Paper 5 Monitoring Access to Information in the SDGs: Indicators, Issues and Practical Solutions

Paper 5

Monitoring Access to Information in the SDGs: Indicators, Issues and Practical Solutions

Bill Orme

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.  – Article 19, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In August 2014, after 18 months of negotiations, the General Assemblyâ70 nation Open Working Group (OWG) on the post-2015 agenda recommended the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The group’s proposed Goal 16 calls on all UN member states to: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. That draft goal incorporates 10 separate SDG16 targets, ranging from reductions in criminal and political violence to anticorruption measures to a commitment to responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

The last of those recommended Goal 16 targets – Target 10 states that all countries should ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

In the entire set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets proposed by the Open Working Group, draft Target 10 of draft Goal 16 is the sole provision that would explicitly require UN members to provide the information that would show if the new global goals are on track to being met or not.

The inclusion of a clear access to information commitment in the SDGs has been consistently supported by civil society participants in post-2015 consultations as well as by the UN’s expert advisors on the new global goals, including in the reports of the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons and Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. The factual indicators and institutional mechanisms assigned to monitor progress in this SDGs target area will determine its impact on the achievement of all of the goals. Fortuitously, a sound technical and normative framework for UN monitoring of public access to information in the post-2015 agenda is already in place, including:

  • The adoption by a growing majority of UN member states of statutory or constitutional guarantees of public access to information.
  • Data on national per capita internet access, use and costs from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
  • Regular reports and data on media independence and the safety of journalists by UNESCO, in collaboration with other UN agencies.

There is a broad consensus from the many UN post-2015 advisory bodies and consultations that universal public access to development information and analysis will be essential to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals:

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s High-Level Panel on the global development agenda (i) called for a post-2015 transparency revolution, including access to information guarantees. The eminent persons panel – co-chaired by President Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, and then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia said the next set of UN goals should include a pledge by UN member states to ensure “the public’s right to information and access to government data.” It said:

Every person can actively participate in realizing the vision for 2030 to bring about transformational change,” the Panel said in its report. Civil society should play a  central, meaningful role, but this requires space for people to participate in policy and decision-making. This means ensuring people’s right to freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information.

  • The UN’s The Future We Want on-line consultation on post-2015 development goals (ii) has attracted more than five million individual responses to date, from all countries and regions of the globe. Asked to rank 16 global development priorities  a topic list drawn up before but roughly paralleling the GA Working Group’s recommended 17 SDGs – the respondents strongly favored inclusion of a goal on good governance and official accountability. The need for honest and responsive government” ranked fourth among the 16 development priorities in the UN survey, surpassed only by (in order) education, health, and jobs. In the 16-30 age group, it ranked even higher, as the third highest priority, above employment.

Even more striking, participants from countries in the bottom quartile in the UN Human Development Index selected honest and responsive governance as the second highest post-2015 development priority, surpassed only by education. In the scores of online dialogues in this topic area, respondents from all regions and at all income levels urged open disclosure of government actions, decisions, laws, spending, and socioeconomic data, both as a civic responsibility, and as a practical tool to ensure that leaders use public resources honestly and effectively.

  • The Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on the promised Data Revolution for Sustainable Development has called for the post-2015 adoption of international principles on public information which will facilitate openness and information exchange and promote and protect human rights.

In its November 2014 report, A World That Counts, (iii) the Data Advisory Group stated: All data on public matters and/ or funded by public funds, including those data produced by the private sector, should be made public and open by default with narrow exemptions for genuine security or privacy concerns.  The report stressed the importance of the media’s ability to report freely and accurately “on the statistical and scientific evidence available on relevant dimensions of sustainable development and civil society’s crucial role in providing, analyzing, and disseminating public information.

The Advisory Group emphasized that in order for this “data revolution” to succeed, the rights to freedom of expression for media, academia, civil society, official statisticians and members of the public in seeking, disseminating, and discussing this data “should be recognized and protected.” All individuals and institutions engaged in this global effort to provide, collect, curate and analyze data need freedom to operate and protection from recrimination, the IEAG report states.

“Any legal or regulatory mechanisms, or networks or partnerships, set up to mobilize the data revolution for sustainable development should have the protection of human rights as a core part of their activities, specify who is responsible for upholding those rights,  and should support the protection, respect, and fulfillment of human rights,  the report stated.

Selecting and Monitoring Indicators for an SDG Access to Information Target

In February 2014, in an initiative spearheaded by London-based Article 19 and the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), a coalition of some 200 national and international NGOs specialized in freedom of information and media issues sent a joint appeal to the General Assembly’s Post-2015 Open Working Group, stating that (iv):

We believe that freedom of expression and access to independent media is essential to democratic and economic development. Freedom of speech and the media are means to advance human development and are ends in their own right. We, the undersigned, therefore call on the Open Working Group to fully integrate the governance recommendations of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons Report into the proposed Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically in relation to its recommendations to Establish a specific goal to ensure good governance and effective institutionsâ

They called for including as components of this goal a clause to “ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information” and to “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”

In June 2014, as the Open Working Group (OWG) negotiations entered their final phase, the GFMD and UNESCO jointly convened representatives of this civil society coalition to discuss potential statistical indicators and other monitoring processes for an access to information target as proposed by the OWG’s draft Goal 16. A statement to OWG members from GFMD (v) and Article 19 summarizing the results of this consultation emphasized the consensus civil society view:

The inclusion of targets on freedom of expression and access to information will help build stronger media and civil society institutions to closely and independently monitor all post-2015 development commitments.

The coalition strongly endorsed the inclusion in the SDGs of the proposed Goal 16 as it was then drafted, with targets specifically obligating governments to improve public access to information and government data and promote freedom of media, association, and speech. It further proposed that UNESCO, âas the UN agency mandated to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media, take the lead role in monitoring progress” in this area, and urged broad UN support to help build national capacities to gather data and promote dialogue on freedom of expression and public access to information.

The civil society coalition co-organized by the GFMD and Article 19 offered a set of illustrative indicators for freedom of information and media in the SDGs, based on international data sets and normative assessments already used in the UN and elsewhere in the international intergovernmental system (vi).

As the OWG continued with its deliberations, subsequent drafts included specific Goal 16 targets obligating governments to provide public access to information and government data, including on public finance management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans and promote freedom of media, association, and  speech.  However,  these stipulations were removed from the final version of the proposed SDGs endorsed at the Group’s closing session in late July.

The elimination of specific references to freedom of expression or media, and the addition of the phrase stipulating that access-to-information guarantees must be consistent with “national legislation,was interpreted by many civil society activists as an endorsement of the status quo, as most UN member states would contend that they are already providing public access to information however those governments may choose to define access and information. Yet the selection of appropriate indicators for an SDG access-to-information target could remedy those textual gaps. Such indicators are already available. Global data on access to information and independent media is regularly collected and published by specialized UN agencies such as UNESCO and the ITU, including in the statistical indicators for the MDGs.

In contrast to the MDGs, however, the new ‘SDGs are intended to apply to all countries, to North and South alike. And as noted by many countries in the GA Open Working Group debates, there is no nation where the availability and independent evaluation of official information cannot be improved.

Even in the most industrially advanced democracies, with strong legal guarantees of freedom of information and media, governments routinely withhold data and documents that journalists and civil society activists contend should be in the public domain. At the same time, many less developed democracies lack the technical capacity to collect and disseminate comprehensive development data or factual reports about government programs – and even if they could and did, few of their citizens could access or make practical use of that information. Other countries with more advanced technological and documentation capabilities actively limit access to information through restrictions on Internet use and independent media.

How can Access to Information be measured?

By definition, it will be impossible to achieve ambitious global development goals without open access to information about health, education, the environment, human rights and other critical areas – and that in turn requires independent monitoring by media and civil society. As the High-Level Panel of the post-2015 agenda emphasized in its report to the Secretary-General, the rights to information and free speech and media “are ends as well as means in the quest to conclude the unfinished business of the MDGs.

There is no single statistic that can fully measure access to this information. But progress towards a goal of such access is nonetheless measurable.

Such an assessment must of necessity be multidimensional, examining compliance by governments with their affirmative responsibility to provide the public with information that should be in the public domain; the objective ability of ordinary people to get and use that information, electronically and otherwise; and the overall legal and political environment for the open public exchange and analysis and discussion of that information and its implications for national and global development. These are interlocking, mutually reinforcing conditions for ensuring genuine public access to information and necessarily include different kinds of indicators, from the quantifiable to the analytical.

The June 2014 suggestions from the GFMD-Article 19 civil society coalition for illustrative indicators for freedom of information and media in the SDGs reflected this interdisciplinary complexity, yet were based on data sets and normative assessments now used in the UN and broader intergovernmental system. As noted, the coalition further suggested that UNESCO be tasked with coordinating the monitoring of these indicators for the post-2015 agenda.

There are three core categories of available indicators that could be used to monitor progress towards freedom of information in the context of the SDGs

  • Access to information: Constitutional and/or statutory guarantees of public access to public-sector information

Legal requirements for governments to provide public access to official information are widely seen as a minimal and easily verifiable indication of compliance with an access-to-information target in the post-2015 SDGs. Most UN member-states have already adopted such legislation, most during the past decade; many others have proposed laws that are now under consideration.

The international legal agreements and precedents for ensuring the public’s right to information have been cited in many UN forums and documents, including the thorough 2013 report on the subject by the Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (The Right to Truth and the Right to Access Information (vii).

An SDG target of universal public access to information by 2030 is attainable – legally, technologically and economically. It is also completely consistent with the overall aims and spirit of the post-2015 development agenda, as well as with the UN Charter and the UN’s binding human rights treaties.

In September 2014, Paraguay became the 100th UN member-state to adopt statutory guarantees of public access to information. Areas covered by these freedom of information laws typically include but are not limited to public access to information on government budgets and public works projects; official data on public health, education, national demographics and other areas of human development and public services; texts of laws, decrees, court rulings and executive regulations; and records of proceedings and documents from government meetings and other official proceedings, including in legislative bodies and regulatory agencies.

A respected international coalition of academic institutions, philanthropic foundations, and specialized civil society organization collectively monitors the drafting, passage into law and implementation of access-to-information laws (viii). No UN agency or other global intergovernmental organization currently tracks the adoption of such laws; however, as the passage of legislation is a public and factual matter, such a task should not be difficult, practically or politically.

UNESCO, UNDP or another designated UN agency could independently verify the public reporting on such laws by the International Freedom of Information network, including through direct correspondence with the relevant UN member- states or through another authoritative intergovernmental body, such as the International Parliamentary Union.

  • Affordable, effective Internet access: moving to universality

This is not only measurable but is in fact already measured for the Millennium Development Goals, by the ITU (ix). The ITU is an active member of both the UN’s MDGs-monitoring Expert Inter-Agency Group (EIAG) and its Working Group on ‘Monitoring and Indicators’ for the Post- 2015 UN Development Agenda, which is co-chaired by DESA and UNDP. There is broad agreement among UN expert advisors that a target of basic Internet access for all people by 2030 is logistically and economically attainable. Universal Internet access is seen as essential not only for the proposed access- to-information target of draft SDG 16, but for tracking and achieving all the proposed new goals, both nationally and globally.

To be truly accessible in the 21st century, information must be available online to all people, openly and affordably. That applies to all information, both governmental and nongovernmental, including official statistics and other public-sector records; independently reported news; academic research; civil society data and analysis; and the full range of exploration and expression in the arts and sciences. People must also have access to the requisite Internet tools to gather and share and discuss all this information from all these sources if an SDG access to information target is to be meaningful. That is the new baseline for informed civic engagement in the digital age. Internet access is also now essential for public education, public health, environmental protection and individual and national income generation all core components of human development.

Mobile phone penetration and Internet usage data collected and updated annually by the International Telecommunications Union – provides a good statistical proxy for measuring the availability and affordability of public access to online information. The MDGs already include such metrics as the final entries in their own set of indicators, under Goal 8, which track the per capita number of fixed-telephones, mobile phones and Internet users.

Between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of people worldwide with regular Internet access increased eightfold, to more than 40 percent, while the share of people with mobile phones rose from less than 10 percent to an astonishing 95 percent, the ITU reported. Yet those global figures disguise wide national and regional variances, with most less-developed countries falling far below those international medians. Closing that digital divide will require the kinds of additional resources and policy shifts that global development goals are designed to catalyze.

What more to measure in the digital realm? While fixed-line telephone service may no longer be a significant development indicator, broadband and smart phone use and access are likely to remain relevant for many years to come. More important will be data tracking the expansion of fiber-optic cable and high- speed satellite services and per capita online data consumption. As technology continues to evolve, the optimal metrics for measuring online information access will also inevitably change; indicators selected for the SDGs should explicitly authorize and indeed encourage continual innovation in these measurement tools by the ITU and other specialized multilateral agencies.

  • Press freedom and protection of journalists: UNESCO’s role

Press freedom is a precondition for public access to information. Without independent media dissemination and debate and analysis, information from governments and others – including data directly pertinent to the proposed SDGs – would not even reach most people in world, much less be considered both significant and credible.  And that requires a media environment where journalists can operate safely and openly, without fear of legal persecution or physical attack.

The UN recognizes this. In December 2006 the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1738, condemning intentional attacks on journalists, media, and associated personnel, especially but not exclusively in conflict zones (x).

This resolution requires the Secretary-General and others in the UN system to report back regularly to the Security Council on its implementation of this mandate. In November 2013, the UN General Assembly passed a similar resolution, calling on member states and UN bodies to do more to protect the safety of local and international journalists against threats and violence. UNESCO and UNDP have been assigned by the Secretary-General to lead UN agency efforts to provide greater security and legal safeguards and training opportunities for journalists working under threat of targeted attack and armed violence.

All of these UN initiatives and activities provide a basis for UN indicators on freedom of media and information in the context of the post-2015 SDGs.

Several respected international nongovernmental organizations rigorously investigate and document threats against press freedom in all countries, including the many job-related murders and imprisonment of journalists worldwide. Among the most prominent and widely cited are the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists; Reporters sans frontiers of France; and such professional journalism associations as the International Press Institute, the World Association of Newspapers, and the International Federation of Journalists. (xi) Their work by its nature must be carried out independently of governments. Yet their case reports and investigative and classification methodologies are publicly available and widely used as source material in the official reports of UN agencies and other intergovernmental organizations, including UNESCO (xii), as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (xiii); and the World Bank (xiv).

UNESCO’s Measurement and Monitoring Mandates

UNESCO, uniquely in the UN system, has the mandate and capacity to evaluate and synthesize information from all these sources in tracking progress on access to information in the SDGs, building on its current programs and reports on independent media development and on its already established role as a primary data provider for the MDGs. UNESCO’s highly respected Statistics Institute has long been the authoritative source for global and national literacy and school enrollment rates and other education figures; UNESCO is also active in both the MDGs Expert Inter-Agency Group (MDG-EIAG) and the UN Working Group on post-2015 Monitoring and Indicators.

UNESCO research on press freedom and independent media development informs its annual World Press Freedom Day reports and awards as well as the regularly issued statements by UNESCO’s Director-General condemning the deaths of journalists killed in reprisal for doing their jobs. In further recognition of its lead role for the UN system in this area, UNESCO recently organized the first symposium (xv) in recognition of the UN’s newly established International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (GA resolution 68/163).

The UNESCO-IPDC Framework for Media Development Indicators

These UN-endorsed guidelines (xvi) for the development and protection of independent news media may be the most useful tool of all for assessing access-to-information progress in the SDGs. The indicators are comprehensive and universal yet can be tailored to different national circumstances. They do not lend themselves to artificially arithmetic rankings. In keeping with the principle of universality that is guiding the SDGs process, all countries can find areas for potential improvement highlighted by these media development indicators.

This framework was developed with support from other UN agencies and unanimously endorsed by the UNESCO-International Programme for Development Communications (IPDC) governing body of UN member- states and has already been used for voluntary national media assessments in more than a dozen countries. The UNESCO-IPDC Framework is also available to guide UN country teams in their support for independent media associations and related civil society institutions; government regulatory bodies for broadcast media; election commissions; journalism training projects; and general assessments of democratic governance.

UN Action Plan on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

Endorsed by the UN Chief Executives Board on 12 April 2012, with UNDP and UNESCO sharing responsibility for its implementation, the Plan of Action (xvii) aims to create a “free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. It includes a UN inter-agency mechanism to coordinate support for the safety of journalists and assist countries in developing legislation “favorable to freedom of expression and information.

Most important, in the context of the SDGs, the annual reporting to the Secretary-General already required by this UN initiative can readily be incorporated into the annual monitoring process for the post-2015 Goals.

And it should. As the UN’s post-2015 advisers have stressed, public access to information is essential to the SDGs, and that cannot be achieved without independent media and guaranteed freedom of expression and inquiry.

June 2015 Update: Proposed Indicators for SDG 16.10

SDG Target 16.10 – Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

The following two indicators for SDG 16.10 target on access to information were proposed in May 2015 by the GFMD, a Brussels-based international coalition of nearly 200 national, regional and international nongovernmental organizations specialized in journalism training, press freedom advocacy, media law and ethics, and other aspects of independent media support.

GFMD Indicator 1: The adoption and implementation of constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees and mechanisms for public access to information

GFMD Indicator 2: Implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, as mandated by the UN Chief Executives Board and monitored by UNESCO in accord with recent General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the protection of journalists and independent media

These indicators were developed in consultation with other international civil society groups specialized in freedom of information and expression, as well as with UNESCO and other UN agencies and advisors with expertise in this field. They reflect a broad professional consensus on indicators for SDG16.10 that are substantively relevant, technically feasible, and draw upon existing UN monitoring processes and mechanisms.

The first could readily be transformed into numerical indicators, should that be considered preferable to the UN Statistical Commission, based on the number of national reports provided at specified intervals to a designated UN agency and/or the High-Level Political Forum verifying the adoption and implementation of such measures. The second draws on an existing UN monitoring process, which includes biannual reporting by UNESCO on the assassinations of journalists and other press freedom violations.

Both of these proposed indicators were considered by access-to-information specialists to be preferable to the two indicators originally proposed by staff specialists in DESA’s Statistics Division to member-state representatives on the UN Statistical Commission:

DESA Indicator 1: Percentage of actual government budget, procurement, revenues and natural resource concessions that are publicly available and easily accessible

DESA Indicator 2: Number of journalists, associated media personnel, and human –rights advocates killed, kidnapped, disappeared, detained or tortured in last 12 months

These two DESA proposals were seen by many member-states and NGOs alike as conceptually and methodologically problematic, as reflected in their initial negative reviews in a survey of national statistical offices in March 2015.

The first was far too narrowly conceived, as it was limited exclusively to public sector financial disclosure, rather than encompassing the broad public access to information principle explicitly prioritized in the SDG16.10 target. Moreover, it was wholly impractical as a statistical exercise, presupposing some agreed international metrics on quantifying national government budgetary and contractual information (as measured in megabytes? numbers of documents?) and then entrusting those governments to factually self-report on what â percentage of this fiscal data is available to the public.

The second indicator, proposed as a press freedom proxy, would be comprised of reported deaths, kidnappings, and other attacks journalists, but without the analytical context or background on legal consequences provided by UNESCO’s biannual reports.

In June, the Statistical Commission’s newly formed (and somewhat misleading named) Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDGs indicators held its inaugural meeting at the UN in New York. The DESA Statistics Division provided IAEG members with a new list of so-called “priority” indicators, prepared with solicited input from several other UN bodies and deliberately limited to a maximum of one indicator per target. To further reduce the number of indicators, many were designed to measure two or more targets.

For SDG16.10, the DESA priority list omitted its originally proposed access-to-information indicator entirely. For its second 16.10 proposal, the new DESA list proposed a wider-ranging indicator on human rights violations devised by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to measure the second, complementary component of 16.10 on protecting fundamental freedoms as well as human rights violations relevant to other SDG16 targets as well as SDG5 on women’s rights:

Numbers of violations of fundamental freedoms which impact on public access to information, and percentage of judicial cases resolved (disaggregated by targeted group: journalists, associated media personnel; human rights defenders; trade unionists; human rights advocates).

The member organizations of GFMD as well as other leading civil society champions of SDG16.10, such as Article 19 and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), continue to insist on the critical importance of both categories of indicator for this target: the first monitoring official measures taken to ensure public access to information, as the target language plainly stipulates, and the second evaluating the enabling legal and political environment for independent media and freedom of expression which is a prerequisite for the free flow of information envisaged by 16.10.

Background briefs on GFMD’s proposed SDG10 indicators

GFMD Indicator 1: Monitoring the adoption and implementation of constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees and mechanisms for public access to information

As suggested by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and UNESCO in earlier presentations to the UN Technical Support Team (UN TST), this highly pertinent and measurable indicator would assess the existence and implementation of constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. A majority of UN member states have already adopted such legal guarantees, and many others are currently considering relevant legislation and implementing actions in the field.

UNESCO, within its UN mandate to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, which includes the corollary of the right to freedom of information, already monitors progress and issues in this area through its submissions to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and regular reports on World Trends on Freedom of Expression and Media Development. UNDP has extensive experience advising, supporting and valuating national access-to-information initiatives through its Democratic Governance programs. Lead UN responsibility for monitoring this target could be assigned to UNESCO and/or UNDP.

To more explicitly link SDG16.10 to the entirety of the 17 SDGs and 169 targets to which it applies and for which it is needed as well as to provide an associated numerical indicator, should that be required, this proposed indicator could be reframed accordingly:

Number of member-states that have taken measures ensuring public access to information relevant to each and all of the Sustainable Development Goals, including the implementation of relevant legal guarantees and mechanisms, as verified by national reports submitted to the High-Level Political Forum; or UNESCO and/or UNDP.

GFMD Indicator 2: Implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, as mandated by the UN Chief Executives Board and monitored by UNESCO in compliance with recent General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the protection of journalists and independent media

This proposed indicator for SDG 16.10 would formally incorporate into the SDGs monitoring framework the regular progress reports by UNESCO on the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which was adopted by the UN Chief Executives Board on 12 April 2012, in accord with UN Security Council Resolutions 2222 of May 2015 and 1738 of December 2006; UN General Assembly Resolutions 68/163 of December 2013 and 69/185 of December 2014; and UN Human Rights Council Resolutions 21/12 of September 2012 and 27/5 of September 2014, among other relevant United Nations resolutions, declarations, and conventions on the protection of journalists and independent media.

Led by UNESCO, the UN Plan of Action draws on normative and programmatic support from UNDP, UNDPI and the UNHCHR, among other UN agencies and offices. It marks the first effort to systematically bring the UN family of agencies together with other relevant stakeholders to address the worsening situation of the safety of journalists.

The Plan of Action is informed and complemented by UNESCO’s continuing global reports on media trends and issues and the national media surveys carried out through the UNESCO-IPDC Media Development Indicators Framework. UNESCO’s biannual reports on the Plan’s implementation include surveys of national government actions to investigate, prosecute and prevent killings and abductions of working journalists and UN system efforts to strengthen legal and physical protections of independent media.

As emphasized in the Riga Declaration, adopted by consensus at the 2015 UN World Press Freedom Day commemoration in Latvia, the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity directly relevant to implementing the proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16 particularly the SDG 16.10 target ensuring public access to information. The Riga Declaration called on UNESCO to continue “highlighting the importance of freedom of expression, public access to information and the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity within the post-2015 development agenda processes and coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action throughout the UN system.

The alternative second indicator on “violations of fundamental freedoms as proposed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and provisionally endorsed by UNESCO would also apply to three other SD16 targets -16.1 (violence and deaths), 16.3 (rule of law), and 16.6 (accountable institutions)  as well as SDG5.2, aimed at ending violence against women. This OHCHR indicator would also utilize UNESCO’s reports on the UN Plan of Action as its data source on attacks against journalists, including assassinations and abductions, as GFMD has supported in its own proposals.

GFMD agrees with the High Commissioner’s Office that the inclusion of attacks against human rights activists and trade union organizers as well as journalistsplus an accounting of national judicial action taken in response to all these cases – provides a fuller portrait of the legal, political and social environment relevant to public access to information and the free flow of information and public discourse generally.

GFMD is not opposed in principle to the use of indicators that are applicable to two or more SDGs targets when that is empirically defensible. Nor are GFMD member organizations averse to a broadening of this proposed second SDG10.16 indicator to encompass other factors relevant to freedom of information and expression.

But GFMD is insistent that this latter proposed SDG16.10 indicator should be considered a complementary measure supporting a strong lead indicator expressly dedicated to monitoring public access to information, in conformity with SDG 16.10’s clearly stated intent. An unambiguous commitment to public access to information in the broadest sense as broad as the scope of the 17 SDGs themselves  is essential for the new global goals to be clearly understood, transparently monitored, and, ultimately, achieved.

Useful urls independent-media-essential-to-development#sthash.7dXYZ7L4.dpuf

Freedom of Expression & Access to Information Post-2015: Measurable Targets statement_signatories_18_June_2014.pdf?g_d ownload=1

Frank La Rue, Rapporteur, OHCHR: http://daccess-

CPJ; RSF;IPI; WAN http://www.wan-; IFJ freedom/

High-level Panel Discussion on “Ending Impunity: Upholding the Rule of Law” on the occasion of the 1st International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (2 November 2014; GA resolution 68/163). Co-organized by UNESCO and the UN Missions of Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica, France, Greece and Tunisia. programmes/ipdc/special-initiatives/media-development-indicators-mdis journalists/un-plan-of-action/

Bill Orme is a writer, editor, and consultant specialized in media development and strategic communications, with long experience managing global advocacy campaigns and working to support independent journalism in emerging democracies.

He recently concluded 12 years of service at the United Nations, most recently as Chief of Communications & Publishing for the UN Human Development Report, following an assignment in Sierra Leone guiding the conversion of a UN radio station into a national public broadcaster. He was previously head of External Communications for the United Nations Development Programme and UNDP’s first Policy Advisor for Independent Media Development. Orne is currently working with the Brussels-based Global Forum on Media Development in support of international civil society efforts to secure access-to-information commitments in the UN’s next set of global development goals.

A veteran foreign correspondent, Orne served in the 1990s as Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He returned to journalism as a Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and UN bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times. He was founding editor of LatinFinance, a business monthly launched in 1988, following a decade of reporting in Latin America for The Washington Post, The Economist, and other publications.

He is the author of Understanding NAFTA: Mexico, Free Trade and the New North America (University of Texas, 1996) and the editor and lead writer of A Culture of Collusion: An Inside Look at the Mexican Press (University of Miami, 1997). Books to which he also contributed include the Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications (Elsevier, 2003); Crimes of War (W.W. Norton, 1999); Journalists in Peril (Transaction, 1998); CPJ’s annual Attacks on the Press reports from 1993 to 1998; and the UN Human Development Reports (2004 – 2014).

Orne is on the advisory board of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance and is a proud founding board member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse.









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