World Press Freedom Day is celebrated worldwide every May 3, representing an opportunity to advance the fundamental principles of press freedom and to pay solemn tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The theme for this year World Press Freedom Day is Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms, This is Your Right.
The World Press Freedom Day in 2016 highlights the links between press freedom, a culture of openness and the right to freedom of information, and sustainable development in the digital age. The common thread in all there is the role of journalism, and the importance of safeguarding those who bring this service to the public.
These three elements of press freedom, the right to information, and sustainable development, are interconnected through the role of journalism as a specialized exercise of the right to free expression that uses professional standards and public interest as its lodestar.
The year 2016 is the first year of the fifteen (15) year life-cycle of the ambitions new Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will be expected to use to frame their agendas and policies over the next fifteen (15) years. The seventeen (17) SDGs follow, and expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which focused only on developing countries.
Freedom of expression is a right of high significance to other rights. This insight was recognized back in 1946, when the UN General Assembly, through resolution 59 (1) (using the language at the time) said that freedom of information (today “freedom of expression”) was a “fundamental human right and the touchstone of all the freedom to which the United Nations is consecrated.” It is also highly significant to sustainable. This is why the SDGs recognize that sustainable development includes “public access to information and fundamental freedoms.” As a SDG target, these objectives are sub-part of a wider goal. It is enumerated in goal number 16 to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide acceptable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” It is clear that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are not only an end in themselves, but also an important means to Goal 16 as a whole, and to the rest of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as those on gender equality and addressing climate change.
Freedom of information can be generally defined as the right to access information held by public bodies. The right to information is linked to wider transparency in society and good governance. One of the six fundamental elements of good government is “transparency in government decision making, procedures, processes, investment decisions, contracts, procurement and appointments.” The essence of this transparency is to prevent corruption and enhance economic efficiency and effectiveness.
A major obstacle to open access to information is overreach in governmental secrecy. States should be able to keep some information confidential in line with legitimate purposes and processes set out in international human rights laws. However, information from administrative and executive authorities, concerning for example laws and public expenditure should generally be accessible by everyone. Hence, freedom of information both helps provide oversight over governmental bodies, as well as the possibility to hold them accountable and this right strengthens the relevance of press freedom and independent journalism.
Since the adoption of the world’s first freedom of information in modern day Sweden and Finland in 1766, more than 90 other countries have adopted such provisions. African governments are also beginning to recognize the usefulness of the right of access to information and are passing laws that allow better access to information by the public. As the right of access to information continues to gain ground in Africa, it is high time fresh perspective are sought about the importance and role of the media in advancing the right of access to information either through their involvement in the campaign for the adoption of access to information laws or through usage of the law after implementation.
When journalists are empowered to use freedom of information laws to bring hidden information to light, they can amplify their potential to enhance the accountability of institutions as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) conception of sustainable development.
Proactive steps by states to open up records can also greatly help to ensure transparency in public administration. In these ways, freedom of information is closely linked to a culture of openness and the idea of participatory democracy, both of which are key to sustainable development.
Ensuring safety of journalists is very crucial in other to access and produce information. While killings and impunity show no sign, more and more attention is being given to the safety of journalists and of ending impunity globally. Much of this is guided by the global framework of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which encourages concerted action by multiple stakeholders.
Among other dangers that journalists face are harassment of legal and economic character, exile to escape repression, incarceration and arbitrary arrest, self-censorship, and destruction or confiscation of equipment and premises.
Press freedom and access to information are essential to democracy and to sustainable development. Journalism helps make this so. Sometimes referred to as a ‘watchdog’ of political and societal institutions, journalism is also much more: it demonstrates freedom of expression for society at large, it puts new questions on the development agenda, and it empowers citizens with information. It provides a context in which the diversity of cultural expressions can flourish. For all these reasons, strengthening the condition for journalism is key to developing culture of openness, access to information and fundamental freedoms.
To this end, World Press Freedom Day 2016 seeks to advance the right to information, press freedom, and the environment for journalism to be practiced in safety. It resonates with contemporary global issues and opportunities. In this way, around the world, it should be possible for stakeholders to continue to take the Day to an ever highly level of visibility, relevance and impact.
. Bamidele is Secretary, National Monitoring Network on Safety of Journalists

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