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The discussion considered how to create an enabling environment for local content preservation and how to identify good practices for the promotion and preservation of linguistic diversity and cultural heritage. With globalisation, local languages and culture are often marginalised and they strive for survival. For small local communities this often translates into a choice between pursuing economic opportunities or preserving the local culture.
Can technology and digitisation offer a good solution to the preservation of local culture? The discussion was based on a preliminary report on the role of technology in preserving the local content. Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Association for Progressive Communications (APC)) considered that technology is a double-edged sword: although it can make the public space accessible to distant communities, it can result in the dissemination of global rather than local content. Moreover, digitising local content and protecting it under the copyright framework as a unique cultural product presents a challenge because it can involve time-consuming and resource-intensive processes.
Political shifts and power imbalances also represent a serious obstacle to heritage preservation and access to local culture. The risk is the promotion of selective storytelling in which ‘those who have the power to digitise tell the story’. Ms Alison Carmel Ramer (7Amleh/APC, Palestine) shared her struggles in developing local maps for the Palestinian territory which are actually representative of the Palestinian’s language and history.
The challenges are not only technical and political, but also economical. Due to the impact of the digital economy on the news media industry, local media have found it difficult to adapt to the rapidly-developing digital environment. Nonetheless, Ms Elena Perotti (Executive Director, Media Policy and Public Affairs, World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)) shared with the audience successful cases of local newspapers that have thrived in the digital economy. She stressed the importance for local media to learn how to adapt their activity to the online context, to know their audiences, and to try to teach them the interest of the product they are offering.
Other challenges were also mentioned during the debate. With the use of digital technology, power supply and access to the Internet infrastructure is paramount. Mr Thiago Novaes (Communications Researcher, Brazil) explained that in his country local access to the Internet spectrum is a major problem. He introduced the idea to look at the spectrum as an environmental good that is neither privately nor publicly owned. Having a part of the spectrum reserved for the local community is crucial for the cultural preservation of these groups.
Even when digitisation can be good for local heritage preservation, the audience still warned against knowledge extractivism and content harvesting. Ms Kemly Camacho (Sula Batsú/APC, Costa Rica) illustrated a project which, based on a participatory process, had created a mapping of local content, knowledge, and territory for the benefit of local groups. However, once such knowledge was shared on the community’s platforms, mining companies used it to get an insight into a potentially industrial rich land. Ms Nicola Bidwell (Professor, University of Namibia) also warned against producing and then sharing a lot of local content in the digital space that can then be harvested and analysed by algorithms. They both suggested the development of community property rights that would ensure adequate protection to the content created. Mr Santiago Schuster (Professor of Law, University of Chile) also said that digitalising and producing local digital content is not sufficient for its preservation, and added that ‘when you wish to value the culture and content, it is all a matter of management of the content’. Content needs to be documented and have information added. He brought the example of the intellectual property practice in some Latin America countries. Creators of content enter into a collective management entity which provides them with a unique IP code identifying them and their products at the global level.
Aside from challenges, the conversation presented several positive examples of how technology can help culture preservation and community exchange. Bidwell mentioned the work with indigenous programmers to develop a platform (i.e., a community network) for indigenous people through the use of phone communication.
Noaves mentioned the importance of using free software for cultural preservation projects. Such a technology can be easily adapted to different contexts and different states of technical equipment used in rural areas. For example, he mentioned the use of free software to preserve the oral tradition of local groups and their language.
The speakers continued the discussion by stressing the importance of taking collaborative approaches to cultural preservation, for example, in creating partnerships between heritage institutions and vulnerable people as Ms Valensiya Dresvyannikova (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)) suggested. The sustainability of the production sector was also mentioned. As Mr Bertrand Moullier (International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF)) put it, ‘good preservation of content starts with having sustainability in the local production structure’. As the creation of local content is often an expensive process, especially for developing countries, he referred to the rising video on demand (VOA) approach as a possible solution to local content curation.
By Marco Lotti