How 83million pounds Annual Grant Keeps BBC as Beacon of Journalism, Combats Fake News
Jamie Angus, Director of BBC World Service Group, leads the BBC’s global news services – BBC World Service, BBC World News and BBC.com – as well as BBC Monitoring. With its overwhelming 347million weekly audience, the BBC World Service is currently undergoing its biggest expansion since the 1940s. Jamie who was in Lagos recently to commission a BBC project at the University of Lagos, spoke with BrandCrunch Nigeria on driving for new global standard in good journalism, the BBC World Service massive investment and employment of over 200 Nigerian journalists amongst other issues. Excerpts
What informed the expansion and inclusion of new languages in BBC World Service programming?
It’s a worldwide development by the BBC and it’s massive here in Nigeria, in West Africa and in Africa. We are investing huge amount in new developing the journalism profession. Here in Lagos we have about 200 new journalism staff working on new services in Igbo, Yoruba and pidgin. So it’s a huge transformation here for us and we want to make our programming go all around the globe. We would record global debate programmes and broadcast on the BBC World news and BBC World service. It’s possible we talk about reflecting Nigeria story to the world. So it’s not just about bringing international news, it’s reporting Nigeria stories, talk about reflecting Africa super power out to the world.
What informs this new direction?
People have a real understanding of BBC’s strong international news edge. So they come to us for breaking international news, maybe about Donald Trump, President Zuma or this amazing cave rescue story. We want to offer something more than that. We want to report story in Nigeria most importantly that the local media won’t be able to record and broadcast. And actually, we want to work on wider editorial policy. This is why we’ve invested a lot in sport programming, business programming and our investigative series – Africa eye and more.
You cannot over emphasis the impact of the sweet sweet cough medicine documentary, a powerful investigative story. I think only the BBC World Service has the resources to report at such level. We want to demonstrate our long-term commitment to building investigative journalism globally. We want to work in partnership with local journalism organisations, international journalism organisations in building capacity, helping in training of staff but also crucially providing news contents audiences really want to consume.
What is the rationale for adding three new Nigerian languages – pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo to BBC World Service programming?
Having more additional Nigerian journalists, they will help us to know about Nigeria globally, it’s not just about political stories, tanker fire, reporting Niger Delta stories to Nigerians. We probably do report the fire incident penultimate week and Nigeria post elections but it’s much more about representing the economic growth of Nigeria, its young people, the schools, sports, business and these kinds of stories being given coverage, not just breaking international news.
There is something about our news, if you go to our site, you won’t see pro-British stories, but first class, independent, free and impartial news around difficult subjects. Some people trust BBC news for that value. So there is a case you can make that UK government derives values from BBC world service, even though doesn’t make money from advertising and that’s why government fund international broadcasters like the BBC World Service.
Why the preference for these Nigerian languages?
We looked around the world and say where can we invest money, where there is a large available audience which consumes news in their languages. We found out that in Nigeria, there are lot of Igbo speakers, Yoruba and pidgin speakers. Pidgin is being spoken across West Africa! So, it’s about which of those languages where we can find a significant audience for news. It’s about the numbers but we are not for commercial purpose. If we wanted to put our money in languages where we can make our money back, we would broadcast in English, Spanish, Arabic or maybe Hindi because only those markets are big enough to make our money back.
So we don’t take decisions on commercial returns, we want to go Bahamas because people in Bahamas do not have access to free independent news. We want to broadcast in Korea because people in North Korea do not have access to independent and impartial news about the world and so on.
News on Africa by Western global news organisations were once perceived to be mostly skewed, how do you change the orientation?
We need people to come to our digital site and consume the contents. We launched news sites in Igbo, Yoruba and pidgin starting from zero audience, we have to build the audience to show how sustainable. We do need the audience to come and experience these sites. We want people to read the news, give us feedbacks, tell us their expectations. They should listen to our programmes on radio (radio in one minute, news summary) in pidgin and in English, and so much more.
We are trying to build new future audiences for BBC World Service. Every organisation will want to make sure younger people know what it offers to the youth population. For example, that the BBC is not just for mum and dad or grandpas alone but there are ample programmes for the ever growing and very aware young people.
Apart from Nigeria, are you replication the addition of new languages in other countries?
Yes we do. Like we have BBC Afrique for Senegal and Cote’d voire and other francophone African countries. We are also expanding in East Africa, we have Swahili and three Ethiopian languages and in Algeria. So there are parts of Africa we are adding new languages services but throughout Africa our sport contents will come in English. We have a new programme on sport and new business programming; Africa eye, the BBC world news and a range of children programming, so we are making lots of new programming in English. So what you saw on sweet sweet cough medicine which was aired on NTA is replicated in other African countries where we air programming in English.
This is massive investment, where is this money coming from and how do you intend to recoup?
This is UK government’s money. BBC world services’ running costs are taken care of by funds from licensed players in the UK. BBC is funded by every household that has a television set. It’s owned by every person in the United Kingdom. But we have an additional investment from the UK government; they want us to increase the number of new languages services so they made investment around 83million pounds, to add 12 new languages services to make 42 languages including English around the globe. So these new (languages) services are funded by UK government’s investment but it comes with guarantee of editorial independence for the editorial board. The editorial board decides news, so we are not just out to broadcast UK messages because they have given us money.
What is the effect of this new arrangement on advertising?
We sell advertising. Our commercial services are the English TV channels – BBC world news and the bbc.com website. The two main products on English services – TV and online are highly commercialised, subscription TV channels, website server advertising. But we also sometimes publish digital adverts. If you visit BBC Hausa or Igbo, you might see digital TV online ads but we don’t make the cost of the services back from advertising, we are not commercial that way. Only our English service is commercial.
Then if the intent isn’t commercial, what is the motive?
The BBC and the UK Government agreed that there is a value to everyone in the United Kingdom by having our news broadcast around the world in multiple languages. So the value to average individual in the UK is when they come to Nigeria, West Africa or anywhere they go, doing business around the world, people would already know what British people stand for.
Fake news affects most organisations including news organisations, how do you tackle this?
Tackling fake news globally is a priority for me in 2018, not because I am there to find every fake news in the world and take it down, but more because people trust BBC World service to spot trends in fake news, we saw the pattern around the world. So we as organisation are able to say these are fake photos, news items, etc.
It’s a global phenomenon, it is happening in India, it’s happening in West Africa, everywhere. We will be able to show the way. We certainly might do that in Nigeria elections for example. We make priority to pull out the trusted facts of central news stories about Nigeria elections; we are a big organisation, capable to make a difference around the globe.
What is the critical ethical value for any BBC journalist or staffer?
It is the independence of BBC. Wherever I go, the value is really curious to people; they understand even though we are from UK, we are British, we don’t represent the British government or a particular set of values, we stand for people’s right to receive independence news and that’s what we stand for around the globe.
The BBC currently parades hundreds of new Nigerian youngster journalists, how do you rate them professionally?
They are incredibly high professionals. We’ve got Toyosi, our West Africa journalism lead, former Nigeria news paper editor. You heard me speaking with Chioma, I mean they are impressive journalists and for the individuals’ services, they are really impressive young journalists. They teach us about how we tell the stories, how we engage our audiences. So I rate them very high.