4-10 July 2014 #714

Media matters for development

An independent watchdog is needed to monitor progress on post-2015 goals
Damakant Jayshi
The United Nations member states are now participating in the post-2015 development agenda dialogue. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are to be achieved by 2030 are set to supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September 2015.

Some MDGs have fared better than others, and results have differed from country to country. In Nepal’s case, we have registered dramatic progress in reducing maternal and child mortality rates and have been hailed as a role model among least-developed countries. This is the result of joint efforts of the local communities, the government, UN agencies, I/NGOs and donors. The media’s role was no less important.

When the media points out weaknesses in a program or reports on bungled-up or incompetent implementation of development projects, it actually helps in improvement. A number of organisations and government officials see the value in independent media’s work and support it. In the absence of this watchdog role, it would be difficult to get a holistic picture of a country’s interlinked challenges. A general or investigative piece about how projects, goals and initiatives are faring is necessary to keep stakeholders on their toes.

Transparency, accountability, access to justice and good governance are not just noble abstracts but are rights of citizens. They get frequent mentions in manifestos of political parties before the elections and in annual government programs. That they do not just remain on paper is one of the responsibilities of a free media.

Developing countries should therefore take SDG #16, which speaks about freedom of the media, no less seriously than others. Rather, they should go beyond currently proposed measures.

The Global Forum for Media Development (Full disclosure: I am a  Steering Committee member of this network) has welcomed inclusion of targets for capable institutions, media freedom, and access to information by governments.  GFMD believes the inclusion of targets on freedom of expression and access to information would help build stronger media and civil society institutions to closely and independently monitor all post-2015 development commitments.

The Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly proposed last month that SDG #16 (‘Achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law, effective and capable institutions’) should include sub-goals to ‘improve public access to information and government data and promote freedom of media, association and speech’.

Public access to information and government data is a vital element of a functioning democracy. The world over, we have seen that if there is an attempt to deny access to information, people try to find ingenious ways to get it. At times, it could lead to dangerous misinformation which is counter-productive, especially in today’s digital age.

The same is true for freedom of media, freedom of association and freedom of speech. Independent media and freedom of speech are under increasing attack in many countries. Some South Asian countries, which even a decade ago could claim to have fiercely critical, credible and free media, can no longer do so.

One way to redeem themselves is to support efforts to ensure inclusion of free media, freedom of speech and access to information in the SDGs. Nepal should join those nations that are working towards this end.

There’s a very broad consensus among the UN member states on goal number one of the SDGs: Poverty eradication, building shared prosperity and promoting equality. It aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. With inequality rising, for example in India and China, an independent watchdog is needed to monitor progress. That watchdog is the media.

Implementation of the new goals would hinge on independent media monitoring globally and within countries. As the agency mandated to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media, UNESCO could take a lead role in monitoring progress toward the achievement of these goals. Its work with press freedom and access to information makes it the right agency.

We know that media matters not just to ensure a robust democracy, but also to foster the peoples’ participation necessary for development.


Read also:

Move over, MDGs. Here come the SDGs

MDG The Next 1000 Days, Joe Hitchon

Muzzling the media, Damakant Jayshi

Just free, Editorial

Maiming the messenger, Anurag Acharya

Governance with a human face, Kul Chandra Gautam

Weak states, strong societies, Daniel Nelson

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