Why Migrate When You Have TV?

There is little doubt that media dominates modern life. But is media’s influence so great that it affects where we decide to live? Lidia Farré and Francisco Fasani seek to answer this question in their September 2011 paper, “Media Exposure and Internal Migration –Evidence from Indonesia.” The report, part of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics Working Paper Series, analyzes internal immigration patterns in Indonesia along with varying levels of television exposure. It finds that increased exposure to television reduces internal migration.

Indonesia has a population of over 230 million people spread throughout 5,000 kilometers and 17,000 islands. Internal migration is more common than international migration: approximately 10 percent of Indonesians do not live in the province where they were born, while only 1.5 percent of the population lives abroad. Farré and Fasani analyze population data from the Rand Corporation’s longitudinal Indonesian Family Life Survey and find that Indonesians who migrate internally do so to find better opportunities. The authors argue that increased media exposure provides potential migrants more accurate information about the areas to which they seek to move, and tends to dissuade some from migrating.

From 1962 to 1986, Indonesia had only one state-run television channel under the direct control of then-president Suharto. However, in 1986 the government’s Open Sky Policy permitted the establishment of private television channels. Today, Indonesia has eleven channels, ten of which are privately owned. However, the varied topography of the country means that access to television fluctuates widely.

Farré and Fasani examine this topographical variation to study how increased exposure to television affects internal migration. They find that the average Indonesian aged 16 to 45 had exposure to 1.23 private channels at age 12, and has exposure to 6.2 channels currently. The authors conclude that exposure to each private channel at age 12 decreased an Indonesian’s chance of migrating by 2.2 to 2.3 percent, and that current exposure to each private channel decreases the chance of migrating by 0.7 to 1.2 percent.

Farré and Fasani argue that this link exists because increased media exposure informs potential migrants about the realistic benefits and costs of relocation. They also find that Indonesians who have less exposure to television are more likely to list themselves amongst the poorest of society. The authors postulate that people who feel poorer are more likely to try to better their circumstances through migration.

Farré and Fasani acknowledge some potential limitations to their survey. Other variables may affect the decision to migrate, such as proximity to metropolitan areas or what channels people choose to watch. Despite these potential limitations, Farré and Fasani assert that there is compelling evidence that media exposure reduces internal migration in Indonesia. Perhaps, they reckon, one might be able to find similar patterns in China, India, or other large countries whose populations have varied access to media.

Claire Pritchard
Claire Pritchard is a 2013 MPP graduate of the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in law and justice policy.

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