Burn in the Sunlight: Negative Media Coverage and Publicity-Induced Accountability in China


How does the media help hold politicians accountable in countries with competitive elections has been well studied. However, whether and how media could discipline nonelected officials remain unclear. In this paper, I examine the effect of negative news coverage on political selection in China. To be specific, I evaluate how news reports on fatal coal mine accidents influence local politicians’ likelihood of promotion. I find media coverage, rather than the coal mine accident itself, decreases the possibility of prefectural party secretaries’ promotion. This effect is more substantial when the coverage comes from non-local media. My results suggest that even with top-down assignments system, there is bottom-up publicity-induced accountability in China. By informing the public, the decentralized media serve as a check to the principle. It not only informs but also enforces the supervisor to sanction subordinates with misconduct. I also propose that the pyramidic bureaucracy and economic decentralization are the necessary conditions of the publicity-induced accountability in autocratic country like China.

Working Paper