Journalism solution to malfeasance and accountability: study

An academic study on the re-election of corrupt politicians concludes
investigative journalism is the solution. But the paper, published in the journal World Politics (PDF), warns that the
disappearance of a business model for “a free and aggressive press”
does not bode well for political accountability.

The study, “Legislative Malfeasance and Political Accountability,” looked at the extreme corruption in Italy from 1948 to 1994, and analysed why voters re-elected bent politicians before suddenly tossing them out. A focus of the researchers was, as they put it, “the quantity of information available to the electorate.”

“Electoral retribution for allegations of
criminal behavior by national legislators hinges on the dissemination
of relevant information by the mass media,” they argued. “Without media reports that
inform voters of judicial allegations that public officials have
engaged in criminal activities, the electorate’s response to charges of
malfeasance is one of apparent indifference.”

Getting rid of entrenched political corruption requires “an aggressive free press for corruption to become sufficiently salient to enough voters for them to achieve electoral retribution,” they concluded.

And they warned — no surprise to journalists here — that the Internet has broken the business model for investigative journalism: “Anything that compromises the press potentially compromises democratic accountability.”

Alas, they had no solution to that problem.

Hat tip: David Akin