Friday 14 Mar 2014
Check against delivery
Thank you for inviting me here today. My name is Seetha Kumar, and I am the Controller of BBC Online. I have been doing this job a year now – it's a privilege to be able to do so. Earlier this year, I also took on the role of the BBC's Online Access Champion and I want to use this opportunity today to talk about why digital inclusion and participation is so important to the BBC.
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 in and influence the world around us. How else do you make sense of it?
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 many and 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 13.8 million, 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 who risk 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, the question I ask myself, is 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?
In the first instance, we can do much better at explaining the benefits of what is available, as we did recently with this trail about the BBC iPlayer.
[play James Martin trail]
This trail – along with another starring Valerie Singleton – was very much aimed at explaining the features of BBC iPlayer clearly and simply to older users, and audience research reveals that they proved a success with these groups. This kind of thinking feeds into my responsibility as Access Champion and my role representing the BBC on the Government's Digital taskforce, working alongside Martha Lane Fox (Chair).
Here's a quick film that gives you an idea of some of the other things the BBC can do in this hugely important area, which was made for the Get Online day last month.
[play Get Online video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/medialiteracy/use.shtml]
We made use of our wide range of outlets to reflect the message about the benefits of getting online, with coverage about the day appearing both on the BBC homepage and across our regional websites, on BBC Breakfast and Working Lunch on TV, and on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show.
We have also recently launched a Media Literacy website – www.bbc.co.uk/medialiteracy (working title) – which brings together our offer from across the BBC to help people equip themselves for the digital age.
I am excited about the opportunities that being part of the Digital Taskforce presents. It's a good group of people, including Helen Milner, who runs the 6,000 UK Online Centres where people can access free training whatever their skills level, representatives from BT, Intel and Age Concern and others working at grass roots levels.
Together, we can build partnerships across the public, private and third sectors to support the millions of people in the UK who don't benefit from online technologies, by focussing on the new tools that can help the most vulnerable four million people – as identified by Martha Lane Fox – to find jobs, save money and, in such ways, make their lives significantly easier.
This is a long-standing tradition with the BBC and is core to our public service ethos. Over the last 30 years, there are many examples of encouraging UK citizens to develop their media skills: the development of BBC Micro in the Eighites; the Computers Don't Bite campaign in the Nineties, and WebWise – a guide to using the internet – at the start of the 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. While TV and radio retains its motivational power, it is online that is ideally suited to the interactive process that is learning.
Next year sees the launch of a major Media Literacy campaign partnering with other organisations to promote digital inclusion and participation at grass roots levels.
I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge. We have the ability to inspire and motivate through telling stories and, by capitalising on our reach across radio, television and online, we are well positioned to play our part in encouraging people to get online and benefit from what the web has to offer. But, and its a big but – the partnership word is key – the BBC can bring a lot to the mix, but we cannot and should not try to do it all – the solutions exist with myriad grass roots and other organisations and it is only by working in partnership that the opportunities and solutions exist to alleviate social exclusion through not being online. And it's achieving that outcome, which matters.