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Free press and economic strength linked, World Bank says

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Nov 12, 2002    

Free press and economic strength linked, World Bank says

  • In a new World Bank report, 19 authors — from editors and economists to Nobel Peace Prize recipients — analyzed the media’s ability to act as a catalyst for change and growth in societies.

An independent media industry with broad reach that provides quality information is not only empowering to society, but can lead to reduced poverty and a stimulated economy, according to a Nov. 7 World Bank report.

“The Right to Tell: The Role of Mass Media in Economic Development,” released by the World Bank along with the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, is a 332-page book of works by 19 authors from around the world, all analyzing the media and its effect on the economy.

The report, which targets policymakers, non-governmental organizations, journalists, researchers and students, was borne out of the World Bank’s 2002 report “Building Institutions for Markets,” which devoted a chapter to the media’s role in development.

The report’s contributors include Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics, and writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, recipient of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. Other authors include professors, economists and editors from places such as Bangladesh, London and Zimbabwe.

The contributors examine media ownership, public policy and economic conditions.

Several chapters discuss the benefits of advertising-supported media versus government-sponsored media. Bruce Owen, president of Economics Incorporated, a Washington, D.C.-based economics consulting firm, said that advertising-supported media provide consumer and commercial information to their audiences, which contributes to economic growth. Another chapter explains how advertising is essential to financial and editorial independence of the media in many countries.

“The break away of advertisement from the government’s stranglehold has been perhaps the most significant contributory factor to media independence,” wrote Bangladeshi editor Mahfuz Anam, noting that Bangladeshi newspapers previously received 80 percent of advertisement revenue from the government and now the same amount comes from the private sector.

Other chapters analyze similar trends in Russia.

The report comes at the “most opportune time,”said WAN Director General Timothy Balding in a press release. In the aftermath of September 11, “freedom of information has too frequently become a casualty of the so-called war against terrorism, with numerous governments taking initiatives to restrict it in the name of national interest,” he said at joint press conferences of the World Bank and WAN in Paris and Brussels for the report’s launch.

On a more general level, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn wrote in the book’s introduction, “People with more information are empowered to make better choices.”

Wolfensohn added that the media not only performs its function as watchdog by exposing corruption, checking public policy and watching the government, but it also allows for a diversity of opinion in the mainstream and contributes to human development by bringing health and education information to its audience.

The report can be ordered through the World Bank Web site at


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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