Censoring the Press: A Barometer of Government Tolerance for Anti-regime Dissent under Authoritarian Rule

Elizabeth Ann Stein


This paper proposes that dissident leaders aiming to build mass opposition movements follow the mainstream press to help them gauge government tolerance for anti-government mass actions in repressive authoritarian regimes. Under conditions of censorship, media–state interactions serve as a barometer of the government’s disposition toward and capacity to impede public displays of dissent. Observing trends in coverage and the government’s reaction to this coverage helps activist leaders assess when it should be safest to plan anti-government mass actions, such as demonstrations, marches, or strikes. Using original data derived from coding content from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo over the period of 1974–1982, I test whether opposition mass actions followed trends in taboo content and government treatment of the press during the period of political liberalization of Brazil’s military regime.

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