Report Urges UN to Promote Greater Coordination Among Agencies to Enhance Freedom of Expression

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Mark Nelson, Senior Director, CIMA
Mark Nelson, Senior Director, CIMA

A new report published by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) titled “Strengthening the United Nations’ Role in Media Development”, has recommended, among other things, that the United Nations (UN) promotes greater coordination among its agencies active in the media sector, following on the successes from the UN Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists

Written by Bill Orme, the report examines the numerous ways that the agencies and bodies of the UN support the development of healthy media systems and highlights the role of four UN organizations in particular – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) – and makes recommendations targeted to these agencies, as well as to UN member states and donors.

The report recommends, among others, the “specific inclusion of support for professional media development, public access to information, and the protection of journalists in an integrated One UN approach to UN country-team priorities and programs, especially in post-conflict countries and other fragile states.” The report gave an example and possible model for such as the UN Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists, which it described as a UNESCO-initiated programme that has grown to include more than a dozen UN agencies and departments, from Peace Operations to UNDP to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It also urges UN member states to should prioritize a broader and freer flow of public information on both the national and global levels on progress toward every 17 SDGs and their 169 associated targets, including but not limited to Target 16.10, which commits all UN members to “protect fundamental freedoms” (including press freedom) and “ensure public access to information,” In their support for 2030 Agenda implementation. This, it added, should include technical and financial support for clear rules and functional systems for ensuring public access to information within the UN system itself, including to all data and other official information relevant to the 17 SDGs.

The report proposes the use of bilateral and multilateral development programs to help accelerate the implementation of the SDG 16.10 target in many developing countries by supporting voluntary national assessments of the status and effectiveness of access-to-information laws and the overall enabling environment for independent media and the free flow of information. Expatiating further, it says these parallel assessments, already underway in at least 43 countries with templates developed with support from UNESCO, rely not just on official data but on inputs from civil society, academia and the media as well.

It also encourages national aid agencies to urge their respective diplomatic representatives in UN governing bodies to endorse a number of projects and programs in budget oversight meetings and policy directives from member states in order to strengthen support for media development initiatives by the four UN bodies namely UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF and DPO.

The report urged increase support for UNESCO’s interrelated work on SDG16.10 monitoring, the UN Plan for the Safety of Journalists, and training programs for judges and prosecutors on international media law and access to information standards.

It called on the UNDP’s governing board to recommend that UNDP explicitly identify and prioritize media development as a focus area in its overall work assisting member states on democratic governance and local implementation of all 10 SDG16 targets, as part of its current restructuring.

It sees the UNICEF’s proposed global communication-for-development (C4D) mechanism or coordinating body as a possible useful instrument to align UN-backed C4D projects with fundamental media development aims and principles, especially in support for professional beat reporter specialists in such areas as public health and education in developing countries and recommends the Gates Foundation fellowships for African journalists covering health and agriculture as a possible model to follow.

The report recommends that permanent and rotating Security Council members should be urged to support the explicit inclusion of local media development support in the renewed mandates for UN peacekeeping and subsequent peacebuilding missions, including provisions for post-mission aid to independent national and community broadcast news services and government regulatory structures, under the collaborative management of UNDP in the field and UNESCO normative and training expertise in public broadcasting and professional news services generally.

The report is part of a CIMA series exploring the entry points for an effective international response to the crisis confronting the media sector.