Access to information post-2015: What role will the media play?

Day Two at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day Conference

Access to information will play a vital role in the twenty-first century. The massive technological shift in the last twenty years has turned on its head all concepts of development, and how to use data and access to technology as tools for citizens and development organizations alike in advancing the cause for health, agriculture, good governance, and even, media freedom.

At the second day of UNESCO’s Media for a Better Future Conference, focused on incorporating issues of press freedom in the post-2015 development agenda, a panel dedicated entirely to this issue of access to information and the role of the media came together for debate.

Overwhelming consensus decried that access to information is a powerful tool in shifting the dynamic between the citizen and the state.

“Media and press freedom are not just about journalists anymore,” said Gwen Lister of The Namibian. “Citizens are finding their voices online.”

Engraining open data into policymakers’ agendas is usually the point of entry for development and advocacy organizations. The challenge was not only in having public and private actors adopt open access policies for information, but in the second stage: use. Gabriella Razzano, head of research at the Open Democracy Advice Center, said that getting citizens to use the information once it’s made available is the only way for there to be real impact.

“We talk about access as being facilitative because having the right to water means nothing without knowing that this right exists, or knowing how to get it,” Razzo said. “Unless people are able to localize and personalize their access to information, it doesn’t mean anything to them.”

The media operate as a facilitator as well—communicating and dealing directly with citizens means that they are capable, even culpable, in advocating on behalf of the benefits of what open access to information can do for a society. Community and local media have a great role to play.

“In Indonesia, only one in three people have access to the Internet,” said Yuli Ismartono, deputy editor-in-chief of Tempo in Indonesia. With two thirds of the population reliant upon other media as a tol for information, “It is up to the media to relay access to information as an important cause, to be an advocate.”

When the rallying point for access to information policies lies with the Internet, other communities and media are often forgotten as purveyors of information that is more accessible to citizens. The panel concluded that access to information post-2015 can’t get caught up in the Internet revolution, and do a better job of using existing technologies where their use is strongest—such as mobile telephony in Africa.

“Access to information should harness all media, not just the Internet,” Lister said.

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