UNESCO convenes experts to advance monitoring and reporting on access to information

12 September 2018

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Experts and concerned organizations convened last week at UNESCO to strengthen monitoring and reporting on public access to information
© UNESCO

A group of experts met on Monday, 3 September 2018, to mobilise expertise and exchange ideas around strengthening monitoring and reporting on public access to information, within the context of global monitoring on progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Organised by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), the consultation meeting gathered expert inputs, notably on a set of monitoring tools being explored by UNESCO for possible use in data-gathering about SDG indicator 16.10.2 on access to information.

The Indicator 16.10.2 looks into “number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information”. This contributes to target 16.10 which ensures public access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

“This target is seen by UNESCO not only as part of the package of developmental aspirations, but also as an enabling condition for the rest of Goal 16, and indeed a strong facilitator of progress in other SDGs,” said Guy Berger, UNESCO’s Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.   

UNESCO, as the custodian agency for indicator 16.10.2, initially proposed a set of monitoring tools referred to as “lite” and “elaborated” templates, which can assist Member States in tracking progress on their commitments to guarantee public access to information. For UNESCO, the data collected for 16.10.2 is significant in mapping global progress towards SDG 16 and therefore fulfilling its mandate as Custodian agency on indicator 16.10.2.

During the consultation, experts suggested to put more emphasize on the aspect of “proactive disclosure” and to expand the envisaged “lite” version. Toby Mendel, Executive Director of Centre for Law and Democracy, proposed that the tool could include a list of core SDG areas about which Member States should disclose information, for example in the health and education fields.

The need for institutional frameworks and baselines for measuring goals was reiterated by David Banisar, Senior Legal Counsel of Article 19, who said that while progress was positive, with 30 countries adopting Freedom of Information Laws since the SDGs were adopted, giving a total of 118 countries with FOI laws, very few so far had mentioned access to information in their reports to the UN on progress of Goal 16.

The draft templates will now be enriched with the suggestions and inputs provided by the experts, and the process reported to the 31st Session of IPDC Intergovernmental Council Meeting in November 2018, where 39 Member States and other stakeholders will gather to discuss the issue of public access of information and agree on concrete follow-up action.

The UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will take place in 2019 to review Member States’ progress on Goal 16. The meeting on 3 September, which was attended by concerned organizations such as OECD, Open Government Partnership, GIZ, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and UNDP, agreed that developing a set of indicators that could be used to monitor progress on Goal 16 prior to the HLPF in 2019 would be an important step forward.

UNESCO is the lead UN agency for reporting progress of SDG 16.10.2, and a contributing agency to 16.10.1 on the safety of journalists. The IPDC is a multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries.