UNESCO promotes freedom of expression indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals

A side-event at the UN Security Council on Wednesday heard the case for indicators that could support emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, quoted the Riga Declaration adopted at the World Press Freedom Day 2015 conference that was co-hosted by UNESCO and Latvia.

The Declaration affirmed that “The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity are directly relevant to implementing the proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16, particularly the targets on fundamental freedoms, access to information and the rule of law.”

Berger spelled out how progress on achieving the draft SDG 16.10 could be tracked over the next 15 years.

The target of 16.10 is to ‘ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements’. 

These two interdependent aspects relate closely to the freedom to seek and receive, as well as impart, information, which overall constitutes the right to freedom of expression.

The UN Statistical Commission is currently consulting further on draft indicators for the SDG targets. In response, UNESCO, working with UNESCO Institute for Statistics, is proposing wording that could produce feasible, suitable and relevant.

The proposed indicators are:

1)     Number of countries that have adopted and implemented constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information  

Berger pointed out that UNESCO was already monitoring progress in this area, and it made sense now to contextualize the relevance of the data in regard to public access to information.

2)     Number of countries promoting fundamental freedoms through ensuring the protection of journalists and combatting impunity for attacks on them  

This proposed indicator could rely on the existing regular reports by UNESCO on the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, formally incorporating this information into the SDGs monitoring framework,

Berger said: “There is a natural synergy between data already being collected by the Organization and the targets within Goal 16. It would be a missed opportunity to not formally connect the two.”

While the proposed indicators did not measure every possible aspect of the Target 16.10, they did focus attention on core components and in a mandated and do-able manner, he added.

“We believe this could be a significant step towards mainstreaming safety of journalists, and in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

“In this way, public awareness will be raised; coalitions will be strengthened and widened; resources will be mobilized, and the other SDG targets will be supported.”