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Can Secular Media Create Religious Backlash? Evidence From Pakistan’s Media Liberalization- Working Paper

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Islamic countries have increasingly been exposed to western culture, through the liberalization of their media markets and rise of transnational media networks. What is the consequence of this exposure on cultural and religious behavior, given potential clashes between western norms and traditional Islamic norms? We study this question in the context of Pakistan’s dramatic 2002 media liberalization, which transitioned its media landscape from one government-owned radio station broadcasting culturally conservative content originating from Pakistan, to hundreds of private radio stations broadcasting culturally liberal content from the U.S., Europe and other countries around the world. Our empirical analysis employs a spatial discontinuity design, leveraging a unique radio licensing regulation that restricted private radio stations from broadcasting more than 50 km from their towers. Using fine grained data from polling stations and villages, we find that people living just inside the 50 km boundary were more likely to vote for religious parties and more likely to enroll their children in religious Madrasas, relative to people living just outside of the boundary. Our findings suggest that the inux of liberal, western cultural norms provoked backlash, resulting in greater support for culturally conservative institutions.

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