Here is an excerpt from our brief “The role of media: Driving change towards the SDGs”, published to mark the Global Week to #Act4SDGs, in which we discuss the relationship between media and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
The availability of information from diverse sources is fundamental to the achievement of SDG 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Ever since Edmund Burke described the media as the Fourth Estate, they have been regarded as a watchdog that ensures the rule of law and provides a system of checks and balances on power on behalf of citizens[I].
“Throughout the world, a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights — and the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions. No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power”
– António Guterres, UN Secretary General[ii]
There appears to be evidence of the link between free media and better governance[iii], in particular, multiple studies point out that there is less corruption and more accountability in nations with a free press[iv]. Countries with a free press usually have greater rule of law, regulatory quality, political stability and government effectiveness[v] and, especially, less corruption and more accountability[vi]. On the other hand, in countries where the state controls the media, citizens are less politically knowledgeable and active[vii] and a civil society is less lively[viii].
In particular, free, independent and pluralistic media are essential to the realisation of Target 10, which envisages public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms[ix]. One of the primary functions of the media in a democratic society is to inform its citizens, with a large body of research showing the positive impact of news media exposure on political knowledge[x] and participation[xi]. Media also safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms: a healthy press sector is correlated with broader political freedom[xii] and, if the regime is democratic and the media are free, the government has increased respect for human rights[xiii].
Below we present case studies of impactful journalism and information-sharing done by MDIF clients in the area of SDG 16 as real-world examples that illustrate the transformative power of media.
Examples of impact
In Montenegro, national station TV Vijesti broadcast a video showing footage of two officials asking for and accepting bribes to ease the building permit process. In a video, the inspectors from the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism are heard demanding a kickback of 5,000 euros from a businessman who wants to construct a building in the town of Budva without a valid permit. Having failed to clamp down on corruption, the Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism resigned after the video was released, the first case of a Montenegrin minister resigning due to corruption in a state institution. Soon after, the two inspectors were arrested and a procedure against them was initiated.
In El Salvador, digital newspaper El Faro published an exposé detailing secret negotiations between President Nayib Bukele’s administration and gang leaders inside jail to reduce violence on the streets in exchange for prison privileges. In retaliation for its reporting, El Faro has been subjected to an array of government attacks, including multiple wide-ranging audits, false accusations of money laundering and the placing of spyware on its journalists’ phones. The Attorney General said he would investigate El Faro’s allegations, but when Bukele’s party took over Congress, the new lawmakers ousted him and replaced him with someone close to the administration. In December 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed El Faro’s reports, slapping sanctions on top Salvadoran officials, including the Vice-Minister of Justice and Public Security, for their roles in negotiating “a secret truce with gang leadership”.
Read the full brief “The role of media: Driving change towards the SDGs” here.
[iii] UNESCO (2005). “Media and Good Governance”; World Bank (2010). “Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform”; Andriantsoa, P.N. Andriasendrarivony, S. Haggblade, B. Minten, and M. Rakotojaona (2005). “Media Proliferation and Democratic Transition in Africa: The Case of Madagascar”. World Development
[iv] Brunettia, A. Beatrice, W (2003). “A Free Press Is Bad News for Corruption”. Journal of Public economics; Lederman, D et al. (2005). “Accountability and corruption: Political institutions matter”. Economics & politics. Carter, B (2016). “Infomediaries and accountability”; Stapenhurst, R (2000). “The Media’s Role in Curbing Corruption”. World Bank Institute; Snyder Jr, J. M., & Strömberg, D (2008). “Press Coverage and Political Accountability”. Journal of political Economy; Freille, S et al. (2007) “A Contribution to the Empirics of Press Freedom and Corruption”. European Journal of Political Economy; Chowdhury, S (2004). “Do democracy and press freedom reduce corruption? Evidence from a cross country study.” ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy; Duttaa, N. Royb, S (2016). “The interactive impact of press freedom and media reach on corruption”. Economic Modelling
[vii] Leeson, P. (2008) “Media Freedom, Political Knowledge, and Participation” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 22(2):155–170.
[viii] Müller L. (2014) “Comparing Mass Media in Established Democracies: Patterns of Media Performance”. Palgrave Macmillan London
[x] Wei, R. Lo, V.H (2008). “News media use and knowledge about the 2006 U.S. midterm elections: Why exposure matters in voter learning”. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.
[xi] de Vreese, C.H. Boomgaarden, H (2006). “News, Political Knowledge and Participation: The Differential Effects of News Media Exposure on Political Knowledge and Participation”. Acta Politica; Corrigall-Brown, C. Wilkes, R (2014) “Media Exposure and the Engaged Citizen: How the Media Shape Political Participation”. The Social Science Journal; Aker, J. C., P. Collier, and P. C. Vincente (2011). “Is information power? using cell phones during an election in Mozambique”. Center for Global Development; Scheufele, D (2002). “Examining differential gains from mass media and their implications for participatory behavior”. Communication Research; Lesson, Peter T (2008). “Media Freedom, Political Knowledge, and Participation”. Journal of Economic Perspectives.
[xii] Karlekar, K. Becker, L (2014). “By the numbers: Tracing the statistical correlation between press freedom and democracy”.
[xiii] Whitten-Woodring, J (2009). “Watchdog or Lapdog? Media Freedom, Regime Type, and Government Respect for Human Rights”. International Studies Quarterly