Ofcomwritten evidence (DAD0049)

1.1                 Ofcom is the regulator for communications services. We regulate the television, radio and video-on-demand sectors, fixed-line telecoms, mobiles and postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.

Ofcom’s role

Making Sense of Media

1.2                 Ofcom’s media literacy duties, set out in sections 11 and 14(6)(a) of the Communications Act 2003, include that Ofcom must take steps to bring about, or encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of materials that are broadcast or are distributed by an electronic communications network (i.e., online).  This includes understanding of the nature and characteristics of such materials, the processes by which they are selected or made available, the systems available to regulate them, and how consumers can control and use material received. Ofcom also has a duty to encourage the development of technologies and systems for regulating access to such material and to conduct research into the above provisions.

1.3                 As part of our media literacy role we launched the Making Sense of Media programme in 2019. This is Ofcom’s programme of work to help improve the online skills, knowledge and understanding of UK adults and children, through providing robust research, and collaboration with/coordination of relevant stakeholders and their activities. 

1.4                 We have described below some of the research that is most likely to be relevant to the Committee’s work.  Another core element of the programme is the Making Sense of Media Network, bringing together organisations and individuals with expertise in media literacy to work towards a shared goal of improving the online skills, knowledge and understanding of UK adults and children.

1.5                 Additionally, our Making Sense of Media Advisory Panel, established in July 2019, brings together expert representatives from across industry, the third sector and academia, to debate and inform the development of Ofcom’s media literacy research and policy work.

1.6                 The panel's aims include:

Ofcom’s role in elections

1.7                 Ofcom has a specific role in relation to elections and referendums in the UK. This is set out in Section Six of the Broadcast Code[1]. The principle behind these rules is to ensure that the special impartiality requirements set out in statute relating to broadcasting on elections and referendums, are applied at the time of elections and referendums.

1.8                 A key part of this role is ensuring rules relating to matters of major political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy in Section Five of the Broadcast Code[2] apply to the coverage of elections and referendums. These include ensuring that people reporting the news and service providers do not express their personal opinion and ensuring that news is reported with due accuracy and due impartiality.

Ofcom’s research

1.9                 Ofcom is an evidence-based regulator, so many of our decisions are informed by research evidence and the Communications Act 2003 requires us to carry out various pieces of research. Our market research ensures that we have a thorough, robust and up-to-date understanding of consumers in the UK.

1.10            Below we detail a number of research reports from the past year and highlight key trends that may be relevant to your inquiry.

News consumption survey[3]

1.11            The aim of this series of reports is to inform an understanding of news consumption across the UK, and within each UK nation.

1.12            Points which may be particularly relevant for the Committee’s work:

Online Nation[4]

1.13            Online Nation is a new annual report that looks at what people are doing online, how they are served by online content providers and platforms, and their attitudes to and experiences of using the internet.

1.14            Points which may be particularly relevant for the Committee’s work:

Adult media use and attitudes[5]

1.15            The annual adults’ media use and attitudes report provides research that looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time. The report also includes a particular focus on those who tend not to participate digitally.

1.16            Points which may be particularly relevant for the Committee’s work:

Internet users’ online experiences and attitudes[6] and online experiences and attitudes qualitative summary report 2019[7]

1.17            These research pieces quantified concerns about, reported experiences of and potential sources of online harm. They also explored public experiences of and attitudes towards the internet. They were commissioned by Ofcom with advice on the research design provided by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

1.18            Points which may be particularly relevant for the Committee’s work:

Use of AI in content moderation[8]

1.19            Ofcom commissioned Cambridge Consultants to produce this report as a contribution to the evidence base on people’s use of and attitudes towards online services.

1.20            The report identified three areas where AI technologies can assist content moderation activities as seen in the diagram below.

 

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[1] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code/section-six-elections-referendums

[2] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/132080/Broadcast-Code-Section-5.pdf

[3] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/157913/uk-news-consumption-2019-overview.pdf

[4] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/internet-and-on-demand-research/online-nation

[5] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/149124/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report.pdf

[6] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/149068/online-harms-chart-pack.pdf

[7] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0022/157153/online-experiences-attitudes-qualitative-summary-report.pdf

[8] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/157249/cambridge-consultants-ai-content-moderation.pdf