The guidelines, available as a PDF, cover familiar ground on concerns about quality of the content and potential legal issues. It acknowledges that:
The most apparent benefit for broadcasters of using UGC is that it provides free access to material which they might not otherwise obtain. The most obvious examples are footage of breaking news stories. Recent high profile examples include the post election riots in Iran and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
But the guidelines also seek to broaden the way journalists think about UGC, and suggests that it is a way of promoting greater media democracy:
While encouraging ‘better quality’ UGC (however that may be defined) might appear a worthwhile aim, pursuing this goal alone could serve only to further amplify the voices of the better resourced members of the audience and further marginalise the poor and disempowered. The aim of these guidelines, therefore, is to provide guidance on how to encourage a greater diversity of material from a wider range of voices: material that serves both the public and commercial needs of broadcasters and the viewing and democratic needs of the widest possible audience.
The advice focuses not just on how to handle UGC, but also on the issue of media and information literacy. It argues that news organisations would benefit from promoting greater media literacy, by strengthening relationships with audiences and countering claims that UGC is just a way of getting free content.
This is an important part of the equation that is often ignored in the discussion of UGC. The people formerly known as the audience have the tools to report on events around them, but the media can play a part in helping people understand how to “seek, use and create media content”.
UNESCO defines media literacy as the ability to “interpret and make informed judgments as users of information and media, as well as to become skilful creators and producers of information and media messages in their own right”.
Journalism is considered as vital to a functioning democracy, by providing citizens with the news and information they need to make informed decisions. In a participatory media ecosystem, part of this role is providing citizens with the skills and competences to evaluate and create media.