Taranath Dahal

The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16.10, has recognized guarantee of public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements as part of the targets for measuring their implementation. The SDG Goal 16.10 (1) is about the safety of journalists which has the global indicators such as a number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates in the previous 12 months. Similarly, Goal 16.10 (2) deals with the issue of access to information with indicators including number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.

However, Nepal’s Sustainable Development Goals Baseline Report- 2017 prepared and published by the National Planning Commission (NPC), the significant government agency to see national policies and planning, has presented targets and indicators of the safety of journalists and access to information but not any baseline. Without any concrete baseline reference, there may be no objective measurement of progress or achievement in this area.

It is imperative for the Nepal government to set the indicators, sub-indicators, targets, and baseline on its own bearing in mind the specific need and context of the country, being committed to the international agreements. Other goals and targets of the SDGs will not be achieved with the weak status of media and people’s access to information as strengthening the later does not only limit to goal 16.10 (1 and 2) but it is equally important to increase oversight of the implementation of all other goals and targets. Hence, objective evaluation has paramount importance.

Only the safe environment for journalists helps ensure a free and accountable press. It is the free press which can verify and validate the objective implementation of all other goals. In regard to the benchmark of the safety of journalists, the UNESCO set an indicator i.e. number of countries promoting fundamental freedoms through ensuring the protection of journalists and combating impunity for attacks on them. Similarly, Global Forum for Media Development has emphasized on implementing the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

The Plan of Action aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers with a view to strengthening peace, democracy, and development worldwide. Its measures include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favorable to freedom of expression and information. The Plan recommends working in cooperation with governments, media houses, professional associations, and NGOs to conduct awareness-raising campaigns on a wide range of issues such as existing international instruments and conventions, the growing dangers posed by emerging threats to media professionals.

In addition to this, the ‘prevent, protect and prosecute’ paradigm developed by Article 19 can also be a good reference for Nepal while developing baseline and indicators along with future plans for safety of journalists. The paradigm mainly focuses on enabling environment for journalists; ensuring national laws do not interfere with journalist’s independence, releasing arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists, protecting journalists’ confidentiality sources and condemning violence and attacks against journalists. Among other focuses are establishing early warning and rapid response mechanism, regularly monitoring and reporting on attack against journalists, protecting media outlets against attack and forced closure, adopting strategies to combat impunity, putting in place investigation and prosecution.

In regard to the access to information, various international organizations like Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), Canda and Access Info Europe have developed frameworks for assessing the implementation of Right to Information.

Freedom Forum takes it that the issues of safety of journalists and access to information are the central elements of SDG. It urges the concerned agency to pay adequate attention to mainstream the agenda into the national plan and programs. Incorporation of clear, comprehensive and disaggregated national baseline in NPC documents helps bring all sectors and boost partnership mechanism among government and CSO. FF also points out the need of forming two separate working groups- one on the safety of journalists and another on access to information, so that comprehensive national advocacy could be charted out from the end of CSOs working on the issues.

Source: Message from Executive Chief   
Free Expression, Issue 39, July to September 2017