This report uses the INSPIRES data to investigate the association between protests and the passage of laws bearing on civic space. The relationship between protest and legal changes has important policy and academic implications. Practitioners often face decisions about whether to support protest movements in support of legal openings, as well as whether to support movements protesting against legal closures. Previous research provides competing findings on the relationship between protests and legal restrictions on free assembly and civic space. That work, however, has been hamstrung by poor data on both protests and the timing and characteristics of laws bearing on civic space.
Getting an accurate picture of any country’s civic space is difficult. While many analysts rely on the international news, the vast majority of news coverage on any given country is the news media in that country. The INSPIRES Machine Learning for Peace team has spent enormous time ensuring it is extracting as much news as possible from national sources. But what are the returns to all that effort?
A key feature of the global wave of democratic backsliding is that aspiring autocrats seek to influence the media through legal restrictions. We develop an original argument linking media characteristics to the regulatory environment and test it using a huge corpus of electronic media in Tanzania. We employ two state-of-the-art machine learning models to classify the topics and sentiment of news stories and exploit a significant legal change that targeted media houses. We find that critical news sources censor the tone of their articles but continue to cover the same topics; we also find that international news sources do not fill the hole left by a critical domestic press. The paper sheds light on the conditions under which the press can be resilient in the face of legal threats.
To limit oversight by civil society, governments often repress NGOs. However, quantitative research has yet to investigate how restricted civic space impacts the behavior of NGOs operating in diverse sectors. Surveying employees from 106 NGOs in Cambodia, we employ a conjoint experiment to identify how the prevalence of repression affects NGOs’ pursuit of funding via grant applications. We find that although increases in the perceived prevalence of harassment has a stronger deterrent effect on advocacy work, harassment also deters NGOs focused on service delivery. Our results suggest that local officials target both advocacy and service delivery NGOs, but for different reasons.
Government efforts to restrict civic space have increased dramatically, especially in aid-receiving countries. How do donors respond to these attacks, and do their responses vary according to how they prioritize support for advocacy work? We investigate these questions using dyadic data on aid flows, original global data tracking restrictive NGOs laws, and a variety of research designs. We find strong evidence that advocacy-oriented donors back down by disproportionately decreasing support for advocacy as it becomes more difficult to work with local partners. The findings advance our understanding of the costs and benefits aid-receiving countries face when engaging in democratic backsliding.