Sustainable Development Goals: Freedom of expression off target

Sustainable Development Goals: Freedom of expression off target - Transparency

Ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit meeting, taking place in London this week, ARTICLE 19 released a new briefing assessing the progress made towards meeting the SDG on freedom of expression and access to information (Goal 16.10). Our assessment shows that there has been little progress towards meeting this goal, both in terms of protection of journalists and improving access to information. States must urgently scale up their efforts if they want to achieve their pledges by 2030. The international community must also improve the way in which monitoring and reporting on this goal is conducted in order to better evaluate their efforts towards SDGs. 

From 25-28 July 2023, the UN is holding the Second Segment of the SDG Summit in London, a key preparatory event for the upcoming High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in September. The meeting will help to identify substantive priorities and generate political momentum for the Summit.

Ahead of the meeting, ARTICLE 19 released a new briefing, Sustainable Development Goals: On or off track? Assessing the progress through freedom of expression and information, in which we highlight the progress towards meeting Goal SDG 16.10 – which covers freedom of expression and access to information – so far. 

The report shows that the world still has a long way to go to meet this Goal and it identifies serious gaps and weaknesses in the processes that monitor States’ progress in meeting the goal.

First, it shows that an earlier decline in the number of killings of journalists indicated a very slow progress towards meeting the target. However, progress was clearly thwarted in 2022 when we witnessed an increase in the number of journalists killed around the world. 

Second, it shows that targets and indicators under this goal do not capture all attacks against journalists in their complexity – from physical attacks, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture to various legal attacks and harassment. The lack of data on all forms of attacks is seriously impairing the achievement of the first part of this goal. 

Third, the monitoring of progress towards meeting the goal on access to information only focuses on a narrow aspect of having a legal framework on access to information. There is no assessment of the type of adopted legislation, its quality, or whether the legislation is actually adopted. 

Last but not least, freedom of expression and access to information, which are prerequisite to achieving sustainable development as such, are not mainstreamed to all SDG agendas. This is a serious omission, as the increased protection and promotion of these fundamental rights would contribute to achieving all SDGs. 

ARTICLE 19 believes that an urgent and contracted action is needed if states and the international community are serious in their intentions to turn the 10 years leading up to the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDG into a decisive decade of action and delivery. We hope that our assessment and recommendations will be useful to states and the broader international community in this process. 

Read our briefing


ARTICLE 19 has long argued that there are strong links between the right to free expression and information and public participation and basic economic, social and cultural rights – particularly the right to water, health, a clean environment, and education. The right to information is considered an enabler right as it facilitates public participation in decision-making related to these issues, and as a result it allows people to better access these rights. Ensuring access to information also means national authorities can be held accountable for their management of public finances and public services.

In 2015, the UN agreed to adopt Agenda 2030, creating 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus the worlds’ efforts to fight poverty. Goal 16 aims to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. Targets for this goal include ensuring public access to information, reducing corruption, ensuring public participation, and protecting human rights.