What you need to know: Media Freedom for a Better Future

Day One of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day Conference

If you work in the media field, World Press Freedom Day is nothing new. It takes place each year. Conferences and events are held around the world (see, for example, our event from last week in Washington, DC), and UNESCO hosts the flagship conference where journalists, advocates, and media development professionals gather to discuss and plan for the media agenda for the upcoming year.  This year’s conference, however, is attempting to bridge the gap between media and the development world.

Called “Media Freedom for a Better Future,” this year’s conference follows a flurry of research and news released about the status of press freedom around the world (Freedom House’s Press Freedom rankings, Reporters Without Borders’ Top 100 Information Heroes, etc). UNESCO’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, the featured report at this year’s conference, chronicles the “disruption and change” in the media sector.

However, that idea of media’s role in development was at the heart of the first session of the conference this morning. Among the myriad actors in the media development field on the panel, there were a variety of opinions on media—whether it was a means to an end, or an end in and of itself. One side of the argument, however, was clear.

“As a media sector, we have not been very good at measuring our impact on development,” said Leon Willems of the Global Forum for Media Development. “And that is why we need to be included in this process. We need to branch out.”

The attendees this year aim to adopt a declaration (as is customary after each conference), the draft of which you can find here. It highlights fairly standard calls to action regarding press freedom, which advocates around the world cry for each year—among them, rule of law for the safety of journalists and ending impunity. It adds a dimension, however, relating to media’s role in development that will be key to achieving inclusion in the post-2015 agenda, which will be adopted by the United Nations next year and will be known as the Sustainable Development Goals.

From the draft declaration:

“Concerted efforts are needed to enhance the role of knowledge in driving both the development of the media and a context-specific understanding of media’s role in development, including knowledge about the correlation between free, independent and pluralistic media and sustainable human rights-centred development.”

UNESCO’s deputy-director general, Getachew Engida, spoke on the threats facing journalists today. He called for a multifaceted effort to get media on the world stage, recognizing that rule of law, economic independence, and freedom of expression hit every the very core of development itself.

“These issues are far too complex to be solved by a single actor,” Engida said. “It is only through cooperation that we have a chance to combat these challenges.”

***This year’s conference audio is streaming live from UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, check out their webpage:

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