UN Civil Society Conference: Media development wants its voice heard | #mediadev | DW | 08.05.2024
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Summit of the Future

UN Civil Society Conference: Media development wants its voice heard

The conference in Nairobi is an opportunity for media development actors to highlight the importance of resilient information ecosystems for sustainable development and multilateral cooperation.

Entrance to the UN buildings in Nairobi, Kenya

Civil society representatives from all around the world will gather at UN offices in Nairobi on May 9 and 10

"Without facts, we cannot fight mis- and disinformation. Without accountability, we will not have strong policies in place. Without press freedom, we won’t have any freedom." These words by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on World Press Freedom Day recognize the invaluable work of media professionals around the world.

Yet, this key message has so far not been systematically integrated into preparations for the Summit of the Future, a high-level UN event to revitalize multilateral cooperation on current and future challenges taking place in September.

The 2024 UN Civil Society Conference may be an opportunity to change that. On May 9 and 10, thousands of civil society representatives from around the world will gather in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the future of multilateralism in the lead-up to the Summit in September.

With the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fast approaching, the Summit will likely be the first major milestone toward setting future multilateral agendas. This is a key opportunity for the media development community to highlight the importance of healthy information ecosystems.

No development challenge can be tackled without reliable information

Early this year, the UN published the first draft of the so-called Pact for the Future, of which the final document will be adopted by Member States at the Summit in September. The Pact and the annexed Global Digital Compact contain principles on how to tackle a number of global issues, including sustainable development, international peace and security, and digital cooperation.

None of these challenges can be addressed without freedom of expression, media freedom and access to accurate, consistent and reliable information. This is why media development organizations in the Global Forum for Media Development, such as IFEX, Article 19 and DW Akademie, will attend the Civil Society Conference in Nairobi to advocate for the inclusion of these rights in the Pact and accompanying documents.

Final documents need to reference freedom of expression and media freedom

While the draft of the Pact for the Future recognizes that "human rights are at the heart of peaceful, just and inclusive societies and need to be promoted and protected for the sake of current and future generations," references to the crucial importance of the right to freedom of expression and related rights are so far lacking. This is especially unfortunate given the enabling nature of these rights, which also helps further other human rights.

In the Global Digital Compact, UN Member States will agree on shared principles for digital cooperation. The current draft expressly calls for "promoting diverse and resilient information ecosystems, including by strengthening public service media." At stakeholder consultations held by the UN in April, Roslyn Kratochvil Moore, head of DW Akademie’s digital sphere unit said: "The media community plays a key role in the digital space, particularly in the information integrity cluster. It should be expressly mentioned as a stakeholder in the GDC."

Ensuring global and inclusive multistakeholder governance

UN General Assembly

Leaders from many UN Member States will gather in New York in September

While there has been room for multistakeholder input to drafts of the Pact for the Future and the Global Digital Compact, much will depend on the final text that Member States negotiate ahead of the Summit. It is therefore critical that civil society, especially from the Global South, is included in the Summit preparations and given a say at the Summit itself.

Together with civil society and academia, the media community is a key stakeholder in multilateral fora. Vibrant and viable public interest media and healthy information ecosystems are not “nice to have,”but rather are indispensable preconditions for achieving more just, resilient and sustainable societies.

Towards a post-SDG agenda

"It is our hope that the recommendations from the Nairobi conference will be seriously considered by UN Member States as they shape the final documents," said Jan Lublinski, head of the policy and learning department at DW Akademie.

One thing is clear: If people cannot access or trust information anymore, multilateral cooperation becomes an almost impossible task. Without quality information, there will be no marketplace of ideas where people can develop joint solutions to local, national, or global challenges.

SDG 16.10 – ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms – was an important step toward global recognition of the role of information and fundamental freedoms. At a time of rising authoritarianism and shrinking spaces, it is crucial to ensure that freedom of expression, access to information and pluralist media landscapes are included in the Pact, an important reference document for the post-SDG process.

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