The aim of this rapid literature review is to examine the relationship between government communication services and media freedom. However, this relationship receives little mention in the literature on media development and media freedom. Hence, it is very difficult to reach a consensus on the relationship between government communication services and media freedom due to the lack of evidence.
Although there is a well-developed literature on media support as part of international development assistance, it makes little reference to the role of government communication services in supporting the development of a free and independent media. Instead, the literature emphasises the watchdog role of the media in terms of fostering transparency and accountability (Deane, 2015). There is limited mention of the relationship between governments and media in the readings on the media ecosystem and open government initiatives supported by the OECD (OECD, 2016a; Ubaldi & Perez, 2018). The literature in this review comprises a mix of academic literature and policy reports produced by the OECD, the World Bank, Centre for Independent Media Assistance (CIMA) and BBC Media Action.
The media eco-system includes government, public and private sector media, social media companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens (OECD, 2017). This rapid literature review will focus on the influence of government communication on the government-media relationship. It does not encompass other avenues through which government is able to affect the media environment such as legislation, public policy and political culture. The role of the public media is briefly considered.
This rapid literature review was able to find only one study, which examined the role of the government communication on media as part of a broader inquiry on the influence of government
communication and public trust in the government of the United States (US) (Liu, Horsley, & Yang, 2012). Liu et al. (2012) found that there was a positive relationship between media interaction and good coverage of the US government. This finding suggests that governments may have an incentive to foster good relations with the media.
The other main findings of the review are summarised below:
- Governments require a positive relationship with the media in order to communicate with the public and build legitimacy for their decisions (OECD, 2016);
- Media often rely on official government information, especially during war and conflict, and therefore need friendly relations with the government to gain access to information (Yuksel, 2013);
- The engagement between elites, the media and the public is complex and is unlikely to be controlled or dominated by any particular set of actors (Yuksel, 2013);
- In some countries that were transitioning to democracy, development assistance for media has helped to foster media which is critical of the government, resulting in a tense relationship between media and government (Rub, 1996);
- Donors support media development through development programmes that support an open government or good governance. However, media support is a small component of these programmes (OECD, 2016; Deane, 2015);
- Public media can be used as a medium for disseminating government propaganda (Thabane, n.d.); and
- Social media provides the government with a direct communication channel to the public, thus bypassing the traditional media (Graham, 2014).
Case studies from Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and Mexico indicate that governments use their advertising budgets to undermine media independence and discourage critical reporting (Leycegui & Valenzuela, 2013; Maqeda & Makombe, 2013; Semetko & Wahdwa, 2013). The literature does not highlight specific issues that relate to gender or disability.