GFMD co-organised sessions at the 65th DPI NGO and Highway Africa. Report from Patrick Leusch

16.09.14

If the concept of the future global development goals remains as it is, freedom of expression will be barely targeted and independent media will not be mentioned at all. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) are being currently proposed to replace the Millennium Development Goals which expire at the end of 2015. Goal 16 urges the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and calls for all countries to provide access to justice for everyone and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. However abstract this seems, the most impressive novelty is how global development is being regarded. It considers good governance, transparency and participation in decision-making processes to be vital for achieving sustainable development in any given field.

At the end of August 2014 the UN Department for Public Information, UNDPI, invited 3000 delegates to its 65th NGO Conference. The meeting in New York came at a decisive moment because the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is preparing the so-called Synthesis Report for the Post 2015 SDGs. The report will be presented to the members states at the UN General Assembly at the end of November and will be the kick-off for the final one-year negotiation process for UN member states to agree on a new global development framework.

Even though the thinking behind Goal 16 takes into account fundamental factors which have prevented the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the factors which could hold power to account remain weakly addressed. The sub-goal 16.10 on effective institutions only refers to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” To continue in the logic of Goal 16, public access to relevant information, the protection of independent investigative media, the provision of wide access to information via the Internet, and a guarantee of freedom of expression are decisive factors for good governance and a precondition for any development.

The UN DPI/NGO Conference aspired to agree on a declaration stating the position of Civil Society towards the current proposal for the SDGs. The declaration, drafted in expert working groups and discussed publicly, flows into the consultation process of the UN with a wide range of stakeholders. At the conference, DW Akademie, Freedom House, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the GFMD organized a workshop together to discuss Media’s Role in Good Governance and Citizen-led Development.

“Access to information is vital to fight poverty,” said Pakistani journalist and blogger Raza Rumi. “Most development issues are very local issues, like, is there a doctor on call in the hospital or where are road blockages or food shortages?” The Right to Information Act, signed by the Pakistani Government in 2001, is extremely important, says Rumi. Furthermore, NGO representatives clearly stated that independent media and access to official information is a crucial factor for civil society to hold power to account.

The declaration issued to UN Secretary General Moon, and to which DW Akademie and the GFMD contributed in an expert working group, finally claimed for a goal saying, “Implement effective regimes for access to information and data, and ensure that legal and regulatory frameworks are in place to guarantee that freedom of media, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly is protected.” This formulation goes far beyond the current Goal 16.10, which, in the up-coming member states negotiations, is unlikely to be strengthened. “Media is the red line for many countries that are at least willing to accept that they need to improve their governance performance,” says Quinn McKew, Deputy Director at Article 19. If there is any support for strong human rights aspects in the current proposal, it comes mainly from western countries and a few of the Global South countries such as Indonesia, Ghana and Brazil. “The silence from the Global South is telling,” says Rob Mahoney, Deputy Director of CPJ. He says the importance of independent media and freedom of expression is unfortunately not debated publicly but the claim must come from those concerned, Mahoney says.

This is common sense both in the media development and freedom of expression activist communities. Launching a public debate among media makers and professional organizations at the least is the key. The Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) developed a toolkit available on their website to help local and regional organizations promote access to information and freedom of expression in their respective countries. DW Akademie, with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, organized a briefing on the role of media in the Post 2015 process at the occasion of the Highway Africa Conference. This conference took place only a few days after the UN-NGO conference and was held at the Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Highway Africa is the most important get-together of media practitioners and academics in Africa, and especially for online and digital media makers.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard about the whole thing”, said a journalist from Botswana during the briefing; this provided a detailed account of the SDG talks and processes, and the efforts set a substantial goal for freedom of expression. More meetings and conferences will be held in the upcoming months said GFMD’s steering committee member Jeanette Minnie, representing the African Chapter.

When he presents his Synthesis Report (of the report by the Open Working Group) to the UN General Assembly by the end of September it will be clear as to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has taken from the various proposals and inputs provided by all types of stakeholders. This report will then undergo complicated negotiations in which at least all UN member states will have a say. All forms of interest must be taken into consideration among the variety of goals that will be addressed to ensure global development. All goals and targets related to political aspects and so called “internal affairs” such as democracy, governance, peace, security and human rights, and particularly freedom of expression, are definitely not championed by many countries in the Global South, and nor from emerging countries.

Hence, decisive for the achievement of the next round of global development goals is that they will only stay on the agenda if those concerned stand up for them and an open debate is launched.