Uncrowned Kings with Shackles On: Negative Media Coverage and 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 non- elected 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 prefectural party secretaries’ likelihood of promotion. I find media coverage, rather than the coal mine accident itself, decreases the possibility of politicians’ promotion. This effect is more substantial when the media is non-local. Our results suggest that even with serious media control, there is publicity-induced accountability in China. The accountability-enhancing effect of media is driven by informing the public rather than informing the principle. I also propose that the M-form hierarchy of bureaucracy and economic decentralization create considerable discretion for media, which although limited, can hold politicians accountable.

Working Paper