Saturday, March 29, 2014

An Argument for Including Freedom of the Press in Follow-up Plan to Millennium Development Goals

Cover picture for CPJ report
I attended a very interesting conference on freedom of the press in the Americas at Florida International University this past week. One free resource available to participants was a book published by the Committee to Protect Journalists entitled Attacks on the Press: Journalism on the World's Front Lines.

Several chapters in the book caught my attention, but one in particular had relevance to my anti-hunger and anti-poverty efforts. The chapter, written by CPJ deputy director Rob Mahoney, suggested that work of journalists was to look at the important issues affecting a country, and if this work was hampered, this would affect the most vulnerable members of society.
Mahoney used the example of Umar Cheema, a Pakistani journalist, who won the CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2011. Despite continued harrassment and intimidation from the Pakistani military (including a brutal assault in 2010), Cheema has continued the work of exposing corruption in Pakistan--which directly affects the well-being of the poor. 

In the chapter entitled  "Putting Press Freedoms at the Heart of Anti-Poverty Efforts," Mahoney points out that other journalists are doing similar work in their own countries (and are facing similar harrassment).  Here is an excerpt
There are Umar Cheemas in most countries, ferreting out land titles, company accounts, and public records, in an effort to hold governments and businesses accountable and serve the public interest. But many are under-funded and exposed. They are harassed, threatened, or lose their jobs. An increasing number are imprisoned, and many are simply murdered.

Their work and the broader role of journalists and media organizations as a voice for the poor and powerless, a provider of information and ideas, a forum for politics and culture, and an engine of change is acknowledged by economists and political scientists as vital to economic development and democracy.

But multilateral institutions from the United Nations to the World Bank, along with individual Western donor nations and agencies, have a mixed record in providing the sustained support, protection, and investment that journalists in repressive or impoverished countries or regions require. At the dawn of this millennium, world leaders vowed to improve the health and welfare of much of humanity by 2015 and agreed on eight goals for doing so. Press freedom was not among them. Neither were democratic governance and accountability, which press freedom underpins
That a free press and democratic governance go hand in hand is now well established in the development community. But it was not always so, as made evident by the glaring omissions in the first set of UN goals in 2000.
Here is the full text of  Putting Press Freedoms at the Heart of Anti-Poverty Efforts

Should peacemaking be part of the global anti-poverty plan too? 
While, Mahoney raises some interesting points, the global anti-poverty plan might have ommitted other important areas of work. For example, peace activist and author John Dear once suggested strongly that disarmament and peacemaking should have been included when the eight Millennium Development Goals were negotiated.

"If we want to discover the blessings of peace, we have to renounce war and dedicate ourselves to a new world without war. Every human being has to join this global campaign for peace if we are to lead ourselves away from the precipice of global catastrophe. We need to rediscover our shared humanity and reclaim the higher principles of love, justice, compassion and equality. We need to demand food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, and dignity for every child on the planet. We need to give our lives for a future of peace," Rev. Dear wrote in The Vision of Peace in November 2004.

I agree that freedom of expression and peacemaking are essential partners to the fight against global poverty. But so far, they have been unspoken goals and not specific targets. So as the global community moves to follow up on the MDGs, perhaps the next global anti-poverty plan should include language where these two important human rights are spelled out in a more direct manner.

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