The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.
At this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebration, UNESCO would like to explore how media freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people. Empowerment is a multi-dimensional social and political process that helps people gain control over their own lives. This can only be achieved through access to accurate, fair and unbiased information, representing a plurality of opinions, and the means to actively communicate vertically and horizontally, thereby participating in the active life of the community.
Let there be no doubt that I am fully in support of Press Freedom. I am, however, going to use this post to argue that while it is an essential foundation, often it is not enough to ensure empowerment. The empowerment is assumed because Press Freedom is taken for granted and the freedom in many ways is squandered.
At the beginning of 2010 the World Economic Forum was again held in Davos. One of the issues raised was how can the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 be met in the wake of the economic crisis? The problem was that a combination of food and financial crises had trapped an estimated 50 to 90 million people in extreme poverty in 2009. This FORA.tv video Meeting the Millennium Development Goals looks to start answering that question. This did not start off being a post about World Press Freedom Day but the economic crisis is a world changing news story in the negative and the Millennium Development Goals need to be a world changing news story in the positive.
Now I enjoy FORA.tv as a source of information and a quick check tells me that there have been 1,157 viewings by others. In terms of being a blip in world conversations going on this is minuscule. While it is true that other conversations of a similar nature are also going on I have personal reasons to believe that they are not as of yet significant in nature.
I find that my blog posts on the Millennium Development Goals often reach page one on Google searches. This, I realize is not because I am so good but because I have very little competition in this area. I am a small voice, a personal and non-institutional voice in a large public space. These stories are either too focused technically and are being dealt with by a small number of experts and policy wonks or there is a sizable but still not politically significant within the middle class of the democratic industrialized countries, especially in USA. It is the social media on the World Wide Web that helps in leveraging either small but potentially influential groups in developed countries with larger but more restricted groups in other countries. Doing this on a global basis however is a challenge that has not only not been met, I am not sure it is even being conceptualized. I am not looking to become a more significant voice with greater leverage, I am looking to becoming an even smaller part of the whole because the Millennium Development Goal public conversation becomes ubiquitous. The economic and political middle class across the globe needs to come to see the Millennium Development Goals as simply the right thing to do, not just young activists.
One of the overall challenges to implementing the Millennium Development Goals is that the economic crisis story gets for more time in front of the public eye than does the story of the Millennium Development Goals. One also has to worry if these issues will be portrayed or seen as being in competition with each other. If the middle class will see its way of life threatened if industrial countries use less than one percent of GDP to address these issues. This is not a matter of freedom of the press. I feel safe in saying that the United States, which has a high level of press freedom has among the lowest of main stream media press coverage of the Millennium Development Goals.
This lack of conversation in the public commons is also reflected in the lack of collaborative infrastructure which to my mind is more prevalent in Europe. The press has become a matter of two way information exchange, same as the market place in many ways. Yes, we in the USA have some of the major philanthropic and on-line community activist player such as CARE or Care2 but I find more collaborative organizational systems, both at the policy and grassroots levels in Europe. These include EUFORIC and ComPart. Perhaps they are more used to collaboration versus competition over there.
What the World Wide Web and social media makes possible is to move beyond information exchange to truly international levels of cooperation and collaboration. The Development Gateway Foundation and the related Zunia are two examples that go beyond national boundaries. I strongly suspect that they are not well known by most people anywhere, but more particularly in industrial development countries and especially here in the United States.Access to basic and relevant information is undoubtedly essential to democracies. Individuals can make the choice to go outside their normal arenas and find other sources of information on issues such as the Millennium Development Goals from sources that have neither the assumed freedom or resources of major US news organizations, IPS Inter Press Service, IRIN, and SciDev.Net are a few outside the main stream news sources that are on my website. One very good sources for finding bloggers dealing with important issues across the globe is Global Voices, a community of more than 200 bloggers around the world who work together to bring you translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media.
I have, of course, made a paper tiger with this argument. The truth is that the only way for us to achieve the level of informational empowerment envisioned here is for each of us to utilize our own individual Freedom of the Press and work to protect that freedom for others, to keep on writing or blogging about those issues we feel important and passionate about and using the Freedom of the Press to empower those seeking freedom in all aspects of their lives.