Building peace in the minds of men and women

Why independent media matter for the SDGs

11 February 2019

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an excellent entry point into media development, UNESCO’s Guy Berger told a meeting at the OECD recently.

He was addressing a meeting on 31 January titled “Confronting the crisis in independent media: strategic approaches for international donors”. It was convened by Swedish donor agency SIDA and the Centre for International Media Assistance based in the USA.

The UNESCO director for freedom of expression and media development highlighted how the 2030 development agenda underlined the importance of partnerships in SDG 17 and the importance of access to information and fundamental freedoms in SDG 16.

These two goals pointed donors to ways they could help deal with the sustainability of independent media, which is a sector facing unprecedented attacks as well as major business problems.

“SDG 16.10 on public access to information and fundamental freedoms cannot be achieved without independent media which can help in achieving all SDGs - whether gender equality, climate change eliminating poverty, reducing inequalities, and sustainable cities,” noted Berger. He referenced a discussion paper on this subject produced jointly by UNDP and UNESCO.

“In the spirit of SDG 17, coalitions, especially with internet-related issues, are crucial for media development because multi-stakeholder actors bring different propositions to the cause,” said Berger. Amongst actors like the media, journalism schools and civil society, a big contribution to media development can be made by foundations, governments and intergovernmental organizations like UNESCO, he added.

Berger said that the imperative of media development needed action at two levels: first, building independent media institutions as the foundation for journalism; and second, creating an enabling environment for such media through putting in place appropriate law, economic policy and technology.

“We have to get it right with these two – both the media institutions and media environment - if we want to have journalism play its role for democracy and sustainable development.”

In current times, argued Berger citing a recent UNESCO publication, journalism is especially important as:

  • A truth-seeking alternative to disinformation and misinformation, because its professional verification standards can debunk lies and fabrications;
  • A vehicle for exposing the weaponization of information and investigating its orchestration and financing.
  • A watchdog to highlight the roles of Internet companies which mediate communications in regard to search, social media and social messaging.   

“The supply of journalism through strong media institutions and a truly enabling environment needs to be supported more than ever,” said Berger.

The UNESCO director also urged international donors to give attention to the “demand side”, referring to the audiences who consume, share and comment on the news. “Unless these people are empowered to be active agents, they risk being passively manipulated by communications,” said Berger.

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is UNESCO’s antidote to such manipulation, he stated. “These competencies are essential if people are to recognise journalism, and distinguish it from advertising, propaganda, and gossip.

“With MIL, the public can demand, cherish and support journalism as a reliable resource for individual and group decision-making as we strive for sustainable development,” he concluded.