Convergent Media Policy Issues for the Developing World: The Need for Digital Independence

Convergent Media Policy Issues for the Developing World: The Need for Digital Independence

Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Perú)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-057-0.ch032
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ICT4D policies tend to present two problems: they are designed without consideration of the larger role ICT play in society, especially regarding communication and cultural issues; and they are based on local effects, not considering the potential society-wide effects. This paper analyses this set of issues and proposes an approach that shifts the focus from the institutional focus of policy making to societal considerations that include the potential for cultural development, with emphasis in the need for digital independence, not just in terms of infrastructure, but also of production and consumption of media products based on a dynamic and dialogic community of users.
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Developmental Shortcomings

Information and communication technologies (ICT) have been the object of many debates regarding national policies in the last twenty years, with a surge corresponding to the successful expansion of the Internet outside of its original area of education and academia, towards almost all aspects of society. The policies proposed and pursued during the last decade have been transformed from “information society” ones to more specific, subject oriented ones, with emphasis in the intellectual property, free and open software promotion, and educational aspects of the perceived benefits of ICT implementation, at all levels of society.

In the Global South / Developing World / Third World, the emphasis has not changed: policies, being general ones like the “information society” approach, or subject specific ones, have been focused on development. This particular term is an elusive one, that is not the purpose of this paper to define. However, it may be broadly considered as a significant change of a set of economic, social and cultural conditions that will align living conditions of a given country with the standards of the Developed World, as measured by standard indicators, including per capita income, or more recent ones, like the Human Development Index promoted by the UNDP.

Ignoring for the moment the practical, economical, cultural or even the ethical implications of development as understood in the industrialized countries of the world, this specific goal has been present, in many specific forms, in a large numbers of national policies, international agreements, and programs and projects, drafted by the countries involved, by national or private donors, by international bodies and even by individuals and collectives interested in the advancement of human conditions all around the world. In many cases if not the full majority of those, the intentions are sincere and honest. In too many cases, the actual results have come appallingly short of the expected outcomes.

In the area of ICT, the abundance of development agendas and plans for developing information / knowledge societies is quite significant. Development has taken the route of the full set of information policies to more specific approaches towards economic and industrial development, infrastructure building, educational reform, basic social services, e-government, and lately, specific hardware initiatives for educational purposes. But two main sets of shortcomings may be identified as part of the reason why these projects haven't brought the desired development to the poor nations of the world, besides the fact that the money spent, no matter how large the numbers appear, is actually small.

The first set of shortcomings is directly related to the structure of project-based development, with its priorities set by donor agencies, its calendar-based schedules and their sets of structured goals, that oftentimes have a weak relation with actual social or economic transformations, and a strong link with donor satisfaction. This collection of problems is well documented, and has a long tradition that is not reserved for ICT projects, but present in many different areas.

The second set is more directly related with ICT, both with its main characteristics and the illusions brought by their potential, by what has been called its transformational nature. ICT, being very flexible and user-transformable technologies, with global reach but easy to be perceived as “localizable”, are extremely tempting as a perfect tool for almost any problem. Development is seen as just one of many problems to be dealt with ICT, and being new and “sexy” they are the plat-du-jour for those interested in not losing the current or forthcoming bandwagon.

The problem lies in the reality of ICT-based development, that has acted in many occasions as the proverbial hypodermic needle. Introducing ICT does not bring development, especially when the problems created by the introduction are sometimes larger and more complex than those that should have been (and sometimes are not even remotely close to been) solved through technology.

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