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Importance of access to information, media freedom highlighted in UN sustainable development document

On 26 February 2014, ARTICLE 19 welcomed the inclusion of a number of crucial issues in the recently published Focus Areas Document by the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the areas which the document highlights as needing to be addressed are:

  • access to information
  • freedom of media
  • association and speech
  • strengthening of civil society
  • public participation in decision-making.

The Focus Areas Document

The Focus Areas Document of the Open Working Group (OWG) was released on 21 February 2014. The document aims to set the agenda for the OWG's discussions about the SDG recommendations the OWG will make to the UN General Assembly.

The section of the document focusing on the area of Peaceful and non-violent societies, capable institutions highlighted the importance of access to information, freedom of expression and a strong civil society. This section also included references to improving equality, fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, reducing crime, and creating responsive judicial systems.

ARTICLE 19 urges members of the OWG to recommend that access to information, freedom of media, association and speech, and the strengthening of civil society should all be included in the SDGs.

Global consultation

During the global consultation about the SDGs, people around the world called for open, transparent and responsive government, held accountable by a robust and independent media sector.

In the MY World survey, which gathered views about what people feel is most important for themselves and their families, 'an honest and responsive government' came fourth globally. Among people living in low Human Development Index countries, 'honest and responsive government' came third, with only health and education ranked as higher priorities.

The High Level Panel of Eminent Persons, appointed by the UN Secretary General, recommended that access to information, freedom of expression, and strong civil society be included as part of a governance goal. The High Level Panel's report emphasised transparency, stating that:

"openness and accountability helps institutions work properly – and ensures that those who hold power cannot use their position to favour themselves or their friends. Good governance and the fight against corruption are universal issues. Everywhere, institutions could be more fair and accountable. The key is transparency. Transparency helps ensure that resources are not wasted, but are well managed and put to the best use."

ARTICLE 19 calls for the crucial role governance plays in securing economic and social development to be recognised. We call for a stand-alone governance goal to be included in the SDGs as part of the Peaceful and non-violent societies, capable institutions focus area.

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