Data Visualization Project: Freedom of the Press in Latin America in 2017 

Freedom of the press is a highly controversial issue. Globally speaking, every year, journalists are killed, censored or imprisoned because of their efforts to unmask corruption or illicit practices to shed a light on society. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), between 1992 and 2019, 1338 journalists across the globe have been killed because of their work. There are only a handful of countries, (mostly in Europe) where freedom of expression is fully practiced. In many others,  while this freedom is recognized in their constitutions and supported by the United Nations, it is constantly violated in practice.

In regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean, where the majority of the countries are developing, freedom of expression has been constantly threatened. Conflicts among governments and journalists have provoked that in many cases journalists decide to stop reporting to protect their lives and the lives of their families, or fly seeking for political asylum after being banned, censored or even kidnapped. According to FundaMedios, an organization that monitors threats to freedom of expression, in Ecuador, there were over 2000 aggressions towards the press, including stigmatization, harassment, trials, over the last decade. Similarly, according to CPJ, in 2017, Venezuela was jailing the most journalists in the Americas. 

But besides the human and personal repercussions towards reporters, I wonder what other nation-scale consequences in terms of the political economy of a country the suppression of  free press can provoke? What is the relationship between media/freedom of the press and the human development of a country, its political stability, democratic enterprises and peace? 

For this data visualization project, I decided to approach data about the global press freedom along with the human development index, democracy index, and peace and political stability data with the intuition that freedom of the press has an impact in the economic conditions and development  of a country, and vice versa. 


I have the hypothesis that freedom of the press is critical not only to maintain the ideals of liberty, and democracy of a country, but it leads to economic growth, and development. In other words, the freer the press is, the the greater the chances of economic and human development of the nation will be. The more freedom the press enjoys, the more likely journalists are to uncover corruption and inform the public about bad policies and guarantee democracy. 

The information about democracy enterprises was obtained from The Democracy Index Data set created by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s, and is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. They recognize Uruguay, as the only full democracy in the Latin American region. They also find Chile and Costa Rica as highly developed democracies. 

The human development index(HDI) approach is focuses on the expansion of richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy. It is an approach that is focused on people and their opportunities and choices. This study was made by The United Nations Development program.  


The Global Peace and Political Stability Index are annually measured by the Institute of Economics & Peace. These reports presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to-date on trends in peace, its economic value, and how to develop peaceful societies.

According to the Press Freedom House 2017 report, only 3 countries in Latin America  (Chile, (29) Uruguay, (24) and Costa Rica, (16), have the greatest freedom of the press in the region, or are free, in contrast to other countries such as Colombia (47), Brazil (57), Bolivia (43), that were ranked as “Partly Free”, or even countries like Ecuador (66),  Mexico (64), and Venezuela (81), considered as “Not Free” at all. 

After narrowing this global list down, and selecting only the Latin American countries, I researched the Human Development Index, Democracy, Peace and Political Instability Global Rankings for 2017. From there I again took data of Latin American countries only, of each and every list, and compared their global ranks. Surprisingly, in each of those lists, these three countries Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay occupy higher positions than the rest of Latin American and Caribbean countries, and in fact, these are the only Latin American countries that appear on high ranks on every list. 

Using CARTO, I represented this analysis on a map. A specific color represents the country status in terms of Freedom of the Press. There, only Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile have a green color representing they are totally free. Also, every country has their global scores shown when clicking it. For instance, if we click Uruguay, we will see it has a HDI global rank of ( 55), and a Peace Global Score of (35), compared to Venezuela, that in 2017 had a HDI global rank of (78) and a Peace Global Score of (143).
If we compare these three countries with every other country whose status is Partly Free or Not free, they will always have a better score. This lead me to think that freedom of expression is directly correlated to the economic, human development, peace and political stability of a country. 


Now, from a political economy perspective, I also wonder if press freedom in these free and not free countries is affected by or has any relationship with media ownership structures and media concentration?  

After researching, I found that “media concentration remains a critical challenge for democracy in Latin America”. According to the “Americas Quarterly Journal, the leading media corporations are usually owned by powerful families and industrial corporations. Privately-owned media may also serve the political interests of their proprietors, while in some countries the political parties themselves may own significant media outlets.


For example, Argentina’s media landscape is highly concentrated. Grupo Clarin is still dominating the national media market. They have the biggest concentration of the print, broadcast, and internet service markets, followed by Grupo La Nacion. This country has a highly polarized media climate. Similarly, Mexico, has one of the most concentrated audiovisual and telecommunication markets in the world. The telecom sector is dominated by Carlos Slim. Broadcasting is controlled by Televisa. And the newspaper sector is substantially led by OEM. Concentration indicators have either stabilized or increased since 2000. Finally, in Colombia, legacy media properties, as well as the majority of advertising expenditures, are controlled by a small number of companies. In Colombia, Caracol TV and RCN TV attract over 60 percent of television advertising. Evidently, the Latin American model of commercial broadcasting consists of privately owned, commercially-financed media with a small number of people controlling a significant market in these countries.  


However, surprisingly, this situation is not exactly the the same in Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, the only free countries of the region and this also coincides with their economic success during the last few years. 


According to, Guillermo Mastrini & Martín Becerra, “Chile exhibits the most stable economic environment during the last two decades in the region, coinciding with the return to democracy”.

Indeed, since the 1990s there has been a process of liberalization and privatization of the information communications sector. The heavy concentration that existed in the Chilean press has begun to expand to other sectors. Even though there is media concentration, it should be noted that media conglomerates in Chile are not as large as those in Argentina or Mexico. 


In the same way, Uruguay was considered for many years as the Switzerland of South America due to its economy. The media system has heavy penetration in the Uruguayan society, but the small size of its market prevents large-scale economic development. It is highly dependent on the content produced in neighboring countries: Argentina and Brazil. Although media is highly concentrated in Uruguay, there are not any observable large groups of communication. Finally, Costa Rica is a nation that boasts a long history of democracy, no army, and relatively peaceful political development. Although private media ownership is concentrated, and tends to be politically conservative, Costa Rica has a vibrant media scene, with numerous public and private newspapers, television outlets, and radio stations, newspapers, and cable television widely available for news dissemination. 


After analyzing all these facts, I can conclude that freedom of the press is directly correlated to economic growth, human development, democracy, peace and a political stability of a country. In addition, there’s a correlation between ownership structures and press freedom. Media concentration affects the freedom of expression of a country. The more concentration, the less press pluralism and freedom. The freedom of the press is what allows us to verify the existence of all other freedoms. Without freedom of expression, there is no human, cultural and economic development. Freedom of information is the foundation of any democracy.






Democracy Index in Latin America & the Caribbean 2017