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Gnaoua - Human Rights Forum: insight from CNDH President Driss El Yazami


Creation, freedom and equality in the digital era

More than 18 million Moroccans have access now to the internet. The whole African continent is catching up. Different speed, different rates, in each country though. Some governments have tried to silence expression on the virtual world, but freedom prevails… and widely.

If we take an overly liberal approach, the universalization of access to the digital world automatically carries virtues for citizens-consumers and potentially content creators as well. This access expands their horizons to infinity and enables them to reach information, comments, analyzes and cultural innovations with no limits. In theory, this would boost interactions, with no prior censorship of the various communities or the different public authorities. To flourish without fences and prohibitions of any kind, which usually gag talents and hinder their fulfillment. Using real identities or hidden under various pseudonyms, internet users are free to belong and join any communities they want, and also to leave any time they want with no social, political or ethical cost. For the promoters of this vision, the market is omnipresent. It is up to the market and the market alone to regulate.

There is another approach, however, more nuanced and ultimately more fruitful, in my opinion. It’s the approach we have opted for with the Gnaoua Festival team. It tackles the opportunities this new revolution offers and the many challenges it imposes on us.

We cannot just be satisfied with the overall numbers of people connected to the internet, claiming that we have passed the first challenge, that of the universalization of access. Such numbers say nothing about the great economic, geographical and socio-cultural disparities that lay behind. The digital divide is real. We also still need to know the public and their categories, their habits and how they use the new spaces of freedom and these emerging jungles. Should we leave the public, and especially the youngest and the most fragile, alone facing these virtual tsunamis, without teaching them even the simplest rules of use and navigation? Without helping them develop how to approach and judge the widely-instantly available and various “tubes”?

Content is the second challenge. Our human rights forum’s concept note is explicit on this point. Creators have invested without hesitation this new world and have developed a rich and diversified cultural offer. But none can ignore the dominance of the advanced countries on such contents. This hegemony seems to be so overwhelming and incontestable, quantitatively dominating the world, and insidiously imposing its rules, including aesthetic codes. Do we have to just rally behind or rather, as in the area of human rights for example, fight for universalism, embracing the diversities and the different colors of the world?

The third challenge is public policy. What should governments do in this world, without infringing the freedom of content creators? Where does their responsibility begin and where should their intervention end? What kind of regulations should they put in place without undermining fundamental freedoms?

It’s a new world that starts before our eyes and within our reach. It a world of revolutions undoubtedly greater than the printing and the steam engine revolutions. It is up to us to seize the opportunity and join the inventors of this world.