Media freedom activists meeting in the Baltic city of Riga in Latvia, ahead of UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebrations scheduled for May 3, were unanimous in hailing what has become known as a media-friendly ‘Sustainable Development Goal 16’ proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group to promote peace, justice, accountability and inclusiveness.
This came to light on May 2 during a roundtable addressed by UNESCO, Article 19 and the Global Forum for Media Development.
Speaking on behalf of UNESCO, Fackson Banda, a programme specialist based at the UN agency’s Paris headquarters, explained that UNESCO’s mandate included ensuring the ‘normative soundness’ of the goal, adding that there were already established international agreements which reflected ‘an internationally recognized and shared framework’ for realizing the projected target of SDG 16.
Banda said: ‘Goal 16, which broadly focuses on governance, includes a two-tier target on ensuring public access to information and promoting fundamental freedoms in an equally two-tier context of national legislation and international agreements’.
This point was echoed by various other speakers, including Bill Orme, who spoke as a UN representative on behalf of the GFMD – a civil society organization that represents over 200 members.
He outlined the process leading up to the proposition of the goal, expressing optimism that the UN General Assembly was on track to confirm it as one of the seventeen such goals which will replace the present Millennium Development Goals in September.
Barbora Bukovska, representing Article 19, emphasized her organisation’s commitment to continuing its advocacy for the retention of the issue of public access to information in the ongoing negotiations for SDGs.
Several participants agreed with the panelists, and called for the intensification of the campaign, both at national and international levels, to ensure that Goal 16 did not fall off the agendas of the UN Member States.
Discussions of the SDGs have now moved into a technical phase of elaborating indicators to measure the different targets suggested for the proposed goals. Indicators being proposed for Goal 16 include the presence and implementation of legal, constitutional or policy guarantees for access to information, alongside the issue of the safety of journalists.
The UN Statistical Commission, composed of national statistical offices, is leading this process, with an expert group set up to provide the more ‘technical’ advice. UN agencies, including UNESCO through its Institute for Statistics (UIS), will serve as observers.
Other participants at the roundtable included the BBC Media Action, Center for International Media Assistance, Media Rights Nigeria, Internews, International Media Support, among several others.