Freedom of expression and access to information included as draft UN development goals

An international coalition of more than 200 organisations welcomes the inclusion of targets for capable institutions, media freedom, and access to information by the United Nations member states now participating in the post-2015 development agenda dialogue.

The inclusion of targets on freedom of expression and access to information will help build stronger media and civil society institutions to closely and independently monitor all post-2015 development commitments.

The Open Working Group proposed on June 2, 2014, that the Sustainable Development Goal No. 16 to “achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law, effective and capable institutions” include sub-goals to “improve public access to information and government data” and “promote freedom of media, association and speech.”

UNESCO and the Global Forum for Media Development convened representatives of this coalition to consider how to strengthen these welcome initiatives and submit for the consideration of member states proposed language and indicators for the text now being discussed by the Open Working Group.

Our proposal is consistent with the criteria that are guiding the efforts to reach consensus on the post-2015 global development agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals. We urge the continued inclusion of sub-goals 16.14 and 16.17, and we propose below several specific, measurable indicators to achieve these objectives by 2030.

UN Precedents:

  • Even before the signing of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring freedom of expression “a fundamental human right…and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.”
  • In 1976, after a sufficient number of nations had ratified these instruments and associated covenants, these global commitments took on the force of international law, as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Measured and Measurable:

  • UNESCO has been formally vested with the mandate for monitoring international commitments in this field. Many countries have adopted the UNESCO Media Development Indicators as a tool for measuring progress towards effective media systems at the country level.
  • ITU provides data on Internet use and access.
  • IPU tracks legislative and constitutional guarantees of public access to public information.
  • UNHCHR reports on violations of media freedom.

The assembled coalition proposes that UNESCO, as the UN agency mandated to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media, take the lead role in monitoring progress toward the achievement of these goals. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics should play an advisory role in the collection of relevant data. A UN process should help build national capacities to gather data and promote dialogue on freedom of expression and public access to information.