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Nov. 29, 2012 Volume 34, No. 14

Press freedom contributes to quality of life, study by doctoral student suggests


Happiness stems in part from informational freedom, according to student researcher

Freedom of the press is viewed by many as a cornerstone of democracy. But can it help improve people’s lives and make them happy? 

Researchers at the University of Missouri may have found that citizens of countries with press freedom tend to be much happier than citizens of countries without free presses. Edson Tandoc Jr., a doctoral student in the School of Journalism, says that press freedom directly predicts life satisfaction across the world.

“We already know that having reliable, objective news sources can benefit democracy,” Tandoc said. “But in this study, we found that press freedom also benefits communities by helping improve the overall quality of life of citizens and, in the process, by also making them happier. 

 “Citizens of countries without a free press are forced to rely on the government for information,” he continued, “when what people really want is diversity in content where they are free to get the information they want from the source of their choosing.”

Tandoc and his co-author, Bruno Takahashi from Michigan State University, analyzed data from 161 countries using a 2010 Gallup Poll evaluating happiness levels around the world. They compared those happiness levels with Freedom House’s press freedom index, which rates the level of each country’s press freedom. 

The researchers found that countries with higher levels of press freedom enjoyed better environmental quality and higher levels of human development, both of which also contribute to life satisfaction. 

Tandoc credits this to the watchdog function of the press, which helps expose corruption in all levels of society.

“A country with a free press is expected to be more open about what is wrong in their societies and with their environments,” Tandoc said. “A free press is likely to report about poor human conditions and environmental degradation, bringing problems to the attention of decision-makers. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that press freedom is positively related to both environmental quality and human development.”

The study was published last summer in the Social Indicators Research journal.