It is common to presume that autocratic governments censor negative news and amplify positive news. However, such simplistic ‘fact-censoring’ may have only a limited political value when it comes to economic news, because citizens can bench-mark the ofﬁcial news against their own private perceptions of the economy. In-stead of censoring facts, the government can preserve its good reputation in face of an economic downturn by ‘bundling’ the news in a way that induces citizens to believe that bad events are due to exogenous causes and good news are due to the efforts of the government. Using a large corpus of daily news reports from three national television channels in Russia from 2000 to 2016, we identify two empirical patterns that are consistent with this story: First, negative and positive economic events are reported at very similar rates on Russian state-owned television indicating no evidence of fact-censoring. Second, negative reports are far more likely to implicate external factors, and when the news are positive they are more likely to implicate the domestic government.
Arturas Rozenas is a Hoover Institution National Fellow for 2016-2017. He is an assistant professor at the Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University. Professor Rozenas' research examines the principles of information control and manipulation in authoritarian politics, with particular focus on the Soviet Union and post-communist countries, as well as statistical methods.