As part of the Regional Conference “Pan-African Perspectives for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions” (October 9 and 10, 2019), Destiny Tchéhouali, Professor in the Department of Communications at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), presented at a conference the realities of the dissemination of digital cultural content and the challenges for cultural diversity on the Internet.
The exchange of cultural goods and services has increased with the advent of digital technologies. Their rapid development has significantly changed the way cultural goods and services are accessed and consumed around the world. Several studies have examined the subject over the past five years (2018 report on the state of the digital Francophonie, study “Towards a diversified network culture”, UNESCO report on digital technology, etc.) but too few of them focus on Africa. There are very few indicators and data on consumption and usage in ACP countries (Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean) for online cultural content. In its Study on the economic and artistic challenges and benefits of the online dissemination and distribution of ACP cultural content (European Commission, 2016-2017), Destiny Tchéhouali noted significant disparities between the countries of the North and the South in terms of the dissemination and distribution of digital cultural content. Platforms have made it possible to widen access to certain cultural content, they are increasingly positioning themselves in local markets, but they control, influence and guide our choices. There is a form of dictatorship of algorithms: “If it is free, you are the product”.
The digital divide between the world’s regions can lead to a cultural divide. Today, 4 billion people still live without the Internet, 60% of them in Africa. Destiny Tchéhouali mentioned several challenges for the diversity of online cultural expressions in the region:
- Policy and regulatory challenges. The cultural policies of the ACP countries are not adapted. Policies to support cultural industries focus on supply and not demand. These policies should take into account considerations on the distribution and distribution of digital content;
- Technological challenges. There is often a lack of infrastructure and a lack of an overall strategy to develop access to online content;
- The lack of professionalism in the cultural sector
Destiny Tchéhouali also mentioned the challenges of accessibility and discoverability of local and national content, which concern all regions of the world. Digital innovation actors are trying to impose their leadership on traditional cultural actors. There is a gap between the logic of recommending cultural content and the effective presence, accessibility and discoverability of our content on the Web. Instead of promoting the diversity of online cultural expressions, algorithms tend to impose their dictatorship and lock us into tastes. Consideration must be given to a way to regulate GAFAs, as is being done by the European Union, which has adopted directives to this effect. The challenge is also to innovate at the local level. Several platforms have already emerged in Africa: Afrostream, for example, which has been very successful for three years, or Musik Bi, an innovative platform in Senegal. In the future, efforts could focus on the development of shared alternative platforms.
With the support of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, the Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA), the Togolese Coalition for Cultural Diversity, the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (Canada), the Austrian Coalition for Cultural Diversity, the Government of Togo, the Government of Canada, the Government of Quebec, the National Commission of the Francophonie in Togo.