How Freedom of the Press Works

How Press Freedom Equals Economic Freedom

Freedom of the press is not just a "nice to have" thing. It has a tremendous effect on a country's economic health and its citizens' quality of life.

A 2008 UNESCO report titled "Press Freedom and Development" analyzed the correlations between a country's cultural and economic opportunities and its press freedom. Their findings? "A free press always has a positive influence whether it be on poverty and its different aspects (monetary poverty and access to primary commodities, health and education), on governance or on violence and conflict issues," the report authors wrote. The report found press freedom positively correlated with income level, with government spending on health, and with education enrolment at the primary and secondary levels. Press freedom also correlated positively with lower spending on the military.

When the press holds a government accountable, it makes the government's actions more transparent, creating an environment that's conducive to growing businesses and improving people's standard of living. The press can also inform the government of the wants and needs of the people. If the roads are in bad shape and the newspaper keeps reporting that fact, it may spur action. The reporting could also keep disgruntled citizens from taking matters into their own hands and storming the government buildings. A 2013 study analyzed press freedom and economic growth in 115 countries and found a "bidirectional relationship."

A free press is also good for social services. "No country has a free press and a very high percentage of people with no access to safe water or a high percentage suffering from malnutrition," writes researcher Menelaos Agaloglou in the Africa Report, referring to data in the UNESCO report. "Improvement in press freedom is associated with a drop in infant mortality and an increase in life expectancy at birth as well as general increase on the health status of the population. By allowing debate and different opinions to be heard the country becomes more stable, less violent and more democratic."

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