Ofcom is the independent regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.
Under Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is required to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of the nature and characteristics of material published by the electronic media and its various delivery systems. This forms part of our work in the field of media literacy as outlined in the Ofcom Annual Plan for 2005/2006. Ofcom defines media literacy as the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.
In addition to these media literacy obligations, under Section 3 (2 e) of the Communications Act 2003 Ofcom has a duty to apply adequate protection to members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material in such services.
In 2004 Ofcom published the consultation document ‘Ofcom’s Strategy and Priorities for the Promotion of Media Literacy’. The consultation made a call to the UK audio-visual industries to consider establishing a common content labelling (information) scheme for material delivered across all platforms so as to give consumers an idea of the nature of content provided.
Following the consultation, Ofcom established an Audio Visual Content Information Working Group (AVCIWG). This group of stakeholders and other interested parties was brought together to inform our work in this area. The AVCIWG includes representatives from the broadcasting sector (including the British Board of Film Classification); the internet and mobile phone industries; the games industry and consumer organisations.
The aim of this research is to provide evidence of consumer needs and preferences and to inform Ofcom’s thinking in this area so as to give guidance to stakeholders.
Ofcom commissioned this research in order to understand the extent to which viewers utilise the current provision of content information at the point of consumption, and whether these methods of informing viewers will remain viable in the future in their ability to protect people from potentially harmful or offensive material. The research was quantitative in nature with a multi-phased methodology that was designed to mirror the consideration process that takes place when viewers think about these issues.
This executive summary is based on the key research objectives.
The first phase of the research asked for viewer’s initial thoughts on a number of questions related to programme information
Once respondents had considered the issues in more depth they were again asked for their views.
This research does not provide overwhelming evidence of a need at the present time for more programme information, particularly for the main broadcasters. However, the continued diversification of sources of content (e.g. television provided over the internet or mobile television) and the expected rise in PVR ownership and the availability of on demand content, may lead to consumers needing more support in managing their own and their family’s viewing in the future. Consistent with Ofcom’s regulatory principle to always seek the least intrusive regulatory mechanisms to achieve its policy objectives we consider voluntary action by industry, with the support of Ofcom, to be the most effective course at this time..
Ofcom proposes to invite stakeholders – through the Audio Visual Content Information Working Group or similar representative body - to consider the creation of a common framework to be used across the audiovisual content industries on a self regulatory, voluntary basis. This framework will then be made available to all interested parties - and Ofcom would encourage it to be used, although its use would be voluntary.
Ofcom will encourage stakeholder to address the information needs related to
Consistent use of language to describe content will assist viewers in making judgements about the suitability of materials.
Ofcom recognise the editorial and technical differences in the provision of audiovisual content on different platforms. We also recognise that the viewing experience and expectations across different platforms could suggest different ways of achieving the overall goal of providing adequate information about content to allow viewers to make informed choices.
The full document is available below: