By Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Following is the text of the Foreword the UNESCO Director-General wrote for the ‘2017 Report of the Joint Media Project’ of the International Press Syndicate Group, with IDN-InDepthNews as its flagship agency and the Soka Gakkai Internationa (SGI). The Report can be accessed on line at http://www.sdgsforall.net/documents/Striving_for_People_Planet_and_Peace_2017.pdf. – The Editor
PARIS (IDN-INPS) – The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), charts a new vision for cooperation over the next 15 years, to ensure prosperity and well-being for all societies, while protecting the planet and strengthening peace. Inclusivity, integration, and universality. These are three hallmarks of the SDGs, and they represent the most ambitious and comprehensive agenda ever seen – to leave no one behind.
The new agenda is a paradigm shift at many levels, connecting all 17 SDGs and calling for cooperation in a universal manner, holding to account developed and developing countries alike and transcending the classic ‘development’ agenda, while taking forward a far-reaching vision of peace, just and effective governance.
One red thread woven all throughout the new agenda is that of information — to ensure all women and men, all societies have equal access to information, freedom of information, to be empowered with the skills and opportunities to create and share knowledge for the benefit of all.
In this regard, building on its unequalled experience in implementing projects to support free, independent and pluralistic media, UNESCO stands at the forefront of efforts to nurture and harness information as a catalyst for achieving the SDGs in their totality.
Equipped with this conviction, UNESCO joined forces with other UN agencies, as well as civil society organisations, to promote the adoption of SDG 16 on building peace, justice and effective institutions.
To understand the centrality of information across all of the SDGs, it might be easier to frame Goal 16 as a question – Is it possible to have sustainable peace without justice and without effective media institutions? The answer is, simply, no. The real question then becomes how can the international community strengthen the communications environment to reinforce peace and justice?
For UNESCO, peace and sustainable development are inseparable.
Sustainable development assumes the presence of peace, justice and effective institutions. For UNESCO, free, independent and pluralistic media make for such effective institutions, which can guarantee transparency and accountability not only among the governing elites but also among other institutions in society, such as corporate bodies, and the like.
That is why UNESCO has so keenly supported the development of media-friendly indicators for measuring Goal 16. Indeed, following the adoption of the SDGs, an Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDGs developed a global framework of indicators where UNESCO played a key role here. The UN Statistical Commission subsequently adopted the indicators, which are now awaiting formal endorsement by the Economic and Social Council and the UN General Assembly.
For its part, the UN Statistical Commission has meanwhile designated UNESCO as custodian agency for global reporting and monitoring of progress on Indicator 16.10.2, which measures national guarantees for public access to information. In addition, UNESCO is a contributing agency to SDG Indicator 16.10.1, which seeks to assess progress in protecting the safety of journalists and other human rights advocates.
Against this background, then, what role can free, independent and pluralistic media play in the realisation of peaceful societies as an underpinning for all the SDGs? It is evident that media play a central role in terms of providing critical information to the public.
Without media and information, it is hard to see how there can be progress in all the other aspects of sustainable development – such as in eradicating poverty, establishing gender equality, improving health, providing water and combatting climate change – all of which are preconditions for peace with justice.
UNESCO’s advocacy for free, independent and pluralistic media as a reliable bulwark of information in societies does not occur in a vacuum. Over the years, UNESCO has synthesized lessons from its support to over 1700 media development projects in some 140 countries. Three things are clear.
First, there is empirical evidence to suggest that free, pluralistic and independent media play a catalytic role in national development monitoring and priority setting, as well as in enabling public participation in development and civic affairs.
Second, although media are threatened worldwide, either through repression, failing business models or sheer unprofessionalism, the international community recognises that unfettered media are an integral part of governance.
It is by design that the SDG indicator on public access to information is part of the governance agenda. This particular indicator links peace and security to the effectiveness of public institutions in delivering on their development mandates. Having a free, independent and pluralistic media system is an integral part of good governance and politics.
Third, there is broad consensus on the functions of a free, independent and pluralistic media system in relation to the normative discourse of sustainable development as participatory and emancipatory of individuals, groups, communities and societies.
In this respect, the international community has generally viewed free, independent and pluralistic media as part of the right to freedom of expression and the right to access information, as well as being key to development and democracy. This is true, for example, of the groundbreaking Windhoek Declaration on promoting a free, independent and pluralistic African press, as well as other international documents on this subject.
It is also reinforced by the annual declarations made at each World Press Freedom Day conference organised by UNESCO in partnership with its Member States.
It is against this background that we can affirm that information, disseminated through and by free, independent and pluralistic media, can make all the difference in translating the promise of all of the SDGs into reality. And I am confident that UNESCO’s work in this area — alongside our work in education, water management, the ocean, science, technology and innovation, gender equality, and culture — is set to make a significant contribution to this objective. [IDN-INPS – 2 July 2017]
Photo: UNESCO DG Irina Bokova. Credit; UNESCO
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