Silencing Critics: Why and How Presidents Restrict Media Freedom in Democracies

Marisa Kellam*, Elizabeth A. Stein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


The media hold democratically elected leaders accountable by exposing corruption and policy failures. Although many politicians accept media criticism as intrinsic to liberal democracy, some politicians rein in freedom of the press or intimidate media outlets to silence their critics. We identify circumstances that motivate and enable presidents to curb media freedom in presidential democracies. We argue that (a) presidents who hold ideological positions contrary to those of the mainstream media adopt the media as viable opponents in the absence of an effective electoral opposition, and (b) the media are vulnerable to presidential infringements on their freedom where legislatures and judiciaries hold weak powers relative to presidents, and are therefore unable to constrain presidents’ actions against media freedom. We support our argument with quantitative analyses of press freedom ratings in presidential and semi-presidential democracies from 1993 to 2013.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-77
Number of pages42
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jan 1


  • Latin American politics
  • media freedom
  • presidents and executive politics
  • quality of democracy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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