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Luis Meloni - Research Summary

Bocconi University

News vs Novelas: Can Entertainment Media Undermine Dictatorships?

The role played by mass media in the rise and maintenance of non-democratic regimes is a phenomenon well documented in the political economic literature. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Rede Globo, the main television broadcaster in Brazil served the military regime that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1865 by distorting news. Theoretical literature on media capture, however, suggest that media outlets might face a more complicated trade-off: when media outlets bias news to serve autocracies, individuals might disengage from watching TV and advertising revenues decrease. This naturally creates an incentive for media outlets to invest in more appealing entertainment shows. This paper investigates if entertainment TV can undermine the support for autocratic regimes when dissenting views permeate entertainment shows. This is done by examining whether the entry of Globo TV and its novelas induced changes in vote share of the ruling party during Brazilian dictatorship in mayoral elections held between 1972 and 1982. We employ a difference-in-difference strategy exploiting variation in the timing of Globo’s entry across municipalities. We also exploit how variation in novelas content over time interacted with differential entry of Globo to test whether novelas with political content account for changes in vote shares. Our results show that on average, entry of Globo in a municipality is associated with a decrease on ARENA's vote-share in mayoral elections. We also provide evidence that suggests that the increased use of political messages in novelas over time accounts for part of the effect.