Media Freedom and the Control of Nation’s Sociolegal Problems of Governance: A Conjunctive Analysis of Asymmetric Effects and Multiple Causal Pathways

Publication Date01 May 2017
Date01 May 2017
AuthorOlesya Venger
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2017, Vol. 33(2) 173 –188
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986216688821
Media Freedom and the
Control of Nation’s
Sociolegal Problems of
Governance: A Conjunctive
Analysis of Asymmetric
Effects and Multiple Causal
Olesya Venger1
Using secondary data from 164 countries, the current study applies conjunctive analysis
to assess asymmetric effects and multiple causal pathways underlying how nations’ level
of media freedom influences their human rights protections, control of corruption, and
political stability. These analyses reveal that (a) countries with high media freedom are
associated with higher scores on each of these measures of effective governance, (b) these
“media effects” vary across different socioeconomic contexts and are often asymmetric,
and (c) high media freedom is a major component in the multiple conjunctive pathways
found among countries with high levels of governance practices, but the conjunctive effect
of low media freedom on nation’s likelihood of low governance is less dramatic. These
results are discussed in terms of their implications for future research in media studies
and using conjunctive methods for exploring causal complexity.
media freedom, governance, conjunctive analysis, causal asymmetry
A free press is a fundamental characteristic of an open and democratic society. As part
of its multidimensional functions in contemporary societies, a free press offers voice
1University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV, USA
Corresponding Author:
Olesya Venger, Journalism and Media Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland
Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154, USA.
688821CCJXXX10.1177/1043986216688821Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeVenger
174 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 33(2)
and accountability by providing a country’s citizens with information necessary for
selecting their government and challenging its practices.
A free press is also a cause for controversies. Fulfilling one of its main functions by
disseminating information, a free press stimulates a perplexing conflict that involves
two constitutionally protected rights, fair trial and free press. In the majority of cases,
even if a defendant objects to the media coverage of the court proceedings, the right of
freedom of the press is held “paramount to the right of fair trial” (Martel, 1959). The
controversy of having a free press that supplies pretrial publicity becomes evident,
because the press may sway public opinion, including opinions of jurors.
Despite its importance and controversies associated with a free press, however,
little empirical research has documented the patterns of contextual variability in how
countries’ media freedom either enables or constrains the likelihood of sociolegal
problems of governance within them. Some attempts have been made to investigate
the advantages/disadvantages of a country having a free press (Ambrey, Fleming,
Manning, & Smith, 2016). Research has also explored how various political, social,
and cultural factors resulted in a public’s willingness to express itself more freely than
before (de Jong, Smeets, & Smits, 2006). However, a more nuanced investigation on
the impact of a free press is needed to explore how this phenomenon operates across
the world, in democratic and authoritarian societies, given certain economic, sociole-
gal, and political factors.
Using secondary data from 164 countries and the method of conjunctive analysis,
the current study examines how variation in nations’ media freedom influences vari-
ous measures of their effective governance (e.g., high levels of human rights protec-
tions, control of corruption, and political stability). These analyses assess the direct
and context-specific effects of nation’s media freedom and other social conditions,
explore the causal asymmetry of these relations, and identify the multiple conjunctive
profiles of various social conditions that always lead to specific outcomes (e.g., high
political stability, low political stability). The results of this study are then discussed in
terms of their implications for future media studies and using conjunctive methods to
explore causal complexity.
Literature Review
Freedom of the press is a basic legal principle in many contemporary societies
(Freedom House, 2013; Hallin & Mancini, 2004). However, the nature, form, and
function of a “free” press vary widely across different societies and media systems.
For example, under the liberal media systems of the United States and United Kingdom,
a free press operates within a context of little state intervention or censorship (Hallin
& Mancini, 2004). In sharp contrast, claims of a “free” press in autocratic and totalitar-
ian states are often challenged because of the state ownership of media and its subse-
quent use for political persuasion and gaining compliance to the central authority (de
Smaele, 1999; Vartanova, 2011).
Using case studies and cross-national comparative research designs, previous stud-
ies have explored the influence of nations’ media freedom on measures of the quality

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