Freedom of expression as a driver for all human rights

Freedom of expression as a driver for all human rights

This year marks 30 years since the UN General Assembly proclaimed 3 May as World Press Freedom Day. This proclamation marked the beginning of concerted international efforts towards enabling a free press and freedom of expression around the world.

To celebrate this anniversary and to support this year’s theme of “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights”, we’re highlighting the role media play in driving change towards all the Sustainable Development Goals. As the struggle to achieve Agenda 2030 takes on ever-greater urgency, the role of independent media in achieving it is crucial.

Over our 27 years of work supporting and investing in independent media around the world, we have seen countless examples of how free media impact their societies and support all aspects of development. From local news websites to national broadcasters, we have seen MDIF clients play a central role in uprooting corruption, holding those in power to account, encouraging democratic participation and providing citizens with information about social issues that are too often ignored.

Of course, the transformative power of media goes beyond our experience. Evidence of the media’s impact is well-documented by scholars in communication, political science, sociology, anthropology and psychology, from research on media effects and influence to work on the role of the media in development and democracy.

Last year for the Global Week to #Act4SDGs, we published a brief that explores the role of media in driving change towards the SDGs. In the brief, we take a look at research that illustrates the relationship between media and the SDGs. This is a wide-ranging connection. Not only are independent media specifically included in SDG 16 (public access to information is included in Target 16.10), but they also support the attainment of other SDGs, acting as a pre-condition for progress and a multiplier that amplifies change.

    “SDG 16.10 on public access to information and fundamental freedoms cannot be achieved without independent media which can help in achieving all SDGs – whether gender equality, climate change, eliminating poverty, reducing inequalities and sustainable cities.”

– Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO

We also include real-world examples that demonstrate the transformative power of media – case studies of impactful journalism and information-sharing by our clients matched to relevant SDG thematic areas.

Examples of impact

SDGs 1 & 2: In India, social tech company Gram Vaani documented the stories of vulnerable groups who faced challenges in accessing Covid-relief. Its #NotStatusQuo campaign captured many such issues via 7,000 voice reports submitted through its Mobile Vaani voice-based community platform and prompted wider action. For example, in Tamil Nadu, Gram Vaani was engaged in an active campaign to resume free meals for children in the “Midday Meal” scheme. After disruptions in child health and nutrition services were reported through Mobile Vaani, authorities reacted and many of the affected children started receiving their rations again. “I recorded the issue related to non-availability of midday meals on Mobile Vaani and after 3-4 days, the ration got distributed to all children of my village,” one testimony read.

SDGs 3 & 6: In Poland, daily Gazeta Wyborcza uncovered evidence of insider dealing in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). It reported that at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Health Minister bought masks from a skiing instructor who was friends with his brother and who had no previous experience selling medical equipment. The Ministry ended up paying eight times their retail price for equipment that turned out to be defective and did not meet safety standards. Both the Minister and Deputy Minister resigned. The Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw opened an investigation into mismanagement of public funds, but then decided to discontinue it, sparking outrage among opposition politicians who accused them of covering up a crime for political ends.

SDG 16: 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 the video, inspectors from the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism are heard demanding a kickback of €5,000 from a businessman who wants to construct a building 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.

Mapping media to SDGs

As the specific SDG targets were designed to be reported only at a national level, not by individual organisations, we don’t quantify the impact that each media company is having on achieving a specific goal. Instead, we map journalistic work representative of the SDGs’ aims and provide context that reflects the critical importance of Agenda 2030 and illustrates the overarching transformative role independent media play in achieving a sustainable society.

Lastly, we present a full list of SDGs and associated keywords that can be used to carry out analysis and better understand themes of journalistic and information-sharing work.

Read the full brief, “The role of media: Driving change towards the SDGs” here.