EVERY YEAR, we mark the World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May. It is an occasion for celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom and evaluating the progress made globally towards press freedom as well as to defend the media from unwarranted attacks on their independence. Importantly also, it provides the opportunity to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom while it prompts the media professionals to reflect on their role in fostering press freedom and professional ethics.
The 2014 theme is: Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda.
With regard to the post-2015 Development Agenda, three key concerns prevail: 1) freedom of expression; 2) universal access to knowledge and its preservation; and 3) free, pluralistic and independent media, both offline and online. All three are indispensable elements for flourishing democracies and citizen participation.
In the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues – from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding. Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate, and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist”
For the UN, freedom of expression and its corollary of press freedom and freedom of information are both fundamental rights as well as enablers of many goals relevant to the development of societies and the post-2015 Development Agenda in particular. These include good governance, transparency and access to information, empowerment of women and youth, ending poverty, and ensuring stable and peaceful societies.
Poverty reduction will remain a top priority in the post-2015 development agenda. An important step toward achieving this development goal is making reliable and quality information available for pro-poor policies and to the poor, and providing them with platforms for public voice.
This applies especially to two groups that are generally disproportionately impacted on by poverty: women and youth.
Empower women. One of the key development priorities of our times is achieving gender equality and eliminating violence against women. Considering the smaller number of women in the media in most societies and the special pressures they often face, much needs to be done to promote gender equity within the media profession.
Empower youth. Youth are often the early adapters of technologies, including information and communication technologies (ICTs). The use of ICTs by the youth has been crucial in the global political movement as demonstrated by the Arab Spring recently. There is a need to ensure that voices of the youth are heard in the development debates.
Sustainability and professionalism of journalism are part of development as well. For free, pluralistic and independent media to play their full role in development, they need to provide a platform for sustainable, professional and credible journalism.
In Rwanda, important media reforms are underway. Several media related laws have been enacted with a view to promote professional and viable vibrant free media industry, with a supportive regulatory framework, including self-regulation through the Rwanda Media Commission. The Media High Commission is now focusing on capacity development of the sector. The One UN in Rwanda, with strong partnership with the Government of Sweden, support media sector reforms through its flagship programme “Deepening Democracy and Accountable Governance”.
All this has a bearing on the reforms of the media sector as part of the broader development process. In summary, the sustainability and professionalism of journalism, and the literacy of its producers and consumers merit attention on World Press Freedom Day 2014.
The World Press Freedom Day in 2014 comes at a juncture when the formulation of the post-2015 Development Agenda is picking up momentum. The celebration of the day provides an opportunity to be forward looking and contribute to this debate and stimulate deeper reflections and understandings of the role that can be played by a free, pluralistic and independent media, and mainstreaming these into the sustainable development debate. For this reason, in his message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls on all of us to actively defend freedom of expression and press freedom as fundamental rights and as critical contributions to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the post-2015 development agenda.
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator in Rwanda.