NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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

Ruben Durante, Brian Knight

NBER Working Paper No. 14762
Issued in March 2009
NBER Program(s):   PE   POL

This paper examines the impact of partisan control of the media on news content and viewership by consumers with differing ideologies. We use data from Italy, where the main private television network is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right coalition, and the public television corporation is largely controlled by the ruling coalition. Our first finding is that when, following the 2001 national elections, the control of the government switched from the center-left to the center-right, news content on public television shifted to the right. Second, we find evidence that viewers responded to these changes by modifying their choice of news programs. Right-leaning viewers increased their propensity to watch public channels which, even after the change, remained to the left of private channels. Furthermore, some left-wing viewers reacted by switching from the main public channel to another public channel that was controlled by the left during both periods. In line with these shifts in viewership, we also find evidence of an increase in trust in public television among right-wing viewers and a corresponding decrease among left-wing ones. Finally, 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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14762

Published: 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, vol. 10(3), pages 451-481, 05. citation courtesy of

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