Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Takuma Hatano and Joi
Ambassador Hatano and me

Just finished a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to attend and speak at the Electronic Media conference organized by the Higher Colleges of Technology. (Conference program) The request came through Ambassador Hatano and the Japanese Embassy. Thanks for the referral Ambassador!

The host was Sheikh Nahayan, a very popular Sheikh who is the Chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology and the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. They call him the "People's Sheikh" because he has an open door policy where anyone can visit him at his residence without an appointment and meet with him if they're willing to wait. This system reminds me a bit of Edward Hall's P-Time.

The conference was a lot of fun. All of the speakers were really great.

The general themes of the meeting were how the Net was affecting publishing and journalism. We also discussed Arab media and media in the UAE.

While we had some different perspectives of the role of amateurs in journalism, there was much more agreement considering the diversity of positions represented. We had wide spectrum of traditional journalists and publishers. The discussion was more constructive than any I've had recently with such a diverse group and we really focused on the mechanics and metrics of various business models for the future of journalism. One great example was Vidar Meisingseth's presentation about VG News Portal, a Norwegian news site that gets a huge percentage of its revenue from online and a substantial amount of news from amateur photographers and "tips" that come in via SMS, phone and email.

Alexandra Pringle, the Editor in Chief of Bloomsbury talked about the book publishing business and mentioned Bloomsbury Academic that Frances Pinter is running which will have Creative Commons licensed books available for download with print on demand for those who want to buy a printed version. They will be publishing Lessig's Remix in May.

We discussed the topic of censorship although it wasn't on the program. Many of the visiting speakers talked about the importance of freedom of speech. There was a very interesting comment from a student in the audience who said she had discussed this with her other friends there and represented their view. She said that often foreigners come to the UAE and criticize online censorship, but that she thought it was fine. She said that most of the citizens respected the rulers and that blocking certain sites was not necessarily a bad thing. Citizens of Abu Dhabi represent only 20% of the population or so. It would be interesting to find out what the rest of the population thinks.

According to the Access Denied report on the UAE: "The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pervasively filters Web sites that contain pornography or relate to alcohol and drug use, gay and lesbian issues, or online dating or gambling. Web-based applications and religious and political sites are also filtered, though less extensively. Additionally, legal controls limit free expression and behavior, restricting political discourse and dissent online." If you look at the chart on the page, it looks like the social stuff is the focus of the censorship however.

One thing that I've found in my limited travels in Jordan and the UAE is that there is quite a diversity of positions among the young people with respect to social and religious practices. Samr Husain Al Marzouqi explained how he worked very hard at MTV to make it cool but still respectful of the various positions including those kids who adhere to somewhat conservative beliefs.

I talked about a number of topics including amateur vs professional, Creative Commons, blogs, micro-blogging, mobile and the need to allow people to use video remix as a form of political expression. I talked a bit about the success that the Communist Party of Japan have been having using Nico Nico Douga. (Takeshi Natsuno talked about this at the DG New Context Conference. There is a good article by Chris Salzberg on Global Voices about this as well.)

Some photos from the trip are on Flickr.


Your efforts are extremely misguided. I am appalled that you would dignify this repressive country with your presence. You advocate free expression on the Internet, in a country that doesn't even allow women to vote? Were women even allowed to attend your lectures? If so, did they have to wear a hijab?

Actually, I think you are the one who is misguided. ;-) Women can vote in the UAE. There were actually more women in the audience than men and they were the most vocal. I do believe that freedom of speech and the role of women in society is something that can be increased and improved, but I don't think that shouting from the outside is going to really have a positive effect. I think that immersing myself in the culture and trying to understand it before I judge it is an essential step. I always like to understand things as deeply as possible before taking any kind of strong stance on important issues.

I was lucky to be there at the conference and also to have a chance to listen you and others speakers. And I hope to see you again in other events either in UAE or other part of the world.

Charles: Hijab is s tradition dress and it is personal choice to wear it or not and each nation or comunities should have the righ chose thier lifestyle.


thank you Joi for this post.

For online censorship, I am totally against any kind of Internet filtering and in fact blocking porn sites is just a way to legitimatize the main goal which is to block any political content (it is the case in tunisia for example) . yes Foreigners are right to criticize when they cannot even use skype or access to social network (how can they be harmful for peace harmony and order ;) ). unfortunately in MENA rules wants to have the complete control of Internet and it is one of the barriers for benefiting of Knowledge economy. Moreover, the threat against freedom of expression is coming from western countries too and the same arguments are used : terrorism and cyber criminality ( ) and children safety (look in France new law and in the schedule of next Internet governance Forum . is it mandatory to lose right? is it the only way?
@Charles I don't think that Joi is promoting the regime in UAE but just highlights some points which can sound fro Foreigner in Gulf countries especially with so stereotypes spread by western press. UAE is a liberal countries in some way but it need much improvement like the whole arabic region to be democratic and to strengthen Human rights.
eager to read Remix!
@Abdullah yes just a traditional dress and there is no religious obligation.


@Charles: As a journalist who has worked and even taught journalism in some of the world's most repressive countries, I disagree. By giving people the tools and ability to express themselves you help open and eventually transform societies. This may sound trite, but I truly believe that improving the quality of traditional and new media helps improve the world.

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