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Unintended media effects in a conflict environment

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1 Unintended media effects in a conflict environment: Serbian radio and Croatian nationalism  Stefano DellaVigna, Ruben Enikolopov, Vera Mironova, Maria Petrova, Ekaterina Zhuravskaya October 2011 Abstract Do media broadcasts matter when they reach audiences that are not their target? In a conflict, the media may have an unintended effect of increasing ethnic animosity. We consider radio signals travelling across country borders in the region that witnessed one of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since WWII: the Serbo-Croatian conflict in the Yugoslavian wars. Using survey data, we find that a large fraction of Croats listen to Serbian radio (intended for Serbian listeners across the border) whenever signal is available. Then, using official election results, we document that residents of Croatian villages with good-quality signal of Serbian public radio were more likely to vote for extreme nationalist parties, even after several years of peace time. Finally, ethnically-offensive graffiti are more likely to be exposed openly in the center of villages with Serbian radio reception. The effect is identified from the variation in the availability of the signal mostly due to topography. The results of a laboratory experiment confirm that Serbian radio exposure causes an increase in anti-Serbian sentiment among Croats.  Our special thanks go to Kristina Gulmac, Tihomir Zivic and to the University of Vukovar for the invaluable help with the organization of the lab experiment. We are very grateful to Ben Olken for providing the software necessary for ITM calculation. We also thank Bulat Gafarov, Roman Istomin, Blazo Kazanegra, Andrey Korolev, and Gleb Romanyuk for excellent research assistance. We thank Matthew Gentzkow, Irena Grosfeld, Ethan Kaplan, Fernanda Leite Lopez de Leon, John Londregan, Tom Romer, and audiences at Columbia, Harvard, IMT Lucca, Princeton, Zurich, Paris School of Economics, the 8th Workshop on Media Economics, and NBER Summer Institute Political Economics meeting for useful comments.  Stefano DellaVigna is from the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Ruben Enikolopov and Maria Petrova are from the New Economic School, Moscow. Vera Mironova is from the Department of Political Science, University of Maryland. Ekaterina Zhuravskaya is from Paris School of Economics (EHESS) and the New Economic School. Corresponding author: Maria Petrova, New Economic School, Office 1721, Nakhimovsky pr. 47, Moscow Russia. E-mail: [email protected] 1. Introduction A number of recent papers suggest that media outlets have substantial persuasion power over their audiences. They affect political views and behavior both in times of peace (e.g., Strömberg 2004; Gentzkow 2006; DellaVigna and Kaplan 2007; Gerber, Karlan, and Bergan 2009; Snyder and Strömberg 2010; Knight and Chiang forthcoming; Enikolopov, Petrova, and Zhuravskaya forthcoming) and in times of conflict (e.g., Lasswell 1971; Childs 1972; Wolfsfeld 1997; Snyder 2000; Yanagizawa 2009). In these cases, persuasion occurs as media broadcasts reach their intended audience. Do media broadcasts have a similar effect when they reach an audience they did not target? An important instance of unintended media audiences occurs near country borders, as the audience on one side of the border receives the media intended for the other side. The unintended cross-border media effect may be particularly important between countries recently involved in conflict. On the one hand, the exposure to media content of a former enemy may trigger nationalistic sentiment, making future conflict more likely. On the other hand, exposure to media of the former enemy intended for internal consumption may reduce informational asymmetries and alleviate ethnic tensions. It is also possible, that the cross-border impact of media is negligible, particularly if people mostly listen to media outlets that support their own views (Sunstein, 2001; Durante and Knight, forthcoming). Clarifying how media affects nationalistic feelings is relevant for our understanding of conflict and of the impact of the media. This paper examines the impact of cross-border media exposure on nationalistic behavior in the context of one of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since WWII, namely, the Serbo-Croatian conflict in the 1991-95 Yugoslavian wars. The region of Croatia near the Serbian-Croatian border (officially called Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem) was place of a full-scale armed conflict between Serbs and Croats in 1991 and was under Serbian occupation till 1995. The military operations of the Serbian-Croatian conflict ended in 1995 and Slobodan Milošević—the former president of Serbia—was overthrown in 2000 and handed to the Hague International Criminal Tribunal. Still, the public media in Serbia continues to promote Serbian nationalism. In particular, public radio stations (i.e., radios of the Radio-Television of Serbia group, RTS, also known as Serbian Broadcasting Corporation) operate with the official mission to strengthen Serbian national identity (IREX 2010). The Serb-Croat case is a nearly ideal setting to study cross-border effects of media.2 The signal of Serbian public radio intended for internal consumption of Serbs inside Serbia reaches several, but not all, villages in this region of Croatia. As Serbs and Croats speak the same language, despite using different alphabets, Croats can fully understand Serbian radio.1 We are able to narrow down the analysis of cross-border effects of media to radio content for two reasons. First, radio is the primary media source in this area. Second, due to different alphabets, a significant part of the press and even television, which often broadcasts foreign programs with subtitles, do not travel as easily across border. We use detailed village-level information on media reception, voting, and other nationalistic behavior to answer two key questions: Do Croats actually listen to Serbian radio when it is available? If so, does Serbian radio have any effect on their political views and attitudes towards Serbs? Using a street survey of residents of Croatian villages located close to the Serbian border, we find that the answer to the first question is positive. In


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