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Forwarded From: Dave Rushton
Paper for Local Government Broadcasting Licences – Westminster Media Forum,
9th September 2003

Extract ……

I’d like to throw into the ring an analysis of one of the duties of Ofcom from its outline in the Communications Act 2003. I think this particular section offers scope for fleshing out one of the roles local authorities could perform as broadcasters, possibly by working with community and local broadcasting – as a USP.

I refer to Section 11 and the Duty [of Ofcom] to promote media literacy:

(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements, as appear to them calculated-

(a) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of the nature and characteristics of material published by means of the electronic media;

That is, media literacy is clearly a practical issue – requiring us to understand the natureand characteristics of broadcasting (electronic media). The public require opportunities to be involved in these processes, to understand both limitations and potential through the experience of broadcasting (publishing electronic media) by becoming practitioners. Without ‘practice’ any media literacy would be like encouraging ‘reading’ without permitting ‘writing’.

(b) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public awareness and understanding of the processes by which such material is selected, or made available, for publication by such means;

That is, media literacy as theory, study through analysis, critique – and again, some ‘doing’ will assist and reinforce an understanding of the processes involved.

(c) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, the development of a better public awareness of the available systems by which access to material published by means of the electronic media is or can be regulated;

That is, media literacy in law/regulation – for the public to be involved in how broadcasting is – or can be - regulated. If we move outside the UK and look at available (and possible) systems by which access is permitted and encouraged. In North America and Northern Europe - we often see that through open channels freedom of expression underwrites if not secures their public service broadcasting.

It is therefore important – in the spirit of bringing about media literacy - for the citizen in broadcasting to become a stakeholder in the policy regulating media and especially media access.

To this end, the grander project in schools, communities, colleges is to explore how media regulation might be developed on the principle of subsidiarity, of realising an involvement in local and community (of interest) media policy. What should be regulated? Local channels, local electronic publishing. We might consider in the form of access channels abolishing the broadcaster’s responsibility for what is broadcast in favour of the programme makers’ or producers responsibility. This would provide access to broadcasting for social
expression – and begin to develop neutrality in the platform of delivery in broadcast media as we have with telecoms and the internet.
In these channels the broadcaster is transparent – cf Offenner Kanals in Germany

(d) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, the development of a better public awareness of the available systems by which persons to whom such material is made available may control what is received and of the uses to which such systems may be put; and

Available systems are not solely extant systems – this is not a descriptive mandate but an open description. Control implies ownership and empowerment - and systems of ownership, collective, domestic or individual certainly need exploration. Control of the relationship of exchange represented through broadcasting, is a broader objective than examination of the control and influence upon what we might choose to listen to or watch.

That is ……. an understanding of media literacy will lead to greater transparency and openness in some media and offer ways to ensure that media ownership and public service broadcasting becomes more
accountable and accessible through informed and democratic regulation.
The BBC’s decision to open its archive recognises that their programming is already collectively owned by the licence fee payer.
Awareness of the available systems is not static, but an awareness of how to change and influence.

So media literacy is not a passive understanding but an engagement.

Here the academic/local/experimental and small-scale awareness is transformed into social interaction or involvement. Local authorities are well placed to encourage and utilise small-scale lpcally focused media whether to represent and demonstrate local accountability or to deliver cultural radio or TV programmes, address social inclusion
through representation of good practice, deliver literacy and numeracy through nursery TV and all manner of responsibilities they are required to deliver.

(e) to encourage the development and use of technologies and systems for regulating access to such material, and for facilitating control over what material is received, that are both effective and easy to use.

That is, to encourage the viewer or listener to exert some control over what they receive by knowing how, what and why they are receiving it and in turn to be informed how they might influenced and contribute to or respond to what they receive.

(2) In this section, references to the publication of anything by means of the electronic media are references to its being-

(a) broadcast so as to be available for reception by members of the public or of a section of the public; or

(b) distributed by means of an electronic communications network to members of the public or of a section of the public.

The agencies best placed to deliver this education are local, close to the communities – geographic communities and communities of interest – probably educational charities. I have suggested before that one way would be through local Broadcast Trusts established in conjunction with local authorities and having a remit to develop local public service broadcasting.

© Institute of Local Television, Sept 2003