Sun, Aug 12, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Free press correlates with citizen happiness

By Dan Bloom

Does freedom of the press contribute to the general happiness of Taiwanese people? According to US researchers Edson Tandoc Jr and Bruno Takahashi, freedom of the press is usually a good indicator of a nation’s “happiness.” The two compared Gallup data on national happiness levels with Freedom House’s press freedom index and found that press freedom has a positive correlation with life satisfaction levels.

Does this apply to the differences between Taiwan and China? Ask Chinese people across the Taiwan Strait. Ask Taiwanese in their own country. The writing is on the wall.

In their research, Tandoc and Takahashi also found that nations with higher levels of press freedom also enjoyed better environmental quality and higher levels of human development, both of which contribute to life satisfaction as well.

Tandoc, a graduate student at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, and Takahashi, a professor, attribute this to the “watchdog function” of the media which can help expose and tackle corruption across a vast swath of society.

So what about China? Does the lack of press freedom directly impact “life satisfaction” there? The answer is clear. And does Taiwan’s embrace of press freedom ensure a happier, more satisfied citizenry? Of course.

It’s not rocket science to glean how a country attains happiness. Nonetheless, academic papers and research are useful in shedding light on the differences between Taiwan and China. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech and religion are viewed by many as the cornerstones of democracy, but do these freedoms actually improve people’s lives and make them happy?

“We already know that having reliable, objective news sources can benefit democracy, but we found that press freedom also benefits communities by helping improve the overall quality of life of citizens. This is a process which makes them happier,” Tandoc says.

“People enjoy having an element of choice about where they get their news. Citizens of countries without a free press are forced to rely on the government for information when what people really want is diversity in content where they are free to get the information they want from the source of their choosing,” he says.

In their study, Tandoc and Takahashi also analyzed UN human development statistics and the Environmental Performance Index — an index created by researchers at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

“The road to happiness isn’t direct; it is a complex path or web that includes many different influences and interrelationships,” Tandoc says. “Things like improving the economy alone are insufficient for increasing happiness. Protecting press freedom is also an important component of the happiness web.”

“A country with a free press is expected to be more open about what is wrong in their societies and with their environments,” Tandoc adds.

The study, which was recently published in the Social Indicators Research journal and presented at the International Communication Association conference this year in the US, would make a good presentation at an international conference in Beijing or Shanghai.

Too bad, given the firm grip that the Chinese Communist Party has over the media and religion in China, it won’t happen very soon in either city.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is spot on when it comes to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Does that make Taiwan a happy nation with a great track-record? It’s getting there, step by step.

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