In its landmark 2002 study, The right to tell: The role of mass media in economic development (here), the World Bank said a free press contributes to cleaner governments — and to better education, improved public health, lower infant mortality rates, and higher incomes. “Secrecy is the bedrock of persistent corruption,” it said, “which undermines confidence in democratic governments in so much of the world. As the expression goes, sunshine is the strongest antiseptic.”
The correlation between press freedom and corruption is not perfect but apparent. Here, for example, are the best-ranked countries on Freedom House’s 2008 Freedom of the Press World Ranking. In parentheses are the countries’ rankings on the 2008 Corruption Perception Index:
Andorra (no CPI rank)
New Zealand (1)
Here are the countries that are worst-ranked for press freedom and their CPI rankings:
Equatorial Guinea (171)
North Korea (no CPI rank)
Of the 195 countries and territories in Freedom House’s latest press-freedom survey, 72 were rated as free, 59 as partly free, and 64 as not free. In terms of population, the survey found that only 18 percent of the world’s people live in countries that enjoy a free press, while 40 percent have a partly free press and 42 percent have a not-free press.