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Creating Asian guidelines for user-generated content

Boxing Day Tsunami: Run for Your Life

photo: Alan Chan (flickr: Teakwonweirdo)

The Asian tsunami of 2004 and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami this year were two occasions where broadcasters around the globe relied heavily on user-generated content (UGC). They aired videos people had taken with their mobile phones, pictures snapped with digital pocket cameras or they simply broadcast information users had sent in via e-mail or as text messages from remote places.

These days, many radio and TV stations encourage their audiences to contribute material to their broadcasts. This gives them access to footage professional crews couldn’t otherwise get – or couldn’t get that quickly. And it gives the audience a voice, creating a two-way conversation with the broadcasters and making people feel like the broadcaster is there for them, picking up their stories and addressing their concerns.

Making the most of user-generated content

But how can broadcasters safeguard the quality and suitability of such content? After all, it’s supplied by regular listeners or viewers: amateurs, not trained journalists. Citizen reporters haven’t necessarily been taught the journalistic basics every professional has learned, like how to research facts, how to report accurately and how to be fair to all sides.

Some of this user-generated content may be excellent and add an exciting new dimension to the broadcaster’s programming. But some of it may just be poor quality, technically flawed, slanderous or off-topic. In certain cases, the material might be unfit for broadcast and simply a waste of time for everyone.

So how can broadcasters separate the wheat from the chaff? And how can users get a better idea what kind of material could be interesting for broadcasters?

UNESCO encourages guidelines on UGC and media and information literacy (MIL)

Martin Scott: GUIDELINES FOR BROADCASTERS ON PROMOTING USER‐GENERATED CONTENT AND MEDIA AND INFORMATION LITERACYA few years ago, UNESCO and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association drafted some guidelines for UGC and MIL. They’re a bit dry reading, but they’re logical and make sense – both for users and for broadcasters.

But these guidelines were written within a Western European frame of reference. So UNESCO decided to ask African and Asian media professionals to create their own guidelines: Suggestions, regulations and rules suitable for the media environments in these regions.

Earlier this year, a team of journalists from different Asian countries got together with specialists from the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) and DW-AKADEMIE to start drafting an Asian version of guidelines for UGC.

Members of the group came from Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and Korea. They represented very different media – anything from highly commercial entertainment TV stations to state-run communist propaganda outlets.

How to find common ground?

Asian workshop on UGC in Kuala LumpurEach of these media operated in different cultures, had different philosophies, were governed by different legal frameworks and catered to different audiences – who in turn had very different technical tools at their disposal to produce their UGC.

When you consider all of these odds and also keep in mind that this highly differentiated team only had two days to come up with Asian guidelines for UGC, you won’t be surprised that this group didn’t quite reach its goal. But they tried. And they gave their best. And they laid the groundwork.

For weeks after the two-day meeting, e-mails were exchanged back and forth among the group: the original text of the Asian guidelines was modified and modified again.

There is no final version, no version that everyone agreed to.

So what we’d like to do here is ask you for your help and your ideas. Below, we’ve posted the latest version of the guidelines for UGC that the group of international Asian journalists formulated. We’d be happy to hear your ideas and input. You can also view the document here. I’m sure UNESCO, the ABU and all participants in the Kuala Lumpur workshop would appreciate additional feedback from Asian users and media professionals.

By Thorsten Karg


Incorporating User-Generated Content (UGC) into Programming

A message to all program makers and UGC providers

The purpose of these guidelines is to help media staff and program makers understand the significance of user-generated content (UGC). It can be a valuable tool in our daily operations and programming and can foster mutual understanding between us and our audience.

Our readers, listeners, viewers and users are not just a passive audience; they are also potential content providers. They can help us with additional material for broadcast and supply valuable insight, stories, news, opinions and expertise otherwise not available to the journalists.

In order to guarantee high-quality UGC, our audience needs some guidelines on what and how to contribute to the programming. These guidelines shall help broadcasters uphold the principles of including UGC into our output and maintain its standard and quality.
Special qualities of UGC

There are common concerns for all kinds of content that we find on different platforms and use for our broadcasts, such as accuracy, taste and decency, legal liability, etc.  As program makers, we need to be aware of these concerns and alert our users to them.

Our users are not trained journalists. They are no experts at reporting a story accurately, fairly and without endangering themselves or those portrayed.

What makes UGC different from production by our own staff producers lies in the spirit of mutual trust and respect between media professionals and members of the public, voluntarism and the yearning for community-building from our users.

In communicating with our users during the process of soliciting UGC, we need to convey clearly to them what exactly we are looking for and what we would like to achieve in the very first place. This will not only justify the incorporation of UGC in a certain production, but will also ensure a higher quality of submissions.

Subsequently, all of this will reinforce our relationship with our audience. The audience will feel more integrated into the programming; reassured that the media organization is taking up its issues and concerns which will further cement the equity of the network as a truly a public service broadcaster.


Guidelines for both program makers and UGC providers

This section gives an example of user-friendly guidelines which the media organization can publish when soliciting UGC. These guidelines will need to be adapted to each broadcaster’s special requirements and the media laws of the respective countries.

1. Fairness and Accuracy

Our belief:
Fairness and accuracy are essential elements of our content – especially in our news and current affairs programs. We cannot serve the public well if we fail to be credible. You as a contributor will also be helping us to achieve this. Having said that, there is also non-news or fictional content in which we welcome creativity. In these cases, accuracy might not be the highest priority. However, it is still important to be fair – even in fictional content – if it includes personal comments and views.

Your contribution:
In cases where we are looking for factual or non-fictional content, make sure your content is fair, authentic and accurate to your best knowledge. You can help us by including some information on where, when and how you obtained the material (e.g. when and where did you take the photograph, make the video etc? Who are the people depicted? What additional information can you tell us about the incident?)
In cases where we are looking for fictional content, we will specify the purpose and the nature of what we are looking for. While accuracy might not be required, you should always put yourself in other people’s shoes for a “fairness check”.

2. Social and cultural sensitivities

Our belief:
We live in a highly globalised world and our content, including your contributions, can be accessed by audiences both locally and globally. We strive to ensure that these contents are universally acceptable by people in our own country and around the world. We believe by doing so we will be able to live in a more harmonious world.

Your contribution:
Always be aware whether your submitted content might cause anyone to feel discriminated or offended, particularly in regard to gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

3. Taste and decency

Our belief:
We believe in observing the basic tenets of taste and decency in our day to day dealings with people whatever their creed or color, sex or gender. This becomes even more important in this highly technological age where instant global communication and interaction has become a daily reality.
All material submitted should be in accordance with common taste and decency. That is why we consider content unusable that contains obscenity, vulgarity, pornography, paedophilia or extreme violence. The same is true for material acquired by illegal means.

Your contribution:
Do not submit any material that violates taste and decency or upsets the sensitivities of other members of the audience. Please avoid insults, threats, abusive words, harassment and the unauthorized use of photos.

4. Voluntarism

Our belief:
We believe that UGC should be community-driven and authentic. Voluntarism is precious and should be promoted. That is why our general rule is not to pay users for submitting material.
In some special cases, however, we may reward our UGC providers, for instance if extra efforts are required to provide such content. We will state our criteria for rewards if and when such conditions arise.

Your contribution:
Your participation is highly appreciated. It should be voluntary. If voluntary contribution is not what you expect, please reconsider before submission. Rewards will only be given if we have clearly stipulated this beforehand and discretion rests on us.

5. Eligibility

Our belief:
Effective communication and understanding is promoted by making rules clear in the first place.  We strive to get our messages across when we recruit UGC of a specific nature. We hope by doing so, we can eliminate the chance of causing false expectation or confusion. Quality and standard of the submissions can also be strengthened. We will provide contact details for interested contributors who have additional questions.

Your contribution:
Kindly read through the specifications laid down for a certain project or program soliciting UGC and consider if you would like to contribute. You are welcome to contact us if you have further enquiries.

6. Legal and regulatory issues

Our belief:
Both our professional program makers and UGC providers live in the same social and legal context of their country.  We believe that it is the responsibility of both sides to ensure that the content on our public platform meets the legal requirements and social expectations of our community.

Your contribution:
Your submitted content must comply with the media and broadcast regulations of this country and this media organisation.
Always respect and observe laws.  In layman’s terms, use your common sense and respect other people in the community all the time.

7. Intellectual Property Rights

Our belief:
We believe that originality of UGC protects you and us from infringing the rights of a third party. In addition, it stimulates creativity and nurtures talent.
It is not our intention to own the intellectual property rights of the material UGC providers send us. The rights stay with you, the contributor. In some cases, we may reserve the right to use UGC in order to generate a profit for the broadcaster.

Your contribution:
All content you provide should be original to avoid infringement of any rights of a third party. The intellectual property rights remain with you. Your permission for us to use your material is not exclusive.
By submitting your content to us, you also grant us the right to edit your content for journalistic or programming reasons. We will not alter the meaning of your content with these edits.

8. Child Protection

Our belief:
We hold children’s rights sacred.
We will not accept any photos, videos or other material depicting children or minors that would violate the universal children’s rights, as laid down in UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child). This includes, among others, the right to privacy, health and security.

Your contribution:

If children or minors appear in the submitted content, you must provide written consent from their parents or a legal guardian. We reserve the right to reject any such material that is submitted without the above-mentioned consent.

Unless otherwise requested, the full names of children and minors may be disclosed when the material is aired or published.

9. Privacy

Our belief:
Privacy is a very important aspect in our programs and dealings with our audience. No program  material should violate the right to privacy of any individual or institution.

Your contribution:
Please do not submit anything that will violate or compromise the privacy of other users or entities unless you have obtained their expressed or written permission to publish the material.

10. Defamation

Our belief
While we believe in freedom of speech and of the press, we strongly believe that mass media must not be used to malign or unfairly attack the reputation of any individual or entity. We also believe in accurate news reporting and fair commentary, which allows different parties the opportunity to present their side or respond to any allegation.
Defamation is not acceptable.

Your contribution:
Please do not submit anything that will damage, insult or unfairly criticise a person’s or entity’s character or reputation. Please do not submit anything that may be interpreted as libellous. Do not upload violent content that may be upsetting to others.
This media organisation will hold the UGC providers liable against any claims arising from the usage and broadcast of submitted content.