Collateral Censorship: Theory and Evidence from Venezuela

  • 17 May 2022

    12:30-14:00, Clay Room, Nuffield College

  • Political Science Seminars   Add to Calendar
Speaker: John Marshall

Columbia University

Please note: This is a hybrid event.

Abstract: We propose that censorship in competitive authoritarian regimes entails an indirect cost: voters may punish the incumbent for restricting access to valued programming. It also entails an indirect benefit: by weakening opposition media, censorship allows pro-incumbent outlets to further slant their coverage without losing audience share to competitors. We formalize this trade-off in a stylized Bayesian persuasion model that guides our analysis of the Venezuelan case. When the government of Hugo Chávez revoked the broadcast license of a major television station, voters without cable lost access. Using new data and a difference-in-differences design, we find that these voters punished Chávez at the polls---suggesting that the electoral cost of taking away popular programs exceeded the electoral benefits of restricting access to media criticism among voters without cable. But the decision may have helped Chávez in the electorate as a whole, by inducing favorable shifts in the editorial lines of other outlets. Our findings underscore the relevance of collateral censorship---indirect consequences of targeting opposition outlets---for media freedom in competitive authoritarian regimes.

The Political Science Seminar Series is convened by Pepper Culpepper, Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos and Jane Green. For more information on this or any of the seminars in the series, please contact