A democracy is undoubtedly the best form of government. It is considered to be the primary precondition for economic development. There are many different ways in which the condition of democracy is quantified. The key indicators in this regard are:
1) Polity IV Project: This “examines concomitant qualities of democratic and autocratic authority in governing institutions, rather than discreet and mutually exclusive forms of governance”.
2) Vanhanen’s Democratization Index: The VDI is based on two dimensions, public contestation and the right to participate, which are named as competition and participation, respectively.
3) EIU Democracy Index: The index is based on five categories namely, electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.
The above list in indicative. There are many more indicators that quantify the extent of democracy in countries in various different ways.
Interestingly however, no clear consensus exist for the causal connection between economic development and democracy in the academic literature. Further, in dire issues like that of terrorism, democracies are deemed to be the most vulnerable. This brings us to the very important question that what are then the required factors that would make a democracy perform to its full potential ? A democracy can only perform to its full potential when empowered by other complementary institutions. A key institution in this regard is Media. A strong, independent and vibrant media sector would help reduce information asymmetry in a society and elucidate the flaws in the same. It is only when the people of a country be aware of the holes in a system and demand remedy would a government feel the pressure for accountability. And it is this constant process of checks and balances that would ensure a country’s journey from being a weak and “flawed” democracy to a strong and “functional” one.
This can be reiterated in simple terms as propounded by Persson and Tabellini (2000):
Free Press —> Voters’ State of Knowledge —> Democracy —> Selection of Political Parties —> Government Responsiveness
Thus to ensure economic development, a democracy and a strong media sector need to function in unison, empowering each other in the way. Any one of them without the other is not the solution.
Hence, it is time that while the extent of democracy has been scrutinized quantitatively in multiple ways, the effectiveness and performance of the media sector of a country be also evaluated in various different ways. We have been relying overtly on Freedom of the Press for a long time. It is time we have other ways of quantifying the strength of the media sector – in multiple different ways and in a cross-country framework.
Sanjukta Roy is a Research Analyst for The Media Map Project.