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Press Freedom, Economic Development Directly Related, Says World Bank - 2002-11-15

The World Bank says there is a direct relationship between press freedom and economic development. The findings are included in a new World Bank book entitled The Right to Tell, the Role of the Mass Media in Economic Development.

The World Bank says a free and independent media can expose corruption and provide a voice for people to be heard. Press freedom, it argues, can help markets work better by providing reliable economic information.

One of the book's authors, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, said knowledge is a public commodity. Access to knowledge, he says, should be open to all. That, he said, is particularly true in countries that do not have widespread access to new technology, such as the Internet. "Some of the things of media diversity and access to information that we have in the advanced industrial countries are not accessible in developing countries," said Mr. Stiglitz. "And that's why these issues are of even greater concern there."

The authors find that those developing countries with free media are richer than countries where the media are restricted. They cite a Freedom House study that finds that the lowest levels of perceived press freedom are in the poorest countries of the South, particularly the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. In the year 2000, the study says, Belarus and Zimbabwe experienced economic decline with a renewed series of restraints on free expression while, Estonia and Taiwan achieved higher ratings for both the media and the economy.

Mr. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, said in many developing countries there is less willingness to recognize a separation between the business and reporting sides of media enterprises. "There is a sensitivity of the separation between the business side of the media, the news side, and the editorial side," he said. "Those walls are sometimes not as high as they ought to be."

And he is also worried about the growing concentration of private media ownership in both the developed and developing countries.

Another of the book's authors, Roumeen Islam, a manager at the World Bank Institute, said the Bank has no wish to force its views on those who disagree. "It's our job to let people, stakeholders, know how important information is to economic development," he said. "But as to how much information flow there is in a certain country can not be taken in isolation from what the people want."

The authors argue that, to reduce poverty access to information must be increased and the quality of the information improved.