Apologies in advance. This is going to be a long one. Hopefully you won't notice.
Sometimes it's hard to see beyond the maelstrom of getting a magazine out on time and in good shape. For our quarterly two-week production period, our collective heads are down just to get the thing out on time. That's particularly the case since BBC Focus on Africa magazine is produced with such a small staff.
But we have to know if we are hitting the mark with our readers, otherwise what's the point? There is one way of doing this, which I'll admit isn't scientific. We keep an eye on how much of our content generates discussion and highlights fresh perspectives on certain issues. Some subjects are bound to get a reaction. But that alone is hardly a reason for covering them.
In the October to December issue, for instance, we anticipated that an article by Frederica Boswell on the popularity of a Ghanaian blog - Adventures from the bedrooms of African Women - would get the letter-writers and tweeters going. But it also had something worthwhile to say about tackling what seems to be a continent-wide taboo. It concerned the work of two extraordinary women, Nana Darkoa and Abena Gyekye, who have chosen to use words to fight prejudice in the bedroom. Their blog, you see, unashamedly talks about sex.
The magazine came out and, sure enough, a response landed in our in-box. Was the letter a fresh perspective on the original article? In stating that African women already do talk about sex, we believe it was. Will the reader response generate even more discussion? Highly likely. Because of that we decided to label it the 'Star view'. Cue Nana Darkoa's response on her blog (an edited version is quoted below):
On Sunday, I saw that the latest edition of BBC Focus on Africa magazine was out. I had been recently featured in the October edition of the magazine so felt inclined to browse through the magazine.
I stopped short on page 54, the 'Inbox' section of the magazine. There was a screen shot of the page that had featured myself, and my co-blogger Abena Gyekye, with the 'Star view' letter entitled 'Misguided advice'. I read the letter and was instantly enraged, so I bought the magazine and went on a tweeting spree to vent...let me reproduce the letter here so you can judge for yourself.
"Your article on sex blogging in the last issue highlights the fact that it is good for African women to talk openly about sex, and most of all to not see it as taboo. But who says African women have not been talking about sex? What do you think they discuss when they meet up? I think Africa has more problems to tackle than focusing its energy on sexual issues. Your articles should rather focus on helping African women revive the core values of training a child well, according to the moral values of the land. I believe that is one of the pressing needs of African women."
Wow. Where do I even start? The second half of the letter completely incensed me. "Africa has more problems to tackle than focusing its energy on sexual issues." I presume some of the issues that are of concern to Africa include issues of health, maternal mortality, HIV/Aids, and education. Can he ( 'cos I seriously doubt that Ugochukwu is a woman but who knows) not see how all these issues are linked to sex? How about the politics of sex? If Africa has more important problems to tackle then why are our African governments trying to legislate what goes on in the bedrooms of consensual adults, and why are African social justice activists fighting the unholy alliances between fundamentalist religions and conservative (often corrupt) leaders who stoke the flames of homophobia.
"Your articles should rather focus on helping African women revive the core values of training a child well, according to the moral values of the land". Really? Now you want the BBC to tell us African women how to raise our children well? And this must be done "according to the moral values of the land"? Hmmm. Let me not even try to imagine what moral values you are referring to here.
Part of what sticks in my gall the most is that this letter was judged the 'Star view'. By my reading that implies the letter is great, worthy of being focused on, and gives me the impression that the editor/editorial team agreed with the letter. But surely I must be wrong? Oh and did I add that the 'Star view' gets a 'small prize'? Argh, that really sticks in my throat.
Nana goes on to include the draft of a response letter of her own for inclusion in the magazine. That you can read when the next issue comes out in early March. But I'll leave the rest to you. Any comments? Did we get it seriously wrong or not? And, if so, is the time for 'Star views' rapidly fading?