Online Access: Skills for Life Conference
I am the Controller of BBC Online, but earlier this year I also took on the role of the BBC's Online Access Champion and it's in this capacity that I want to talk about why digital inclusion and participation is important.
I believe passionately in the principles of public service: the Reithian tradition of inform, educate and entertain is as true today as it was over 80 years ago. In the world of the internet and e-skills, the skills for life we all need are the abilities to understand, participate and influence the world around us.
But how do we enable this when there are large sections of society who - due to a lack of skills and other barriers - are still offline and consequently not experiencing or even being able to access the diverse benefits of the internet?
Recent audience research specially commissioned by the BBC shows the scale of the challenge of getting people online. 13.8 million UK adults do not have the internet at home and, of this number, 10.6 million do not use the internet anywhere else either.
In other words, more than a fifth of all adults in the UK are completely excluded from the internet and from being part of the daily dialogue that happens, be it locally, nationally or globally. This is a very significant segment of society which risks getting left behind as the web becomes more and more embedded in our daily lives.
The BBC has a pivotal role to play for the public good. So, how can we better use our offer of world-class News, shows created specifically for the web - such as the recently announced EastEnders: E20 - and the multi award-winning BBC iPlayer, to help close the digital exclusion gap?
Firstly: during Get Online day last month we made use of our range of outlets to reflect the message about the benefits of getting online, with coverage about the day appearing on the BBC homepage and our regional websites, on BBC Breakfast and Working Lunch, on television and and on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show.
We have also recently launched a Media Literacy website - which brings together our offer in a cohesive way in order to help people equip themselves for the digital age.
This is a long standing tradition with the BBC and is core to our public service ethos. Over the last thirty years, there are many examples of encouraging UK citizens to develop their media skills: the development of BBC Micro in the 80s; the 'Computers Don't Bite' campaign in the 90s, and 'WebWise' - a guide to using the internet - at the start of the new millennium.
The BBC was one of the first media organisations in the world to have a website - BBC Online will be 12 years old next month - and when it was approved, there was a clear understanding from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport that education was to be one of its key purposes.
We have played host to several initiatives over the years, and increasingly our formal learning content - for adults as well as children - has migrated online and includes: Raw; My Story; BBC languages; Skillswise and Ouch!
While TV and radio retains its motivational power, it is online that is ideally suited to the interactive and multi-dimensional process that is learning. Moving forwards and working in partnership, there are big opportunities to play a useful role in alleviating social exclusion through not being online.
While I would never underestimate the scale of the challenge, by using our ability to inspire and motivate through telling stories, and by capitalising on our reach across radio, television and online, the BBC is well positioned to play its part in encouraging people to get online and benefit from all that the web has to offer.
Seetha Kumar is the Controller of BBC Online.
(This post is an edited extract from a speech given at the Skills for Life Conference. You can find the full speech here. )