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Media with reputational concerns: yes men or watchdogs?

Greg Chih-Hsin Sheen

Political Science Research and Methods, 2021, vol. 9, issue 2, 345-364

Abstract: During the political process, the electorate needs to determine the competence of the government by both observing its policy decisions and acquiring information from the media. However, media reports are often criticized for not being independent and truthful. This paper discusses whether the public can determine the quality of a government from media reports. In other words, are media outlets more likely to act as watchdogs or just as “yes men” to the government? This paper argues that, because of reputational concerns, the media usually avoid criticizing the government. The media only report truthfully when the expected competence of the government is sufficiently low and the probability for the voter to learn from other information sources is sufficiently high. Otherwise, media outlets—especially low-quality outlets—will pander to the government in their reporting. Policy bias or media capture is not required for the yes-man problem to prevail.

Date: 2021
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