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Free media is an integral part of sustainable development, argues UNESCO

The impact of free and independent media is empirically testable, supports inclusive governance and upholds the normative mandate of the United Nations system, argues a discussion brief released by UNESCO in which the Organization sets out its vision of how free media can be treated as an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Unveiled during the 58th bureau meeting of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), the report attempts to clarify what UNESCO sees as an opportunity for the international community to make explicit the connection between free, independent and pluralistic media and sustainable development.

The brief was referenced in an update on the status of the IPDC-endorsed Knowledge-Driven Media Development initiative presented by Fackson Banda, a programme specialist in UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

The presentation highlighted the fact that the IPDC had collected enough data from its media development project implementation to enable Member States make an informed judgment on how effective independent media could be in supporting their development objectives.

The brief outlines three key arguments as to how this case can be made. These include the fact that there is enough empirical evidence to suggest that free media can impact positively on sustainable development. Another argument is that any support for free media as an integral part of democracy and development is indicative of good governance – an issue that the report stresses the UN Open Working Group has consistently referred to in its reports.

The final argument is centred on the idea that supporting free media actually lives up to the core normative mandate of the UN system -- as agreed to by many Member States.

The Bureau meeting, held from 20 to 21 March 2014 at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, also heard how the Organization was positioning itself to generate knowledge that could be used to enhance media support globally and thus continue to contribute towards building a coherent evidence base for the media’s role in different facets of sustainable development.

The Bureau members were presented with an analytical report based on the IPDC implementation reports prepared by the Programme’s over 200 grantees. The report – a key part of UNESCO’s contribution to the media-development debate – covered several issues, including the need for a clearer understanding of the cultural and institutional context of IPDC project implementation.

In welcoming the update on the status of the initiative, Bureau members noted that UNESCO was best placed to offer evidence-based insights into the relationship between media development and sustainable development.