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Partisan Control, Media Bias, and Viewer Responses: Evidence from Berlusconi’s Italy

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  • Ruben Durante
  • Brian Knight

    (Department of Economics (Brown University))

Abstract

This paper examines whether and how viewers respond to changes in partisan bias in media news. We use data from Italy, where the main private television network is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the centerright coalition, and the public television corporation is largely controlled by the ruling coalition. We first document that after the 2001 national elections, when the control of the government moved from the center-left to the center-right, news content on public television shifted to the right. Using individual survey data, we find robust evidence that viewers responded to these changes by modifying their choice of favorite news programs. On the one hand, right-leaning viewers increased their propensity to watch public channels which, even after the change, remained to the left of private channels. On the other hand, left-wing viewers reacted by switching from the main public channel to another public channel that was controlled by the left during both periods. We show that this behavioral response, which tended to shift ideological exposure to the left, significantly, though only partially, offset the movement of public news content to the right.

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Paper provided by Sciences Po in its series Sciences Po publications with number info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompqllr09iats7d416.

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Date of creation: Mar 2010
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Publication status: Published in Journal of the European Economic Association, 2010, vol. 10, pp.451-481
Handle: RePEc:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompqllr09iats7d416

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  1. Andrea Prat & David Strömberg, 2006. "Commercial Television and Voter Information," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000363, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2006. "Media Bias and Reputation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(2), pages 280-316, April.
  3. Stefano DellaVigna & Ethan Kaplan, 2006. "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting," NBER Working Papers 12169, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Besley, Timothy J. & Prat, Andrea, 2002. "Handcuffs for the Grabbing Hand? Media Capture and Government Accountability," CEPR Discussion Papers, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers 3132, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Djankov, Simeon & McLeish, Caralee & Nenova, Tatiana & Shleifer, Andrei, 2001. "Who owns the media?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2620, The World Bank.
  6. Ruben Durante & Brian Knight, 2012. "Partisan Control, Media Bias, And Viewer Responses: Evidence From Berlusconi'S Italy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 451-481, 05.
  7. Jeffrey Milyo & Tim Groseclose, 2005. "A Measure of Media Bias," Working Papers, Department of Economics, University of Missouri 0501, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised 25 Aug 2005.
  8. Wing Suen, 2004. "The Self-Perpetuation of Biased Beliefs," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 377-396, 04.
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  12. Gerber, Alan & Karlan, Dean & Bergan, Daniel, 2006. "Does The Media Matter? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effect of Newspapers on Voting Behavior and Political Opinions," Working Papers 12, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  13. Jonathan Reuter & Eric Zitzewitz, 2005. "Do Ads Influence Editors? Advertising and Bias in the Financial Media," Finance, EconWPA 0501003, EconWPA.
  14. James M. Snyder, Jr. & David Strömberg, 2008. "Press Coverage and Political Accountability," NBER Working Papers 13878, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Matthew Gentzkow & Edward L. Glaeser & Claudia Goldin, 2006. "The Rise of the Fourth Estate. How Newspapers Became Informative and Why It Mattered," NBER Chapters, in: Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, pages 187-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Baron, David P., 2006. "Persistent media bias," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 1-36, January.
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