To mark the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit held in London 25-28 July 2023, Article 19 issued a briefing assessing the progress made towards meeting one of the SDGs’ weaker targets on freedom of expression and access to information.
As WACC and other civil society organizations have pointed out, communication rights are conspicuous by their absence from the 17 SDGs adopted by UN members states in 2015. Recently, a case was made for the missing SDG 18 Communication for All in a two-volume book edited and authored by development communication academics and practitioners from around the world.
Article 19 focused on SDG 16 “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. As the most explicit mention of communication as a force underlying genuine social progress, Target 16.10 proposes to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”
Article 19’s report, Sustainable Development Goals: On or off track? Assessing the progress through freedom of expression and information, indicates that nations still have a long way to go to meet SDG 16.10 – let alone all the others. Serious gaps and weaknesses are identified in the ways States’ monitor their progress in meeting the goal. In other words, they don’t really know what’s going on.
The report cites an increase in the killing of journalists, a lack of data on the complexity of attacks against journalists, no assessment of the type of access to information legislation proposed, its quality (or whether the legislation is adopted), and little attention to mainstreaming freedom of expression and access to information throughout the SDGs.
This is precisely the argument for a dynamic and crosscutting SDG 18 – Communication for All – since little can be achieved without equitable and affordable access to communication technologies and platforms, media pluralism, and media diversity.
The world is running out of time. Seven years remain before the culmination of Agenda 2030 – the umbrella term for achieving the 17 SDGs. That Agenda can only be realised with the full implementation of communication rights (not just freedom of expression and information) plus long-term adequate financing (especially addressing how low- and middle-income countries can generate sufficient resources), plus political will that translates aspirations into actions.
Poverty, climate change, and migration are today’s urgent and interrelated challenges. But without the direct involvement of the world’s 8.1 billion people through accessible and affordable communication, independent and fair-minded media, and a voice that is heard at the tables that matter, the SDGs will be derailed.
Photo: Girls and women participating in the Free/Dem program run by WACC partner Ideosync Media Combine in New Delhi, India, learn to use digital tools like mobile phones to speak out on issues that impact their day-to-day lives. Credit: Ideosync Media Combine.