‘Your Media, Your Tools’ – Update

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From Andrew Jackson, Policy Advisor, Media Literacy, Ofcom:

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend the ‘Your Media, Your Tools’ dissemination event in Leicester at the beginning of April. It was a pleasure to meet up with the community media staff and volunteers who have been delivering the project on the ground.  I hope all of those involved found it a useful and rewarding day.

I have taken on the feedback I received from the event, and include here an overview of the key themes I talked about in my key note, as well a Q&A section to cover some of the issues raised during the day.

Finally, I offer my thanks to the staff and volunteers of CMA, CM Solutions, and the 16 community media organisations that took part, without whom this project would have not been possible.

Andrew Jackson
Media Literacy

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is defined by Ofcom as the ability to access, understand and create media in a variety of contexts. The ‘Your Media, Your Tools’ project focused on the first two pillars of this definition – the ability to access, and to understand.

Access in this context refers to an individual’s ability to use, navigate, and manage their media. This could include knowledge of what technology is needed to receive high definition television, the ability to find out train times from the internet, or understanding how PIN control works on television set top boxes to protect children from unsuitable content.

To understand media is to be able to deconstruct and evaluate it. Knowing how to use a technology is not the same as being able to offer a critique of its content, without which we can not make informed media choices.

Why is media literacy important?

Society is becoming increasingly reliant on digital communications technology. The world around us is changing rapidly; the various media and communications technologies are becoming an integral part of everyday life. Knowledge of their use is increasingly a pre-requisite to effective participation in society and in the economy. Being media literate is becoming as essential as basic print literacy for reasons including:

· a wide range of communications devices and services are now available;
· an increasing number of central and local government services are now offered online: e.g. NHS direct and Directgov;
· internet purchasing offers people greater choice and more competitive pricing than traditional retailers.

What is digital exclusion?

There is the risk that some groups in society are being left behind, in terms of:

· ownership of new technologies;
· awareness of and access to new content and services; and
· confidence and competence in using digital media.

Members of these groups are at risk of being digitally excluded, but also socially, academically, politically, culturally and financially excluded too.

However, promoting media literacy can help to combat digital exclusion and reduce this risk, by increasing people’s awareness of the benefits offered by new technologies. Ofcom has found that many people’s reluctance to embrace new technologies is due to a lack of motivation or incentive.

Providing those at risk of exclusion with an opportunity to learn and a place to practice can increase their competence and confidence with new technologies. Community media organisations, UK Online Centres and local libraries are all places where people can improve their skills.

Finally, giving people the knowledge they need empowers them to make confident and informed decisions about the media they consume and the technologies they use.

What is ‘Your Media, Your Tools’ ?

The ‘Your Media, Your Tools’ project recruited 16 community media organisations to promote media literacy and produce a number of public service announcements and programming that would:

· disseminate to their community the learning from the media literacy training they had received;
· signpost the opportunities available to their community to improve their own media literacy;
· and highlight the tools members of their community can use to tackle the challenges new technologies bring.

The ‘Your Media Your Tools’ project had particular value in promoting media literacy because community media can reach audiences under-represented in and least accessible through, mainstream media. Community media can package a message and tailor it to a specific audience, be it a certain geography, religion, or ethnic group. Community media allows people to tell a story in their own way, in their own accent and in their own language – to their own community of interest.


Why is there a 50% limit on advertising for community radio stations?

The Community Radio Order 2004 says that community radio stations may not receive more than 50% of their income from on-air advertising or sponsorship (combined). As it is set in legislation Ofcom has no discretion to increase the amount of income a station may receive from advertising and any change to this restriction would necessitate a change to the legislation. That said, in April 2008 Ofcom published guidelines setting out how community radio stations may treat volunteer input as income, thus allowing them to increase in real terms the amount of income they can receive from advertising.

Why are community radio stations restricted to a 5km broadcast radius?

Ofcom’s policy on licensing community radio is detailed in the 2004 statement Licensing Community Radio . This explains that there is a general shortage of FM frequencies across the UK, with an extreme shortage in more urban areas. Therefore there are physical limits on the size of broadcast areas that we can licence. However, the statement also explains that in more rural areas there may be scope for somewhat larger coverage areas; these will be considered on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, Ofcom needs to be mindful of the fact that the legislation says community radio should be ‘small scale’.

I’ve been told that after digital switchover (DSO) I will be able to receive digital television, why can’t I receive it now?

The coverage of terrestrial digital television services is limited and they are at present available to only about three-quarters of households. Coverage is limited principally due to two factors – firstly until recently only 80 of the UK’s principal transmitters have broadcast digital television services and secondly those broadcasts are at a relatively modest power. The reason for this is to avoid causing interference to analogue television services that share the same portion of the spectrum or ‘airwaves’. Viewers that cannot at present receive terrestrial digital television probably live at the edge of a transmitter’s analogue coverage area or receive signals from one of the UK’s 1,000 smaller relay transmitters that do not yet broadcast digital services.

Unfortunately there is not enough space in the spectrum to increase digital coverage before analogue is switched off. However, as the analogue television services are switched off, the power of the digital services at the principal transmitters will be increased significantly – typically by 10-20 fold. In addition, all of the smaller relay transmitters will also be converted to broadcast digital services. Taken together, these measures will ensure that digital coverage will be extended to the same number of households as can receive analogue television services which is estimated at 98.5%.

Viewers can obtain further information on digital switchover and all of the options for adopting digital television (including via satellite, cable and the internet) from Digital UK either through their website or by calling 08456 505050.

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