Media: Yes, media freedoms can be measured

cima.ned.orgby Mark Nelson, June 19, 2014

If you hang around the halls of United Nations and World Bank long enough, you’re sure to encounter the old saw that goes something like this: “We have nothing against setting targets, but things like governance and press freedom just can’t be measured.”

Well, the old saws are being sharpened yet again today in New York City. A large group of negotiators are trying to decide on new targets for the 15-year period after 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals will expire.  And a large group of global media development professionals want freedom of expression and access to information to among the targets. Target No. 16, known as the governance target and covers “peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions,” is up for discussion today.

In preparation for the negotiations in New York, CIMA hosted a meeting of media experts last week under the flag of the Global Forum for Media Development. That meeting resulted in a statement that argues for including freedom of expression and access to information among the post-2015 targets.

After all, freedom of expression and the right to disseminate and receive information are already enshrined in international law. These rights were part of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and have since been reaffirmed in numerous other international conventions.

The GFMD position paper points out that UNESCO, a UN agency with the mandate for ensuring compliance on the freedom of expression and media issues, is already producing a wide variety of indicators, and other UN agencies—from the International Telecommunication Union to the Office  of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—are also producing valuable statistics that could help track the health of media and information systems.

From the GFMD paper:

Proposed revisions to sub-goal/ targets Illustrative Indicators
  1. Implement effective regimes for public access to government information and data
  • Legal guarantees: access to information laws and/or constitutional guarantees
  • Readily, freely available public access to public information, including online
  • By 2030, ensure that all laws are publicized and accessible by all
  • Improve public access to information and government data, including on public management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans, extractive industries
  1. Promote freedom of expression, media, association and assembly
  • Freedom of expression is guaranteed in law and respected in practice
  • Legal and regulatory environment that ensures the rights of civil society to operate freely
  • Universal access to ICTs
  • People can use ICTs to communicate and associate freely
  • People are not subject to threats, harassment, surveillance or physical attacks as a result of gathering or disseminating information
  • Absence of criminal penalties for libel, defamation
  • The strengthening of an enabling environment for independent and pluralistic media

Of course, some of the most valuable data on the media sector is produced by non-UN agencies such as Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and IREX, which produces the Media Sustainability Index. But in the highly contested world of measuring media and other freedoms, the debate is not only about whether these things should be measured at all, but also about who gets to hold the yardstick.

The talks today are not likely to be the last word on this issue. The final list of targets won’t be finally agreed until the fall of next year. In the meantime, the media development community will need to build international alliances and convince a lot of countries, some of which will win no gold stars for their performance on media freedoms.

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To access the full position paper, go to GFMD’s website here: http://gfmd.info/index.php/news/freedom_of_expression_and_access_to_information_post-2015_measurable_target/