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UNESCO’s 3rd International Day for Universal Access to Information

27 September 2018

 “Access to information is directly linked to the enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms and influences the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals.”

— Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO


The Association of Progressive Communications (APC), the Interactive Advertising Bureau of South Africa (IABSA), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) have been working together on a plan to realise access to the internet for all as a fundamental right for over a year. This Friday, 28 September 2018, as we celebrate UNESCO’s 3rd International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), we take the opportunity to take stock of our gains and encourage bold strong action from our government to help realise not just access to information but ensure we play our part in meeting our international obligations and the sustainable development goals. The call made by the online and media industry bodies, APC, IABSA, MMA and Sanef, for a national effort to coordinate existing legislation, policies and initiatives to provide citizens with a basic level of universal free internet access, is based on the proposed seven-point plan detailed below. 


South Africa is grappling with ways of enforcing access to the internet as an enabling mechanism for basic human rights, while taking into consideration our current socio-economic development challenges. One of the core issues here is reducing the cost of data and providing key infrastructure and an enabling policy and regulatory environment for access to the internet. According to the latest report conducted by Research ICT Africa, half of the South African population remains offline, the cost of data is a significant problem and the lack of internet-enabled devices and digital literacy remain the key challenges to accessing the internet. Despite greater access to smartphones, including in rural areas, there remains a significant digital divide.


Thirty five percent of our population are under the age of 18  (if we include youth this figure rises to 56 percent of South Africa’s population – according to StatsSA). The tragic reality is that approximately 65 percent of our children are living in poverty. Not only is this cause for grave concern for our nation’s future and development, but realizing access to the internet as a tool to help encourage equality, development and economic sustainability. Together with providing the necessary digital skills, we call on our government to prioritise the need of access to the internet for our society’s most vulnerable and marginalized.


Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa presented his Stimulus Plan for the recovery of the South African economy. In the plan, a few issues related directly to access to information and the internet are mentioned. Ramphosa specifically highlighted the need to reduce data costs by allocating radio spectrum, explaining that “lower data costs will also provide relief for poor households and increase the overall competitiveness of the South African economy”. Further, he stated that not only will lower data costs be beneficial to individual households, but also unlock value in the telecommunications sector.


About the day:

The International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) is directly linked to promoting the Sustainable Development Goal target 16 (10), which aims to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”. The internet has become a platform where limited access has become a threat to the fundamental right to access information. The day will be celebrated by a number of events taking place, highlighting the need to prioritise access to information and access to the internet.


Details of the Seven Point Plan:

The 28th September also marks the one-year anniversary of the release of the Issue Paper on Perspectives on Universal Free Access to Online Information in South Africa:  Free Public Wi-Fi and Zero-Rated Content (APC, SANEF, MMA and IABSA). The delegation put forward a seven-point plan to achieve universal access, which included the following:

  • The implementation of free access public to the internet at government sites such as schools, libraries, health facilities, etc. (This is already government policy, but there should be a commitment to a fixed roll-out schedule, and the service should be promoted and monitored with adequate oversight by appropriate bodies);
  • Zero-rated access to government websites and data, as envisaged in the e-government policies;
  • Following on several pilot projects in a number of cities and towns, free wi-fi access should forthwith be regarded as a basic municipal service and run as a public utility (alongside water, electricity and other municipal services), and government should set up plans and targets for the progressive realisation of such services. This could be done via public/private partnerships, such as making it a requirement for commercial operators like telecoms and fibre companies to provide free wi-fi in poor areas for the right to provide commercial services in business and affluent areas;
  • Setting minimum standards for the provision of free internet access, including for all commercial offerings: a minimum data allocation per person per day; and standards for privacy, security, access quality and fair access to information in the public interest;
  • The introduction of the concept of My Internet Rights (or My i-Right): that every citizen should be entitled to a daily tranche of free internet access (eg 500MB per day, which is already the standard for many free wi-fi schemes), to exercise their access to information rights;
  • The introduction of digital literacy programmes in education curricula and as part of free internet schemes, especially aimed at children and those unfamiliar with risks and opportunities related to the internet;
  • The need for the SAHRC and other oversight bodies to monitor and report on the progressive realisation of internet access rights, and in particular the adoption and implementation of legislation, regulation and policies governing free access to the internet as a basic human right;


We commend the current commitments by the government to participate in initiatives that promote access to the internet. Recognizing that access to free information and the internet is a central tenet of enabling peoples’ rights to dignity and equality, we can achieve universal access for all South Africans through partnership and collaboration across public, private, and non-profit stakeholders.


Statement Issued by:

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), established in 1990, has 58 organisational members and 33 individual members in 52 countries who are dedicated to using the internet and other ICTs for social justice and sustainable development. / [email protected]

The Interactive Advertising Bureau of South Africa (IABSA) – an independent, voluntary, non-profit association focused on growing and sustaining a vibrant and profitable digital industry within South Africa. The IAB SA represents the South African digital industry to all sectors, including the marketing community, the media, the South African government and the public. / [email protected]

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) – since established in 1993, MMA has evolved from a pure monitoring-based project to an innovative organisation which implements successful media strategies for change. We use technology, social media and data tools to make our work more efficient and effective. / [email protected]

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) – a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. / [email protected].