Creativity in the digital age – Ministers call for international cooperation

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©UNESCO/Christelle ALIX
14 December 2016

Today’s digital environment is fundamentally altering the creative economy and the way cultural goods and services are produced, distributed or accessed. 

Ministers of Culture addressed the use of digital technologies and e-commerce in today’s cultural industries in the panel “Shaping digital policies for development”, which took place at UNESCO Headquarters on 13 December, 2016.   Through the UNESCO Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), international cooperation on cultural industries is seen to be gathering new impetus within the fast-changing digital environment and countries are using it to advance both development and diversity.

“Digital creation, distribution and participation have revolutionized book publishing, music and film industries, and are driving forward new economic and trade models” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in opening the panel.  “We need a more balanced flow of these cultural goods and services between the North and the South with preferential treatment for the countries of the South, and this is what the 2005 Convention is aiming for,” she added.

The debate was organized in the framework of the Convention’s 10th Intergovernmental Committee meeting, which in its agenda is examining how to enable greater access to digital technologies and is adopting draft Operational Guidelines on the implementation of the Convention in the digital environment. 

Participants stressed the role of culture in generating innovation and economic growth.  Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, highlighted Canada’s aim to support quality creative content and to export that content. “With the Internet everything has changed in terms of the content people wish to access and how it is accessed and consumed… Netflix, Google and Amazon are obvious players but we need more dialogue between creators, consumers, distributors and trade authorities in order to reorganize our public policy and to support the content producers and consumers” she said.  She noted valuable principles in the new Operational Guidelines of the Convention, such as net neutrality, which is in focus in Canada to promote freedom of artistic expression and ensure that data is treated equally.

Fernando Griffith, Minister of Culture of Paraguay, discussed the digital gap in Latin America where 7.4% of GDP is derived from creative industries.  “Paraguay has 11 million smartphones for a population of 7 million people so the problem is not access but is rather one of equity in the cultural goods and content made available. Creative thinking is a limitless human resource but we need to ensure greater freedom to access diverse cultural expressions and we need fair remuneration for the artists and creators who provide the content” he said.  He called for international cooperation to support development and capacity building including programmes to invest in digital skills and equipment as well as digital literacy, noting that “digital technology is an opportunity, a challenge, an advantage and a responsibility.”

Laurent Stéfanini, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of France to UNESCO, underscored the importance of the new Operational Guidelines to international and bilateral trade agreements, noting that cultural goods and services are unique and are produced and circulated differently than other market goods. ”They require special consideration and today’s digital environment is contributing to an economic and editorial laboratory, from which are emerging new mechanisms to bolster artistic creativity and the flow of cultural goods, which will foster and accompany diversity and development.”   

Following the panel, Irina Bokova and Mélanie Joly opened the exhibition Leral Thiossane, which was supported by the International Organization of La Francophonie.  This immersive video installation combines African iconography with music, spatial forms and 3D effects.  The creation of five talented Senegalese artists, the exhibition was organized with Ker Thiossane, a centre dedicated to the digital arts in Dakar (Senegal), and a beneficiary of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD).   Ms Joly announced at the opening that Canada is contributing 100,000 Canadian dollars to the IFCD to support other creative projects in developing countries as a way to continue protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions.