Media Literacy Audit - Report on UK adults’ media literacy

16 May 2008

Executive summary

The promotion of media literacy is a responsibility placed on Ofcom by Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom’s definition of media literacy, developed after formal consultation with stakeholders, is “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts”. This report is structured according to the elements in this definition:

  • Access includes take-up of media devices, volume and breadth of use.
  • Understand includes interest and competence in using the features available on each platform, extent and levels of concern about content, trust in internet sites, trust in news, and knowledge of regulation and funding sources.
  • Create includes people’s confidence in engaging with creative content, and their interest in carrying out creative tasks, notably using social networking sites.

While almost everyone engages with the media to some degree, the extent of media literacy varies across the population, and this variation is apparent across each of the three elements of media literacy outlined above. We have found that age and socio-economic group play a pivotal role in the extent of a person’s media literacy.

Use of media technologies by people under 55 years old continues to grow. In particular, 16-24 year olds are at the forefront of using, and getting the most out of media devices, in terms of in-home access, the way they use media, and their confidence in using the various devices. Households containing children, and those in socio-economic groups AB and C1, are also more likely to use media.

In contrast, older people, generally those over 65, and people who are in the C2DE socio-economic groups tend to be less involved with media than others in the population.

The extent of media literacy also depends on people’s media understanding; whether they understand the influences on the content they consume, whether they evaluate what they see and hear, and whether they are concerned about any aspects of the multimedia world in which they live.

Our research findings in this area suggest that younger people’s enthusiastic take-up of new media and their technical skills are not necessarily complemented by a good understanding of the ways in which media content is funded and regulated. Similarly, their confidence in using the internet may mean that they are not necessarily exercising appropriate critical thinking or care when using websites. This might expose them to unsuitable material or to other risks, such as those relating to the security of their personal information. Their confidence may be a consequence of their insufficient awareness of the potential risks associated with internet use.

Older people and C2DEs (particularly DEs) use fewer functions and are less likely to be confident in using a range of media platforms, notably the internet. They are more likely to be concerned about what is on the internet and television, and their concerns are limiting the way they use websites. Confidence (or lack of it) is also playing a part. Compared with the general population, over-65s are less likely to use new websites, or to critically evaluate the new websites they do use. They are also less likely to be willing to share their personal details in order to access websites, and are less likely to seek learning support to overcome their concerns.

Carrying out creative tasks online generally requires more sophisticated skills than simply finding information, which people are more confident about.

Social networking sites are an example of a creative activity on the internet. One in five internet users say they have a profile on a social networking site. People tend to use them for a range of activities, although the main one is communicating with people they know.

Access

Take-up and use of media continues to increase

Over four in five people have a mobile phone, digital television or access to digital radio at home, and three in five have the internet at home. Take-up of mobile phones, digital television and the internet has continued to grow over the last two years, along with other digital devices such as MP3 players and recordable DVDs. This growth has happened across all demographic groups, but at varying levels. The groups that have experienced the greatest growth in multiple platform ownership (mobile, digital television and the internet) are those aged 20-24 and 35-44, people who are working and those living in rural areas.

As a result of growth in take-up of digital television and in-home internet, the availability of digital radio services has also increased significantly. However, a significant proportion of those with access to digital radio in this way do not listen to digital radio services. Furthermore, there has been a decrease in the proportion who say they listen to radio, regardless of the platform they use, from 77% in 2005 to 69% in 2007.

As well as being leaders in the take-up of new media, young people (under-35s, but particularly 16-24 year olds) also take part in a wider range of media activities, spend more time on the internet and use the internet for a wider range of activities than other demographic groups.

Across the general population, television is still the dominant media platform, relative to other media, and this is more strongly expressed among older people and the C2DE socio-economic groups. When we asked adults which media device they would miss the most television was the most mentioned device. However, younger people were less likely to mention television. For the youngest adults (16-19 year olds) two in five would miss their mobile phone the most, and one in five would miss using the internet, or watching television, most. Among 20-24 year olds, the media device they would miss the most is split between the three platforms, with one in three saying they would miss watching television the most, one in four would miss their mobile phone most, and one in four would miss the internet most.

Since 2005 there has been an increase across the population in the proportion of people who say they would miss watching television, using their mobile phone or the internet the most. Over the same time period there has been a decrease in those saying they would miss listening to the radio or music over a hi-fi device the most.

Older people and socio-economic groups D and E continue to have lower than average take-up

Between 2005 and 2007 take-up of the internet and digital television increased both for 20-24 year olds, and for people living in rural areas, at a faster rate than for the general population.

Among older people (over-65s) take-up of digital television has increased; among 65-74s it has risen from 56% to 69% and among over-75s it has gone up from 36% to 58%. However, overall take-up among 64-74s and over-75s continues to lag behind the national average (82%). Furthermore, the increase in take-up of the internet at home over the last two years among over-65s is lower than the UK average. This means that the gap between older people and the population in general in take-up of the internet has remained the same, if not slightly widened.

Take-up of digital television and the internet among people in the DE socio-economic group is increasing at the same rate as the average for the UK population. However, ownership levels for digital television (72% vs 82%) and the internet at home (35% vs 62%) are still lower than average among the DE group.

People who do not own a digital television, have the internet at home or have a mobile phone are more likely to give voluntary reasons for non-ownership. Voluntary reasons such as having no need for the device, or satisfaction with devices already owned, are the main reasons people give for not intending to get a device, rather than involuntary reasons such as affordability and access.

  • digital television – 44% give a voluntary reason while 12% give an involuntary reason
  • internet at home – 42% give a voluntary reason while 24% give an involuntary reason
  • mobile phone – 65% give a voluntary reason while 8% give an involuntary reason

The remaining people either intend to get the device in the next 12 months or do not know whether they will or not.

People are using more than one media device at the same time

Along with increased take-up and use of media devices, people are also using more than one device at the same time. While watching television, two in three people say they also talk on the phone, use the internet, listen to music/radio or play games. Three-quarters say that they use another media device at the same time as using the internet. When people do use another media device while watching television or using the internet, it is most likely to be a mobile or fixed-line phone.

Again, young people are at the forefront of this trend. The presence of children in the household is also associated with concurrent use of media devices.

Understand

Older people and C2DEs are less likely to be aware of, understand the benefits of, and feel confident in using, media functions and services

The majority of people express interest in some of the functions that are available on digital television and radio, the internet and mobile phones.

Interest and confidence in using the interactive functions varies both within and between platforms. However, overall interest is highest for internet and mobile functions, and lowest for digital television and radio functions.

For most of the functions we assessed, the majority of those who expressed interest in the function also said they felt confident about using it (the exceptions were DAB radio functions). However, some groups of people are interested, but not confident.

Those who have the lowest levels of awareness, understanding of benefits and confidence in using the functions are over-45s, females, C2DEs, people who are not working or those who have no children at home. People living in Scotland , Wales or Northern Ireland also have lower levels of awareness of, understanding of, and confidence in using functions, although this may be related to demographic profiles rather than to differences between nations.

Most people say they evaluate online websites they haven’t used before

Many, but not all, people say they evaluate the new websites they use; they make checks when they visit new websites or before they enter personal details. For example, when visiting a new website, people are now more likely to check how up-to-date the site is (49%) than they were in 2005 (28%). The majority of internet users make some form of judgement about a website before they enter any personal details. ABC1s express more concerns, and are more likely to check new websites, yet they are more willing to enter their personal details when registering on a new website. This may mean that ABC1s feel a higher degree of reassurance because they have carried out checks before deciding to enter their personal details.

In contrast, C2DEs and over-65s have the least confidence in using the internet and do not typically make informed judgements about websites; they are also more likely to say that they would never enter their personal details to register with a new website. Their usage levels are also lower; perhaps as a result of their lower tendency to evaluate what they see, and their lower levels of confidence.

The extent to which people do or do not trust content varies according to the genre they are seeing or hearing, or the information they are consuming. Looking specifically at perception of news and factual programming on television, 46% believe most of what they see, 27% say their belief varies according to the channel, and 24% are sceptical. Those who are most likely to believe news and factual programmes are 45-54s, female and C1s. Those more likely to be sceptical are males and 16-24 year olds.

People’s awareness of funding and regulation of content differs by platform and by demographic group. In general, people are more familiar with the arrangements for broadcasting, particularly television, and BBC content on television and radio. However, there is greater confusion about how websites and mobile phone content are funded and regulated.

16-24 year olds, who we have identified as some of the more prolific media users, are the least likely to know about media content funding and regulation. They are more likely to think that content is regulated when it is not.

Concern about what is on television and the internet has increased since 2005

The increase in concern between 2005 and 2007 could be evidence of people’s greater awareness of what they are watching, reading and hearing. For example, people who are most likely to mention that they are concerned about online financial security say they carry out checks on new websites and make judgements before entering their personal details.

People are more likely to mention something they are concerned about on the internet than on other platforms. The overall proportion expressing a concern about the internet has increased from 58% in 2005 to 63% in 2007.The concerns most mentioned are offensive content (57%), risk to society/values (38%) and risk to finances and devices (25%).Concern about risk to finances and devices are driven by increasing concerns about identity fraud. As mentioned above, this is also reflected in the extent to which people say they exercise caution before entering their personal details. The top three issues in 2005 were offensive content (45%), risk to society/standards/values (31%) and risk to personal privacy (20%).

However, the evidence does not suggest that these concerns are diminishing people’s overall appetite for using the internet. For example, the people who are more likely to mention a concern in relation to the internet (ABC1s, 35-54s, people with children) are also the most prolific internet users.

Over half of the people we spoke to said that they were concerned about what is on television (55%), an increase from 46% in 2005. This rise is due to an increase in the percentage of people who mentioned concerns about poor quality content, from 10% in 2005 to 35% in 2007. The top three mentions in 2007 are poor quality content (35%), offensive content (34%) and not trusting content/believing it faked or biased (7%). In 2005 offensive content was the most-mentioned concern (35%), followed by poor quality content (10%) and risks to society/values/standards (7%).

Two in five internet users are aware of ‘free’ file-sharing services. Although the majority of people are aware that it is often illegal to download content from these services, opinion is split over whether this should be the case. Younger people (16-24s), in particular, support the view that this should not be illegal.

Create

With the exception of uploading photographs, relatively few people have taken part in creative activities online

Participation in creative activities is not universal among internet users. Among the creative activities considered in the research, uploading photographs is the only activity that has either been done by, or is of interest to, the majority of internet users. At least two-thirds say they are not interested in the other creative activities discussed, such as creating a website or contributing to a wiki[(-2-)]. 16-19 year olds (75%) and 20-24 year olds (74%) are more likely than other internet users (51%) to have carried out a creative activity.

Two-thirds of internet users are confident that they can use creative elements, although a quarter are not. Those who are least confident are more likely to be over 45, or female.

Social networking was the online phenomenon of 2007, with much media coverage and academic thinking dedicated to it. One-fifth of internet users say they have a page or profile on a social networking site. The youngest adults are the most likely to have a profile: over three in five 16-19 year olds and two in five 20-24 year olds say they have a profile, compared to just three in ten people among over-35s.

Communicating with people they know is the main activity people say they use social networking sites for. Some people also use the sites for meeting friends of friends (35%) and people they do not know (17%). Over one in five 16-24s say they have met someone online they didn’t previously know, a higher proportion than in the general population.

Learn

There is a preference for informal learning compared to classroom learning

Most adults have not experienced training about digital functions such as creating content and setting access controls, although the proportion that have had such training has increased from 22% in 2005 to 27% in 2007. Considering this lack of experience of formal ICT training, it is unsurprising that people say they prefer to learn about media through friends and family, by reading manuals and through trial and error. Different learning strategies are adopted by different groups. For example, females prefer to learn from friends and family and males are more likely to say they prefer to use a manual, or trial and error.

Older people (over-65s) are the least likely to have experienced any learning or to have a preference for a learning method. This lack of participation, together with older people’s lack of confidence, and their lower levels of interest in, and experience of using the internet, significantly limit the benefits that they are able to realise from having in-home internet access.

Attitudes and behaviour

Attitudinal and behavioural analysis identified five groups, defined by their level of engagement with media platforms

We have identified five segments based on people’s relationship with media devices: Engaged; Economisers; Pragmatists; Hesitants and Resistors. Our analysis shows that people’s media literacy differs according to their attitudes about media, and their media behaviour.

As already discussed, we have identified gaps in media literacy by demographics such as age, socio-economic group, and the presence of children in the home. By looking at how people differ on the basis of their media attitudes and behaviours, we can identify how these various media literacy gaps might be addressed.

Engaged (20%)

Pragmatists (30%)

Economisers (8%)

Hesitants (31%)

Resistors (9%)

The youngest segment; 58% are under 35

59% are aged between 35 and 64

The second- youngest segment; 52% are under 35

The second- oldest segment; 53% are 35- 64, and 29% are 65 or over

The oldest segment; 71% are 65 or over

57% are male

57% are female

51% are male

54% are female

54% are female

66% are ABC1

69% are ABC1

60% are C2DE

57% are C2DE

67% are C2DE

73% are working full- or part-time

70% are working full- or part-time

54% are not working

55% are not working

84% are not working

The Engaged and Pragmatists have the strongest relationships with media devices. The Engaged are very enthusiastic about media and how it fits into their lives. Media plays an important role in Pragmatists’ lives, but they are more functional in their approach to media than are the Engaged. Both of these groups are fairly confident, and use the media literacy skills they already have to determine their use of various media devices.

Economisers, who tend to be younger, have a positive relationship with media technology, but they are limited to a certain extent by costs, whether perceived or actual. In order to encourage this group’s media literacy they need to be informed on two fronts; about the potential benefits they could get from making the most of devices, and about their options for affordable accessing and use of media. Economisers also need support to ensure they are confident using media.

Analysis has shown that Hesitants are aware that they are not getting the most out of technology, but they also have a tendency to dismiss the technology (due to a lack of confidence) rather than to experiment with it. Media literacy support is likely to benefit this group more than any of the other segments. The support should involve helping Hesitants to understand media technology, starting from the basic skills and showing them the benefits.

Resistors have the weakest relationship with media devices, and display little or no interest in changing this situation; either by acquiring devices, increasing their interest or confidence in using media, or becoming critically aware. Resistors’ lack of interest is a key difference between this group and Hesitants. Any media literacy support will need to first provide a reason for this group to become interested in another, or a new, device.

Urban and rural

With the exception of internet ownership and use, there are few differences between those living in urban and rural areas.

People living in rural areas are more likely to have the internet at home (67%) than those living in urban areas (61%), a consequence of higher than average growth in having the internet at home over the last two years.

Despite their lower level of take-up, people in urban areas spend more time on the internet at home (8.3 hours per week compared to 7.3 hours per week) than rural users, and use the internet for a greater breadth of activities (3.3 activities compared to 2.9 activities, out of a list of 18 activities), particularly for communicating, and for work. People in urban areas are more likely to use the internet to communicate, look for work/studies and for news.

There are also some urban/rural differences regarding television. People living in urban areas are more likely to know that television programmes are regulated. In contrast, people living in rural areas are more likely to know about the 9pm watershed.

Nations and regions

Across the four nations and the English regions there are many similarities in the extent of media literacy. Some of the variations will be due to demographic differences, rather than geographical, cultural or statutory frameworks. For example, in London people are more likely to regularly use their mobile, and when asked, they say they would miss using their mobile or the internet the most. This is also characteristic of responses from 16-24 year olds.

The following summaries aim to highlight the key differences from the UK average. A detailed outline of each nation is in section 8 of this report.

The few variations in media literacy in the English regions are mainly due to demographic differences

The population of England makes up 83% of the UK population; therefore, there are very few instances where media literacy in England differs from the UK as a whole. This summary focuses on differences within the English regions.

There are some regional variations in the take-up of media devices, with mobile phone ownership highest in London and lowest in the East Midlands. Having the internet at home is most likely in the South East, and lowest in the North West. Take-up of digital television does not vary across the nations, but within England digital television is comparatively less common in the East Midlands.

In the North West and the West Midlands people tend to consume more traditional media than in other regions. Those in the North West are more likely to watch television, while those in the West Midlands are more likely to read newspapers/magazines and watch DVDs. In contrast to London, people from the North West and the West Midlands are more likely to say they would miss watching the television the most.

People in the North West are more likely to say they tend to trust what they see and hear on the television and the internet than those in other regions.

Internet users in the East of England are more likely to have a social networking profile, and those in the West Midlands are less likely.

People in Scotland are more likely than those anywhere else in the UK to use more than one media device at the same time

Take-up of digital television, mobile phones and the internet has increased in Scotland since 2005, but having the internet at home is still lower (51%) than the UK average (62%).

While the incidence of electronic gaming[(-2-)] is lower in Scotland than in the UK (25% vs 31%), Scottish people are as enthusiastic as their counterparts in the rest of the UK, spending as much time playing.

Adults in Scotland are less likely to regularly use their mobile phone or the internet. The importance of the television is clear; when asked which device they would miss the most, they are more likely to say the television, compared with the UK in general.

Using more than one device while watching the television or using the internet is higher in Scotland:

  • 80% of adults in Scotland use another device at the same time as watching television, compared with the UK as a whole (69%);
  • 83% of adults in Scotland use another device at the same time as using the internet, compared with the UK as a whole (74%);

In general, fewer people in Scotland mention concerns about the key media devices: television, the internet, radio, mobile phones and gaming.

People in Scotland also differ from the UK in general in terms of learning preferences. They are more likely to say that they prefer to learn through friends and family, or through trial and error.

Internet users in Scotland are more likely to have a social networking profile (27%) than those in the UK (22%).

People in Wales are less likely to use more than one device while watching television or using the internet, than the UK in general

Take-up of digital television and mobile phones has increased significantly since 2005, although internet ownership in Wales (53%) is lower than in the UK as a whole (62%).

Compared to the UK, adults in Wales are more likely to regularly listen to music on a hi-fi/CD/tape player, and less likely to regularly use the internet. People in Wales are also more likely than people in the UK in general to say they would miss their television the most.

People in Wales are less likely than those in the UK as whole to use more than one media device at the same time:

  • 61% of adults in Wales use another device at the same time as watching television compared with the UK (69%).
  • 63% of adults in Wales use another media device while using the internet compared with the UK (74%).

People express a similar level of concern about media content and devices in general, with the exception of what is on television; people in Wales are more likely than the UK average to have concerns about what is on television.

Levels of trust in television and internet content are lower in Wales than in the UK in general; nearly half (49%) say they do not trust what they see and hear on television, compared with 41% in the UK. They are more likely to agree that it does not matter how websites are funded (62%) than the UK average (52%).

Although in-home internet take-up is comparable to the UK average, people in Northern Ireland spend less time on the internet

Multiple platform ownership in Northern Ireland is similar to the UK average. Take-up of digital television, mobile phones and the internet has increased significantly since 2005, with similar levels to the UK as a whole (52%).

Although having the internet at home, and breadth of internet use, are at similar levels to the UK, people in Northern Ireland spend less time on the internet than elsewhere in the UK. They are also more likely to spontaneously mention something they are concerned about on the internet (59%) than the UK average (54%).

Despite lower take-up of electronic games in Northern Ireland (23%) compared to the UK (31%), people are more likely to mention a concern about gaming (29% vs 22%).

People in Northern Ireland express a higher level of distrust in what they see on the internet. Two in five (41%) disagree that they tend to trust what they see or hear on television compared with the UK (31%).

Footnotes:

1.- A wiki is software that allows registered users, or anyone, to collaboratively create, edit, link, and organise the content of a website, usually for reference material

2.- Electronic gaming includes hand held games consoles, games consoles connected to a television, computer games online, computer games on a PC or CD ROM games

The full document is available below