Journalism, democracy & governance

Academic research into the effectiveness of donor and foundation-funded journalism and media development to support democracy and good governance.

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Journal of Communication - MARTIN SCOTT, ET AL.

A summary of this article is available here: "Toward an inclusive approach to supporting Media Freedom" (CIMA, 25 January 2023)

This article analyses how international advocacy campaigns approach and define media freedom, and what influences this process. It does this through a two-year case study of the Media Freedom Coalition—an intergovernmental partnership of over 50 countries—that included 55 interviews with key stakeholders, observations, and document analysis. This revelatory case sheds light on how norms of media freedom are constructed and contested on the international stage, and their implications for journalists, media freedom and geo-politics.

Cambridge University Press - DANY HAYES AND JENNIFER LAWLESS

Hayes and Lawless investigate the links between depoliticisation and the decline in local journalism in the United States:

Danny Hayes and Jennifer L. Lawless also found that the “hollowing out” of American newspapers over 30 years — including a dramatic reduction in the amount of local news produced by newspapers of all sizes, with the most severe cuts in local government and school coverage — had massive effects on local political engagement, including decreased political knowledge, and less interest in political participation (Democracy Fund, "How We Know Journalism is Good for Democracy")

Democracy Fund

Since 2018, Democracy Fund has been archiving academic research on the critical role played by local and community media in strengthening and defending democracy. This recently updated database includes new research and case studies on the United States.

"These studies and articles provide an enormous set of rigorous data that help quantify what happens when local communities have strong local news — and what happens when they lose it. Understanding the impact of quality local news on our democracy in these sorts of specific, data driven, nuanced ways is critical as we think about how to build a more equitable and sustainable future of local news that truly serves all communities at a moment of threat and uncertainty in democracy."

US Agency for International Development

A free, objective, skilled media is an essential component of any democratic society. On the one hand, it provides the information which the polity require to make responsible, informed decisions. On the other, it performs a “checking function” ensuring that elected officials uphold their oaths of office and campaign promises and that they carry out the wishes of the electorate. This paper, produced by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), proposes that the aim should be to transfer the media from direction or control by government or private interest to a situation of editorial freedom exercised in the public interest. The ultimate goal should be to engender diverse, plural and credible voices providing information and opinion to the electorate.

Johns Hopkins University - MARINA OTTAWAY & THERESA CHUNG

"The cost of democratic development—the price tag attached to building democratic institutions, electoral processes, and even political parties and civil-society organizations—is an issue that has received scant attention. Yet a combination of donors’ well-intentioned efforts at accelerating democratization and recipients’ ambition to adopt modern, up-to-date processes is driving up the cost of formal democracy in many parts of the world without necessarily deepening its content. Some of the practices that have become common during the 1990s risk pricing democracy out of the reach of the less-developed countries (LDCs) or at least making it dependent on donors’ continued subsidies."

Johns Hopkins University - THOMAS CAROTHERS

Two distinct approaches to international democracy assistance have emerged in recent years: the political approach and the developmental approach. They vary with respect to their underlying conceptions of democracy and democratization and their methods and areas of focus. U.S. democracy promotion makes use of both approaches; European democracy support efforts largely favor the developmental approach. Neither approach is necessarily preferable overall; both have multiple strengths and weaknesses. The existence of two core approaches is evidence that democracy aid is diversifying to adapt to a more challenging international political landscape.

Democracy-aid providers are moving away from one-size-fits-all strategies and are adapting their programs to diverse political contexts. Two distinct overall approaches to assisting democracy have emerged in response.


This study draws on a rigorous systematic review—to our knowledge the first in this area—to take stock of the literature on aid and democracy.

It asks: Does aid—especially democracy aid—have positive impact on democracy? How? What factors most influence its impact? In so doing, it considers studies that explicitly focus on ‘democracy aid’ as an aggregate category, its subcomponents (e.g. aid to elections), and ‘developmental aid’.

Overall, the evidence suggests that i) democracy aid generally supports rather than hinders democracy building around the world; ii) aid modalities influence the effectiveness of democracy aid; and iii) democracy aid is more associated with positive impact on democracy than developmental aid, probably because it targets key institutions and agents of democratic change.

The review presents a new analytical framework for considering the evidence, bringing together core theories of democratization with work on foreign aid effectiveness. Overall, the evidence is most consistent with institutional and agent-based theories of exogenous democratization, and least consistent with expectations drawn from structural theories that would imply stronger positive impact for developmental aid on democratization.


Although not focussed primarily on the role of foundations, this article does reveal how they can inadvertently influence their journalistic grantees, through a case study of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The authors argue that, ‘a focus on impact—encouraged, at least in part, by the organization’s foundation funders—is leading ICIJ to measure its democratic role in a way that sets its behavior apart from traditional journalistic entities’. (Humanitarian Journalism)

International Journal of Communication - RODNEY BENSON, MATTHEW POWERS, TIMOTHY NEFF

Public media’s contributions to democracy are well established. Less widely known are the specific policies that make these contributions possible. This study finds that professional autonomy and civic accountability in public media are supported by (1) funding established for multiyear periods; (2) legal charters that restrict partisan government influence while also mandating the provision of diverse, high-quality programming; (3) oversight agencies, whose “arm’s length” independence from the government in power is bolstered through staggered terms and the dispersal of authority to make appointments; and (4) audience councils and surveys designed to strengthen links to diverse publics. Public media governed by policies that continue and extend, rather than depart from, these best practices will likely be the most successful in maintaining their civic mission online.


"The overarching trend observed throughout is one of disruption brought on by technology and to a lesser extent the global economic crisis, with mixed results for freedom of expression and media development. The publication comes at a critical moment for press freedom amid unprecedented opportunities for expression of new voices as well as new forms of restriction, surveillance and control. World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development is a key resource for governments, the media, academia, the private sector and civil society and is an essential read for anyone interested in the contemporary media environment."

Journalism - BEATE JOSEPHI

In posing the question ‘How much democracy does journalism need?’, much depends on the definition of journalism. This article suggests that journalism should be viewed not in terms of media systems but instead using journalism practice as the main frame of reference, as this allows for an appreciation of journalism beyond the confines of western democratic countries. The analysis of historical and current examples shows that journalism offering accurate and verified information resting on independent news judgement also happens in places that are deemed semi- or non-democratic. This article argues that it is not the political form of democracy that is essential to journalism but the freedom of expression and relative journalistic autonomy afforded to media workers. Democracies, as compellingly shown in recent years, may offer the legal framework for freedom of speech but they do not offer protection for journalistic services which have to be largely financed privately. The dependency on media owners is no less in many democratic nations than it is in non-democratic countries. Most importantly, journalism needs supporters who see value in independent information provision and credible news judgement.

World Bank Publications - PIPPA NORRIS

What are the ideal roles the mass media should play as an institution to strengthen democratic governance and thus bolster human development? Under what conditions do media systems succeed or fail to meet these objectives? And what strategic reforms would close the gap between the democratic promise and performance of media systems?

Working within the notion of the democratic public sphere, 'Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform' emphasizes the institutional or collective roles of the news media as watchdogs over the powerful, as agenda setters calling attention to social needs in natural and human-caused disasters and humanitarian crises, and as gatekeepers incorporating a diverse and balanced range of political perspectives and social actors. Each is vital to making democratic governance work in an effective, transparent, inclusive, and accountable manner. The capacity of media systems―and thus individual reporters embedded within those institutions―to fulfill these roles is constrained by the broader context of the journalistic profession, the market, and ultimately the state.

Successive chapters apply these arguments to countries and regions worldwide. This study brought together a wide range of international experts under the auspices of the Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP) at the World Bank and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

The book is designed for policy makers and media professionals working within the international development community, national governments, and grassroots organizations, and for journalists, democratic activists, and scholars engaged in understanding mass communications, democratic governance, and development.

Cambridge: Polity - SCHUDSON, M.

Political Communication - SILVIO WAISBORD

The starting premise of this article is that democratic journalism, no matter its specifics, is not viable as long as states are unable to perform key functions that cannot be delegated to other actors. For journalism, an intrusive state is as problematic as a tenuous, chaotic, and absent state. This point has not been sufficiently recognized and investigated in the literature on the current expansion and consolidation of a democratic press worldwide. “Statelessness,” a condition particularly affecting large swaths of the global South, deters the prospects for the affirmation of journalism that anchors democratic life. State absence facilitates anti-press violence, undermines the economic basis for news organizations, and weakens the rule of law. It remains unclear whether the press, an institution that has historically played key roles in building and renovating national identities and mediating civic engagement, can also make significant contributions to strengthening effective and democratic states. The article concludes by suggesting ways in which the press supports state-building processes. It is argued that although journalism as civic institution alone cannot address entrenched problems of violence, security, and lawlessness, it contributes to state-building through monitoring state actions, raising attention to problems, and identifying effective accountability mechanisms.

Journalism Studies - JESPER STRÖMBÅCK

The literature discussing the impact of media and journalism upon democracy, typically criticizes both media and journalism for their content and their negative effects on some aspects of democracy. In turn, this raises the question of identifying news standards by which the quality of news journalism might be evaluated. But neither the proposed news standards nor the criticism levelled against them specify with sufficient clarity the model of democracy to be used as a normative departure. This article argues that the question of proper news standards cannot be addressed in isolation from the question of different normative models of democracy. In order to discover news standards by which the quality of news journalism can or should be evaluated, it analyzes four normative models of democracy and their demands upon citizens: procedural democracy, competetive democracy, participatory democracy and deliberative democracy. Building upon that analysis, the article asks: What normative implications for media and news journalism follow from the distinctive perspectives of procedural, competitive, participatory and deliberative democracy?


In: Central European journal of communication, vol. 13, nr. 3, 2020, p.390-408

"The paper offers an analysis of media assistance, as a specific form of foreign aid, that Poland offers to strengthen media development in Belarus and Ukraine. It shows if Poland tailors media assistance according to the local context and existing challenges for democratic changes of recipient countries’ media systems. The study builds on the literature concerning the media, development and democratization, in particular looking at media assistance as both democratic aid and public diplomacy. It reveals that Poland’s approaches to media development in Belarus and Ukraine do differ: Poland mainly provides autocratic Belarus with technical support for media established outside of that country, while clearly focusing on media capacity development in democratizing Ukraine. The findings show that Polish media assistance, however, is unlikely to boost media freedom in Belarus as is usually expected as an outcome of democratic aid and is underfinanced in the case of Ukraine." (abstract)


For non-academic research, reports and articles on journalism and democracy go to


This resource page is a work in progress. Please get in touch to let us know what is missing using this form.

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