station in 2006. Difference-in-differences estimates reveal that, among voters who lost access to RCTV, electoral punishment for the loss of prized programming dominates the electoral benefit of reducing exposure to critical news coverage. Yet the decision could still have increased Chávez’s vote share overall by reducing competitive incentives for outlets serving all citizens to report accurately. Using large language models to classify an original collection of newscasts, the authors show that the remaining television stations began to produce more favorable news coverage. Their theory and evidence help to explain both restraint in the use of censorship and restriction of media freedom, a hallmark of democratic backsliding.