This year's World Press
Freedom Day celebrations will focus on whether issues of media freedom can
realistically be integrated into the post-2015 framework that will replace the
current Millennium Development Goals. 
Unesco hosts a conference on the issue on May 4th and 5th in Paris.

Some thoughts follow on
the prospects for and obstacles to their inclusion, heavily informed by a panel
Media Action
organised with the OECD
Development Assistance Committee
, the National
Endowment for Democracy
the Global Forum for Media Development and Deutsche Welle Akademie. The
panel took place at a big interministerial shindig the
Global Partnership for Effective Cooperation
two weeks ago in Mexico. 

First - a word on why anyone should pay attention to
the role of media in the post 2015 development framework. 

Much is already written
on this, but the most succinct and compelling case was made by the UN High Level Panel
on the post 2015 development framework.  The report urged a set of 12 new universal goals,
the first of which is to end extreme poverty by 2030. Of the 11 other goals one
is designed to "ensure good governance and effective institutions" key
to which, the report contends, is to "ensure people enjoy freedom of
speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and
information". It also suggested a commitment to "guarantee the
public's right to information and access to government data". 

Obstacles remain

These recommendations have been
seized upon by organisations like my own and there has already been advocacy by others.  Huge
obstacles remain, three in particular:

The first is the vanishingly
number of governments who actively want any mention of media in the framework. Countries
like China, India and Brazil, see a “governance” goal as distracting attention
from core development concerns and suspect the West of wanting to impose
conditions on development assistance.  The
governmental champions for this issue appear as thin on the ground as a coat of

The second obstacle is that of
measurement.  Any goal featured in the
post-2015 framework needs to have indicators against which to measure
progress.  Creating a universally
acceptable measure for “access to independent media” will be difficult.  This is an issue that I, among others, will
be speaking on at the Unesco meeting. 

The third obstacle is that “media”
has a bad reputation among development actors, a reputation that is not
restricted to totalitarian regimes. This is partly a result of so few
development agencies having departments who support the media and partly a
product of the growing co-option of media by political, ethnic, factional as
well as governmental forces and the sense among some development people that
too much media does harm. 

People like me argue that this
kind of co-option is precisely why truly independent media working in the
public interest, rather than governmental or factional interests, need support
and should be better integrated into development priorities. 

Governance and media

It was this issue, and the
prospect of integrating media into the post MDG framework, which formed the focus
of the Mexico panel.

Erik Solheim, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee argued
that the importance of media to development was not in question.  “Media is extremely
important, that you need media to put leaders to account, to discover
corruption and so on. This is obvious”.  But,
he went on, “if you look around the world today, while there is a huge number
of decent good media, there is also a good amount of media that makes it more
difficult for us to live together - more difficult for Christians to live with
Muslims, more difficult for Muslims to live with Hindus, more difficult for
Hindus to live with Sikhs [and we see this in many places]. We need to take
this issue to heart.”

Nancy Lindborg, USAID’s Assistant
Administrator for the Bureau for
Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA
), made a strong connection between why USAID was
supporting independent community media in Sudan to efforts to prevent ethnic
conflict.  “We
have often very quickly invested in supporting the revitalization of community
radio …as people I met a couple of weeks ago in South Sudan said, people don’t
want to get engaged in ethnic war. They are hostage to the messages they are
receiving right now.”

She argued that some of
South Sudan’s leaders were preaching hate. ”We are trying very hard to put
another narrative out there, but it is just very difficult when you have such a
collapsed environment. So the urgency in any of these conflict environments,
alongside the humanitarian immediate approaches is to as quickly [as possible]
stand up the media capacities.”  She
insisted that “USAID takes an approach that sees democracy, rights and
governance as central to the development agenda. And that included media, media
is the bloodstream that moves information around and enables citizens to be
active and informed participants. It’s both programmatically integrated as well
as focused on [building media] capacity - it is absolutely central to our

Social contract

David Hallam, the lead
for the UK Department for International
for the post 2015 process stressed why the UK believed that
freedom of the media was such an important part of any future development
strategy.  “The reason we think this is
so important is that it goes back to a fundamental belief that the social
contract between the citizen and the state is central to state stability, and
state stability is central to development. The way to build the social contract
between the citizen and the state has to involve a free and independent media
that can enable that contract to be built up.”

Hallam also argued that,
fundamentally, issues of governance were what people around the world were
asking to be included in the post 2015 framework.  “I’d suggest looking quite closely at the My
World survey. This is an opportunity for people around the world to vote about
what they think are the most important things to prioritise in the post-2015
development goals”, he said. “So far about 1.6 million people have voted – and
the findings are really interesting. The top four issues are education, health,
jobs and honest and accountable government. Honest and accountable government
comes above food security, water, climate change, environmental issues, and I’m
not saying any of those issues aren’t important, but consistently around the
world, the fourth issue is honest and accountable government – and media has a
central role in promoting that.”

Weak democracy – weak media

Nor is this an issue
confined to the West. The vast majority of signatories to the Global Forum for
Media Development’s (GFMD) petition
on this issue came from organisations in developing countries.  Jaime Abello Banfi, Director General of the
Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation for Journalism in Colombia and a GFMD
steering committee member, reinforced this arguing that media freedom, as well
as the ethical conduct of the media were key concerns in Latin America.  His organisation works to promote ethics in
journalism and ethical debate “I think that media is like life, with good and
bad sides,” he said, “media reflects the country, and if there is corruption in
the country then there will be corruption in the media. If there is weak
democracy, then media will be also weak”

Ultimately, there was a
consensus in this panel that the role of media was of increasing importance if
future development goals were to be met.

“There can be no doubt
about the centrality of media in the development debate”, said Erik Solheim of
the OECD DAC. “We would be very happy to provide a space for that debate, to
invite as many stakeholders as possible, certainly donor agencies and our
members but also media from nations where there are difficulties.” He also
argued that development agencies should be more concerned when journalists are
attacked, arguing that “we should support all those brave journalists,
including your Al Jazeera colleagues Cairo. 
Peter Greste from Al Jazeera is a really great journalist; he and his
two colleagues are in prison in Cairo just because they wanted to promote the
best sort of journalism.”

The final word went to
David Hallam of the UK’s Department for International Development (which
provides support for BBC Media Action’s work), who argued that if media were to
be reflected in the post-2015 development framework, it would need a stronger
advocacy effort. 

“There’s quite a strong
movement for a goal in the post-2015 development framework on good governance
and effective institutions, and within that for a target on free media”, he
argued, reflecting that British Prime Minster, David Cameron had co-chaired the
UN High Level panel report. “We all have a role to play: for those of you in
governments, what are you doing to make sure that your representatives in NY
are arguing strongly for this goal and target? And for those of you who aren’t
in governments, what are you doing to ask your government whether they are
supporting this goal in NY? So there is a real opportunity here if we can
secure this as part of the next development agenda, then we can start to make
sure that development agencies, governments, international organisations, are
really focusing on support for a free media internationally.”

The Mexico panel
suggested there is more support for this issue than is sometimes assumed and case
from around the world for access to independent media to be integrated into the
post 2015 framework is building.  Next
week’s Unesco conference promises to strengthen it further – but there is
clearly a very long way to go.