“A free press is bad news for corruption”

Strengthening and empowering the Nagaland print media has reached a critical stage!


The free press is the cornerstone of democracy. Along with the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary, the Media is considered to comprise the four pillars of democracy. The dialectical relationships between these four pillars are fundamental to the vibrancy of democratic principles. In this interplay, a free and independent press is essential towards uncovering the wrongdoings by government officials and institutions.


Ideally, societies that nurture and facilitate a free press have less corruption and more transparency and accountability than societies that restrict, censor and control the press. It presupposes the idea that a free press is likely to be among the most effective tools in uncovering institutional, administrative and systemic corruption. Various research studies have consistently found that a free and vibrant media is associated with lower corruption and improved government responses.


Aymo Brunetti and Beartice Weder in their journal article, “A Free Press is Bad News for Corruption,” provide empirical evidence to show a strong association between the level of press freedom and the level of corruption in countries around the world. Their findings suggest that an independent press represents an important check against corruption. This view is affirmed by Rudiger Ahrend of the London School of Economics who investigated connections between corruption, human capital and press freedom in 130 countries. He shows that lower level of press freedom is associated with higher level of corruption throughout the world.


Ahrend’s finding provides a cautious insight by informing us that merely increasing education levels does not reduce corruption. Interestingly, a standalone increase in education sometimes leads to increased corruption as the educated elite collude with the corrupted. Hence, corruption, the findings reveals, falls only in cases where higher levels of education among the electorate are accompanied by increased freedom of the press.


It is important to critically underscore what constitutes a measure of free press. While everyone should have the right to freedom of speech and expression, Brunetti and Weder identified and evaluated several dimensions of potential violations of press freedom. They cite: (I) Laws and regulations that influence media content which reflects the actual impact on press freedom; (II) Political influence over media content which takes into account the political pressure and the day-to-day conditions in which journalist work, as well as the “threats from organized crime” which may lead to self-censorship; (III) Economic influence over media content which underlines the competitive pressures, and economic favoritism or government reprisals for unwanted press coverage; and (IV) Repressive actions which constitute violations of press freedom such as arrests, physical violence, harassment of journalists, etc.


Unfortunately, all these four dimensions that Brunetti and Weder have identified as obstacles to a free press are thriving in Nagaland. It is in the midst of this complex dynamic between these different dimensions coupled by a culture of impunity and the protracted armed conflict situation that the Nagaland media continues to constitute and contribute as the fourth pillar of democracy. Based on a critical contextualization of Brunetti and Weder’s supposition that a free press is bad news for corruption, one can conclude that in the Nagaland state context, it is the absence of a dynamic and principled free press which has given institutional, administrative and systemic corruption an unchallenged sway.


However, such a conclusion may be unfair as it side-steps the broader contextual challenges that the Nagaland state media faces and undermines the overwhelming nature of State power being constantly abused by individuals and institutions from within the system.


The need to strengthen and empower the Nagaland media is essential for upholding the fourth pillar of democracy which can only happen with the public’s active support.