Setting Goals and Targets to Advance Media’s Role in International Development

Independent consultant Susan Abbott continues her discussion on media development in a post-2015 development agenda. For further reading, see Susan’s post “Understanding Media Development’s Place in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

Media Development actors gathered at UNESCO headquarters in Paris last week to mark the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). The theme of the meeting was Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  In opening remarks that kicked off the two-day conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called efforts to set the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a once in a  generation opportunity.  Reflecting on the theme of the conference the Secretary General said, “I call on all governments, societies, and individuals to defend this critical right – freedom of expression, independent media and access to information.”

Seizing on this opportunity to contribute to the next goals and targets that will set the tone for future development discourse, funding priorities, and policy commitments, UNESCO convened a Working Group to discuss the issue of measurements, assessment, and indicators for sustainable development goals.  Led by Article 19 and the Global Forum for Media Development, the Working Group Session sought to advance the view that media should be reflected in the post-2015 development agenda.  To jumpstart this conversation, the initial framing of the meeting centered on two questions:

  1. What is the current picture as regards the issue of assessing media development in terms of free, independent and pluralistic media?
  2. Building upon this present experience, and against the backdrop of the ongoing UN consultations to craft new Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, what gaps should the media development community be filling in advancing the agenda for a new “data revolution in assessing the impact of free media on development?

For the media development community, a group comprised by journalists, lawyers, activists, technologists, donor agencies, NGOs, think tanks, and academic institutions, this stock taking exercise of the various indicators and means of measurement is vital to get some perspective on what kind of story is emerging about whether media has any impact on economic, political, and societal development.  This debate on how and why free and independent media matters to achieving development goals has had a long discourse in media development and good governance circles.  Amartya Sen’s book Development as Freedom (1999) has often served as an important calling card for the relevance and importance of investing in media institutions as important enablers of development.  Other important works in this space have included the World Bank’s The Right to Tell (2002), GFMD’s Media Matters (2005), and Empowering Independent Media (2008 and 2012), a publication of the Center for International Media Assistance.[1]  As noted by members of the working group, the media development community has amassed a significant catalog of research papers, briefings, monitoring and evaluation reports, and books related to the impact and role of media in development.  The German media development organization CAMECO maintains one of the most up-to-date repositories of the rich array of resources on media development related literature.[2]

Despite the number of media development related publications there remains the need to come up with a better framework for how media development is measured, evaluated, and mainstreamed into global international development discourse.  In an era rife with metrics, rankings and indices, the media development community has not been exempted from quantifying the ways in which media contributes to international development goals, and as far as the post-2015 discussion is concerned, the media development community has yet to agree on which metrics count, and do the most to serve the best interests of advancing freedom of expression and access to information as standalone development goals in their own right.

It’s not that data or measurement tools don’t exist – there are numerous already existing sources of data that the wider development community could draw on.   The sticking point is how to leverage and make use of the findings and annual results of the major media and press freedom indices.  For some members of the UNESCO working group, the annual research done by Freedom House, IREX, and even RSF, is problematic as a measure that could be used for post-2015 purposes.  The main line of reasoning is that the research is done by Western organizations and as such their integrity would be questioned by the non-Western countries.   So, even though there is longitudinal research being done and some of it used by institutions like the World Bank, USAID, and DfID to make policy decisions relevant to media development actors, it was the opinion of several members of the Working Group that other measures would need to be found.   This outright rejection of research because of its country of origin, and suspicions that it is used as a political instrument served as a reminder of the delicate and complicated process of coming up with development goals and ways to measure them that will be satisfactory to all.

Many organizations involved in the post-2015 debate who are outside the media development community believe that it is satisfactory to include media as part the discourse as a “sub-theme” of what’s referred to as the enablers of sustainable development,[3] or part of broader efforts to achieve “good” or “just governance”.  The Open Working Group (OWG) set up in 2013 by the UN is currently going through the final stages of global and participatory process to define the SDGs.  Media is currently listed in an OWG document as a sub-component of Rule of Law, capable institutions, and captured by the language “remove unnecessary restrictions of freedom of media, association and speech.”[4]

With a preference towards getting media recognized as a standalone development goal, or at the very least incorporated into any framework that makes up the post-2015 agenda, UNESCO will continue to convene the Working Group on Measurements, Assessments and Indicators.   This is a tall order, given the limited time before the consultative process of setting the post-2015 SDGs closes.   Strategies for ways forward, specifically on suggestions for indicators, targets, and ways to capture the attention of those involved in finalizing what will eventually become the post-2015 SDGs, will be considered for the next several months.  Towards this end, the UNESCO Working Group has been tasked with coming up with a framework for the way forward.  Caroline Giraud, Coordinator at Global Forum for Media Development, and James Deane, Director, Policy and Learning at BBC Media Action will help UNESCO lead discussions on this effort.  Deane for his part has offered up what he thinks a suitable goal should be and how one could go about measuring them.  Deane commented at the Paris meeting, “Our job is to find a target, to come up with an indicator, to come up with a tool to measure.  The target is currently to remove unnecessary restrictions on freedom of expression.  We need to satisfy four criteria – 1) needs to be meaningful to development actors and ordinary citizens, 2) needs to be measureable, 3) needs to be credible, and 4) needs to be simple.”  Towards this end Deane suggests that, “by 2030, all people on the planet enjoy freedom of expression and have access to independent media.”[5] Deane’s approach is outlined on the BBC Media Action Blog at:

In order to heed the call of the UNESCO Working Group and come up with a suitable Framework for media’s inclusion in the SDGs, the media development community should continue to band together to advocate for its place within the post-2015 Agenda.  If recent efforts to organize the sector are any indication, the sector does seem to have a united front, and the beginning of what seems like a critical mass of information, research, and data to support its cause.  Sill, as Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO noted in his opening remarks at WPFD, “We are not there yet.”   He urged those in Paris to think about the relationship of evidence, and making the case for media development to a wider audience, asking the audience:  “Where does it count – in NY, in the minds of many donors, governments, the minds of the public?”   Berger questioned how we can strengthen our engagement with the middle ground, what kind of evidence can we, as a sector can give, and what kind of arguments could be made that back up our claims of the importance of investing in media development.

While the window is closing for efforts to get media included in the post-2015 Agenda, there remained some optimism at the UNESCO meeting that it was not too late to sway opinions.  Towards this end, the Working Group is seeking input and opinions on the best way to frame the media development narrative, and in doing so come up with the best language for the goals, targets, and indicators that should be included.  The next meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is slated for June 2014 in New York City, which gives the UNESCO-led Working Group a chance to get their voices heard and put forward their suggestions for how media should be included.[6]  This gives just about a month to get a suitable package together that can be presented for consideration.


[1] See The Right to Tell at:, GFMD’s Media Matters at:, and CIMA’s Empowering Independent Media at:





[6] Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals —


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.