Rethinking digital culture policy in Brazil after the phase of hope

The new Brazilian Minister of Digital Culture is reconnecting with the spirit of Gilberto Gil. Here is a lecture expressing his views.

Originally posted at BrasilPost
English version by Lou Gold & Jose Murilo

Juca Ferreira: "Não podemos aceitar que uma empresa pretenda se colocar acima das leis, da cultura e da soberania de nosso país.

Juca Ferreira: “We can not accept that a company wishes to rise above the laws, culture and sovereignty of our country”

A few weeks ago, a photo from Brazil’s National Library collection portraying a bare-chested indigenous couple was censored by Facebook. The photograph was archival and was being shown as part of a larger strategy of promoting Brazil’s photographic heritage. I had heard stories of artists and activists who had encountered censorship but I really did not think that the Facebook censors might pounce upon an historical photographic posted by an official cultural organ of the Brazilian state. Well, they did censor! And we did react, announcing that we would sue them based on our laws and our respect for the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (UNESCO). Before bringing an actual lawsuit, I tried to talk with managers of Facebook in Brazil, but they refused to review the censorship. After the noise we made with a press conference, they retreated. A tactical retreat, as we know, because it has been a recurring practice. This episode had several consequences. Among them, it reinforced my conviction that we need to rethink our understanding of digital culture and review the role of the Ministry of Culture in the field.

The Internet was in its infancy at the outset of the Lula government in 2003 when I began to serve as the Executive Secretary of Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil. Although broadband connectivity reached fewer than a million people at the time, we realized that access to this expanding infrastructure had democratizing potential that deserved our attention. In the United States and Europe, the excitement about this new communications infrastructure had generated a speculative bubble that collapsed with the same stunning speed and magnitude it had in its emergence. The 2001 rupture of the dotcom stock exchange, the Nasdaq, opened new horizons and triggered a series of initiatives that would change the Internet itself. By 2004, the designation “web 2.0? recognized the Internet’s new capability to promote interaction and direct participation from the users in creating and developing new digital communications, services and solutions.

The Ministry of Culture, early in our term, decided to stimulate the Internet with free software, collaboration and sharing. From the beginning we got that this technology would need to be understood in a cultural frame. Minister Gil went out and about repeatedly to speak of it and we focused on developing concrete initiatives to manifest and stimulate creativity in this new context. The earliest digital culture manifestations occurred within the program of Cultural Hotspots. Today, the program is supported by Federal legislation but early on the Cultural Hotspots simply sought to recognize and reward groups that comprise the traditional living webs of Brazilian culture but that had never been linked consciously and cooperatively with the programs of the Brazilian State.

A Cultural Hotspot might take any form, some were quite innovative. For example, an association that conducts the Afro-Brazilian “coco de umbigada” tradition became associated with tech crew of a hip-hop group. They received a multimedia kit including computers, cameras, recorders, free software and a free Internet connection to produce content showing the traditional practices which were then distributed on the network. The initiative was a success and it generated a network of young enthusiasts who wanted to integrate their tech skills with a variety of cultural forms and traditions. The innovations produced by this public participatory approach resulted in our country receiving important international recognition.

Our promotion of Digital Culture literacy and action through the Cultural Hotspots resulted in numerous other initiatives including electronic games, collaborative audiovisual, development of free platforms, and more. In 2009, in my new role of Minister of Culture following the resignation of Gilberto Gil, I promoted the First Digital Culture Forum for the purpose of drawing up a comprehensive policy for the field. We started developing digital solutions for social participation and for strengthening the dream of an expanded participatory democracy during this time. For example, the public consultation process for the new Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet — the “Marco Civil” — took place on MinC’s network platform, Culturadigital.Br.

These developments were walking hand-in-hand with a number of emerging services based on collaborative principles and inclusion, such as new social networking sites and promoting widespread access to computers and connectivity. When I left the Ministry in 2010, the number of Brazilian Internet users had reached 65 million and our view of digital culture had a clear agenda to achieve that included: a National Broadband Plan, the Internet “Marco Civil”, the modernization of copyright law and innovative cultural policies to encourage creativity.

Nowadays, having resumed the helm at the Ministry of Culture, I see another scenario…….

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