UNESCO Launches 2020 Global Survey to Ascertain Progress on Access to Information

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Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has launched a global survey to ascertain the progress made by countries around the world in ensuring public access to information as part of its efforts to assist UN member states to report on Sustainable Development Goal 16, particularly on its Target 16.10 which recognizes the contribution of access to information to justice, peace and strong institutions.

Using SDG Indicator 16.10.2, the survey will track progress on the adoption and implementation of constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information around the world. UNESCO is the UN agency monitoring this aspect of SDG performance.

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

The new survey is being undertaken as part of UNESCO’s role to enhance norms and policies for the right to access information.

UNESCO’s Director for Strategy and Policy in the Communication and Information Sector, Mr Guy Berger, said: “Thanks to the responses from each country to this new survey, we will now know more about overall global progress in ensuring public access to information, which in turn plays such a vital role in the achievement of the SDGs.”

The survey is being undertaken by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), whose Director, Ms Silvia Montoya, also commented: “It is essential to ensure data is cross-nationally comparable and comparable over time to provide a global understanding of where we are, the progress realized, and the distance remaining to achieve internationally agreed goals.

According to her, “UIS’s technical expertise and commitment to quality make the production of trusted data possible for this very difficult to measure indicator.”

The global data collection exercise responds to a request made by the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in 2018 and its results will be presented to the IPDC Council in October this year.

The data will also be included in other important reporting exercises at the international level, such as the annual UN Secretary-General’s Report on overall SDG progress.

Governments can also make use of the collected data at the national level to keep track of their country’s progress towards SDG 16, and to prepare their Voluntary National Review (VNR) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) exercises.

The survey comprises two questionnaires, one to be completed by Access to Information Officers/Commissioners and the other by selected public authorities. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics is leading the methodological and data production efforts.

The deadline for submitting data was March 20, 2020 while the data is expected to be released in June 2020 and will also inform a report to be submitted to the IPDC Council in October 2020.

The data will be made available through a dedicated portal on SDG Indicator 16.10.2.

Statistics from the exercise are intended to be used widely by countries, international and regional organizations, the media, and academics with a view to improving policies and practices on public access to information.

UNESCO believes that such access is not only part of the basic human right of expression, but also serves as an important tool for promoting the rule of law and ensuring other rights as well as goals under the SDGs.

It is therefore an enabler for sustainable development such as in improving health and the environment, as well as addressing poverty and fighting corruption.

UNESCO’s and UIS’ work on access to information has been supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) as well as the Governments of Germany and The Netherlands, through the IPDC.