The balance-in-trade in electronic content is weighted heavily and unhealthily in favour of foreign suppliers. As a society, we demonstrate a far greater capacity for consuming foreign content than for producing local content. This is glaringly obvious from television programming and music on the airwaves, to content and services on Internet. The simple truth is—annual carnivals notwithstanding—our societies have developed a greater appetite for foreign content than for local content. The dominance of foreign content feeds the already prevalent “consumer-paradigm.” Many businesses are already resigned to the fact that local consumers are psychologically predisposed toward foreign products. In resource-constrained developing countries this can easily stifle innovation, undermine domestic production and overwhelm local cultural expressions. Left unchecked, foreign content can also seed vulnerable societies with morally and socially corrosive foreign perspectives and values.
The knowledge economy
In the media industry, local content refers to the proportion of programming that is not imported. We can consider local content more broadly as the expression of locally owned and adapted knowledge of a community—where the community is defined by its location, culture, language, or area of interest. It is useful to differentiate between “local content” and local “e-content.” Most local content is invisible to international and even national audiences. Just because relatively little digital content, or e-content, from local sources is found on the Internet, does not mean there is a dearth of local content. Building the knowledge economy requires development of local content and applications in order to serve key national development priorities. Promoting access to education, health services, agricultural and environmental information should all be considered as integral to the strategic deployment of local content. Publication of such nationally relevant content online has a positive impact on growth in the number of local Internet users.
As such, local content strategies must be anchored around the concept of knowledge societies, including principles of freedom of expression, quality education for all, and universal access to information and knowledge. This link between local content, education, access and social empowerment and economic development makes it a national priority. Digital literacy and e-skills must a key focal-point for governments and business as they are prerequisites to digital content creation. Such skills also give rise to greater opportunities for public and private sectors. A practical example is the major opportunity yet untapped in distributing laptops to secondary schools across the region. The well-intended exercise is fundamentally flawed without synchronising the initiative with a digital textbooks drive or a digital content creation training curriculum for students. Government, the private sector and civil society have an opportunity to work together to correct this oversight.
Strategic approach necessary
Supporting local content is a national priority that requires the development of technical and policy incentives, as well as education, public awareness and supporting legislation and regulations. Moreover, a national co-operative framework is needed, as local content development issues often extend well beyond the boundaries of individual sectors and communities. A clarion call must go out for the proliferation of digital “local content,” including formulation of a national local content strategic plan that takes into account policy-making, technology innovation and private sector investment as critical enablers. Such a deliberate approach is needed because in emerging markets the powers that “push” global or non-local content are often much stronger and far better organised than those pushing local content. This can be seen in advertising, in the spread of global brands, on the Internet, in research, in classrooms using imported curricula and examinations, in the lowly status ascribed to local dialects, in the dissemination of “reliable” scientific information, and even in the reliance on foreign technical assistance. Counter efforts to push local content on to global stages, face a real and significant uphill struggle. Still, we need not assume that local content always needs to be shared beyond its community of origin. It is not as much about local capacity limitations and resource constraints as it is about the fashioning of strategic initiatives to counter these constraints.
Technology has a role to play. If information and communication technologies (ICT) are truly to be used as an empowerment lever, then foreign content must be matched by the ramped up expression and communication of local knowledge. Properly leveraged, ICTs can be powerful conveyors of locally relevant messages, information and services. Technology can be used to provide new opportunities for local people to create and express local ideas, knowledge and culture. This goes beyond music, entertainment and the arts. Local content is core to education, research, innovation and business. Remember, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Disney are expressions of both American culture and American industry.
The key developing local content is the worth we place on our own cultural identity and how our perception of the value of our social, moral and cultural identifiers is nurtured and sustained. Ultimately, developing local content is not the task of any one sector, or group or the use of any particular technology. We must match our rhetoric about developing knowledge-based societies with investment in the creation of the local content necessary to support it.
In developing strategies to promote local content, five key questions must be addressed:
1. How to create more effective “push” mechanisms, increasing and improving the supply of content?
2. How to create a wider and greater sense of value for local content?
3.What are the channels in which local content is packaged, and how can they be made more attractive and accessible?
4. Should different content types get different treatment?
5. What do we need to do?
a. To stimulate local content for local application and use.
b. To stimulate e-content creation and communication for local and global use.
c. To develop e-content exchange and broadcast systems.
d. To strengthen the “synthesis and adaptation” capacities of organisations working with both “global” and “local” content.
Local content exists, the task is to make it more accessible and to encourage more of it to be developed.
Bevil Wooding is an Internet strategist with the US-based research firm,
Packet Clearing House and the chief knowledge officer at Congress WBN, an international non-profit organisation.
Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding, and