Reuters Institute Fellowship Paper
University of Oxford

By Mikal Hem

Trinity Term 2014
Sponsor: Fritt Ord Foundation

Since the end of World War II many parts of the world have steadily grown in a more democratic
direction. But these young democracies do not always embrace all the liberal values that underpin
Western democracies.

It can be argued that a democracy does not have to be built on exactly the same values as the West
for it to work. Still, certain basic freedoms are necessary to secure a functioning democracy. Two of
these values are freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Media freedom is a precondition of democracy because for democracy to work, there must be
public participation. In a democracy people have the right to choose their own leaders and with
them, the political direction of their country. To be able to choose freely, voters must have access to
information about different political ideas and choices, and what the different politicians represent.
Without media freedom voters will not have sufficient information to make informed decisions.
Thus, countries that in theory are democratic, but do not practice press freedom, cannot be
considered fully functional democracies. These states must be said to be authoritarian to various

Still, even in authoritarian states, journalists can find ways of publishing sensitive material. That
happens because the authorities do not exercise complete and total control of the media, either
because they can’t or because they do not need to, but also because journalists exploit cracks in the
censorship regimes.

My aim in this paper is to find out what methods journalists use to circumvent censors in semi-democratic
authoritarian states. In this context I will define semi-democratic states as states that
have some democratic functions, like reasonably valid elections, but are ruled by regimes that in
practice limit the real exercise of democracy. These limitations include restricting oppositional
politics and crucially, limiting free speech and censoring the media. (Read More)