Study links press freedom to happinessBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As the Philippine media push for the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill, a study by doctoral students in journalism has found that countries with a free press, especially those with FOI laws, have higher levels of happiness and living standards overall.
The “happiness study” by Fulbright scholar Edson Tandoc Jr. of Missouri School of Journalism and his research partner, Bruno Takahashi of Michigan State University, found that press freedom contributed to people’s life satisfaction as it was a vital component in assuring effective governance.
The study also underlined the importance of institutionalizing freedom of information in promoting greater levels of press freedom and improving quality of life, said Tandoc, a former Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter.
He said it was a correlation that indicated the need to urgently pass the Philippine FOI legislation.
“The road to happiness isn’t direct; it is a complex path or web that includes many different influences and interrelationships. Things like improving the economy alone are insufficient for increasing happiness. Protecting press freedom is also an important component of the happiness web,” Tandoc said.
He said countries that rated higher on press freedom tended to have institutionalized FOI laws for a longer period of time.
“The global trend points to a positive effect of institutionalizing FOI on lowering corruption and improving human development, arguments that should push for the country’s adoption of an FOI law,” he told the Inquirer.
The country’s FOI bill, which would ensure government transparency by giving citizens the right to information, has not been passed by Congress although the Aquino administration, citing its value in realizing its anticorruption program, has expressed support for the measure.
In the study, Tandoc and Takahashi used “what are perceived to be the most reliable and most cited indices” (all 2010) to look for trends in connections among press freedom, happiness, environmental performance and human development levels of 161 countries.
The study used the Gallup Poll on happiness levels, the Freedom House press freedom index, United Nations human development statistics and an Environmental Performance Index by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy to find links among the statistics.
“Tandoc found that the more press freedom a country enjoyed, the higher the levels of life satisfaction, or happiness, of its citizens tended to be,” the Missouri journalism school said in a news release on its website.
Tandoc further noted that while the Philippines was known as having one of the most liberal press traditions in Asia, the Freedom House 2010 index still rated the country’s media as being “partly free” based on three categories: “the legal environment (e.g. laws and regulations that could influence media content), the political environment (e.g. pressure by the government, censorship and violence against journalists), and the economic environment (e.g. structure of media ownership).”
Such rating thus highlights the importance of enacting the Philippines’ own FOI, Tandoc said.
“FOI, I believe, is an important legal mechanism to ensure a free flow of information that guarantees press freedom,” he said.