Cities can align to SDG 16.10 and Internet Universality to develop sustainably

This was UNESCO’s message this week to the 7th annual symposium convened by Orbicom, the network of UNESCO Chairs in Communication, in Lima, Peru. 

Several hundred participants including students and academics took part in the event, titled “Communication, City and Public Spaces”, and held at University of Lima, Peru, 8-9 May, 2018.

Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, joined the opening panel featuring the university’s Rector Oscar Quezada, as well as Dean of the Faculty of communications, Walter Neira Bronttis, Orbicom President Jamal Eddine Naji and Gabriele la Posta, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Lima.

Berger drew participants’ attention to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and highlighted links between Goal 7 on sustainable cities and Goal 16.10 on “public access to information and fundamental freedoms”.

He posed the question: “what is the world’s greatest achievement and opportunity at this point in recent history?” The answer, he said, was the act of all countries agreeing at the UN on the universal SDG objectives - “a truly positive achievement in a confusing, divided and even cynical world”.

The UNESCO official pointed to the significance of SDG target 16.10 joining ‘public access to information’ with ‘fundamental freedoms’.

“This linkage recognizes both the distinctiveness and the unity between the two. Progress on public access to information will be very limited, if there is no freedom for expression and no freedom of information".

“Likewise, our fundamental freedom to impart, seek and receive information will be rather empty if it does not accompany material and institutional changes in the public’s access”.  

Berger also highlighted UNESCO’s IPDCTalks every 28 September, which is the annual International Day for Universal Access to Information.  “In these events, dynamic speakers present case studies about for example, the value of investigative journalism in monitoring cheating on greenhouse gas emissions; the impact of community media on advancing health; and the role of communications in managing traffic flows within cities, etc."

“This is the enabling power of SDG 16.10,” said the UNESCO official.

In a separate presentation during the symposium, Berger elaborated on how UNESCO’s concept of Internet Universality is relevant to the issues of cities and public space.

“For UNESCO, Internet Universality means an Internet that is guided by Human Rights, Openness, Accessibility, and Multistakeholder participation. We summarise these four principles into an easy-to-remember acronym: ROAM,” he stated.  

The UNESCO director elaborated how the issue of Rights points cities towards adopting policy and budget for media development, including support for local community media, online and offline.  

 In addition, “cities also need to be on a digital readiness-footing to respond to requests by citizens exercising their right to information,” said Berger.

In terms of advancing Openness, cities could practice information transparency such as by web-streaming municipal meetings, and by putting online relevant public interest data such as about municipal procurement decisions.

Turning to Accessibility, Berger said issue this pointed cities to work for universal Internet access, affordable connectivity and policies for public space zones with free Wi-Fi;

“Cities and local libraries can also play a part in promoting media and information literacy skills,” he stated.

The UNESCO director further encouraged city managers to practice Multistakeholder consultation in developing digital policies.

He pointed out that UNESCO is developing indicators to assess the extent to which ROAM exists within a given country. “These indicators can be adapted for city-level analysis,” he recommended.