CHICAGO — On “World Press Freedom Day 2014” in May, the U.N. appealed to all countries across the globe to defend press freedom as a fundamental right. But a debate over the inclusion of media freedom and access to information in the post-2015 development agenda is getting heated.
James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning at BBC Media Action, talked to IRIN News about how countries might easily get offended if the U.N. takes on media freedom as a global focus.
“Having a discussion that mentions the word ‘media,’” he said, “especially if it’s associated with anything called freedom, immediately creates a dynamic in the development discussion where a lot of developing countries – and I think particularly the Chinas of the world – become increasingly uncomfortable, feeling that this is a Western agenda, an excuse to compose a conditionality on developing countries, their values, that it will be interpreted in ways that are damaging to their interests.”
UN post-2015 goals will be called Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the current Millennium Development Goals that have seen a lot of critique since being created.
Many have said the list of MDGs are long due for revision, because it neglects many important aspects of human well-being like personal safety, freedom of expression, good governance, community empowerment and environmental challenges.
The goals were created by international political elites and not by the individuals and communities whose needs they are intended to serve. They tend to focus attention on the poor, rather than on how the rich act in the broader political context of both trade and aid. Finally, the goals are too broad to lay out the complexities behind the solutions to them and the list of individual goals ignores the interconnectedness between each of the problems.
The Open Working Group, with representatives from its 69 member countries, released a Zero Draft on June 2 that proposed a Sustainable Development Goal that would focus on achieving “peaceful and inclusive societies” by improving “public access to information” and promoting the freedom of the media. But many were disappointed to see that the group revised their version of the Zero Draft a month later with a different choice of wording that failed to mention media freedom and public access to information.
With differing opinions on all sides of the world, here are five countries that have a very restrictive media climate that the Sustainable Development Goals could affect:
1. North Korea
In North Korea, the party-state owns the press and citizens are only allowed to hear one interpretation of events. News coverage is expected to praise the image of the leader and condemn any critics of the regime. Internet connection is restricted to high-level officials and academics who have state approval, while normal citizens have use only of a nationwide net that can’t access any foreign sites.
All Internet service providers in Eritrea have to use the government-controlled Internet infrastructure. By the end of 2012, 28 journalists had been imprisoned.
In Turkmenistan, the government maintains near-total control of the media and there is barely any independent reporting. The government often takes action in removing satellite dishes that convey international news stations.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko once said, “There is nothing more unbearable for a person than liberty.” He regularly uses state media as a propaganda weapon and journalists who resist Belarus’s form of retro-communism are often fined or jailed.
Government authorities often shut down media outlets who depart from the “official” description of events. Independent journalists risk being fined, imprisoned or even deported.
In 2012, just 14 percent of the world’s population lived in societies that had diverse coverage of public affairs and what can be considered “free press.” If post-2015 global goals are to be all-inclusive of the relevant aspects of individual well-being, freedom of speech must be taken into consideration.
– Rachel Reed