4 May 2006
Universal access to information has positive spin-offs that can help governments meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty and unemployment by 2015, says the director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), Koichiro Matsuura.
Commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2006 on Wednesday, Matsuura said freedom of expression was central to promoting civil participation as well as encouraging human development and security.
He said Unesco emphasised the concept of “knowledge societies” as it recognised the role of the media as well as information and communication technology (ICT) in expanding access to information.
More than one billion people in the world live below one US dollar per day per day, while another 2.7 million live on less than two US dollars a day. To combat these shocking statistics, the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000 made poverty eradication the highest among the goals of the international development community.
Matsuura said free and independent media should be recognised as a key element in eradicating poverty.
“First, free and independent media serve as a vehicle for sharing information in order to facilitate good governance, generate opportunities to gain access to essential services, promote accountability and counteract corruption.”
Secondly, he said, free media had the potential to develop relationships between informed citizens and elected officials.
Media operating in a democratic system, Matsuura said, were associated with benefits relevant to tackling poverty. These included political transparency as well as education support and public health awareness – such as education campaigns on HIV/Aids.
At the same time, Matsuura said, there was a relationship between freedom of expression and higher incomes, as well as between higher adult literacy and lower infant mortality.
It thus became clear “that the defence of one fundamental human right – the right to freedom of expression – may directly protect several others, thereby showing how rights protections are interwoven intellectually, morally, and in practice,” Matsuura said.
These sentiments were echoed in a document adopted at the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia, where 176 participating states reaffirmed that freedom of expression was essential to development.