|The BBC's significance to African listeners was highlighted in a rare survey of their lifestyles and attitudes
Africa is home to the BBC's biggest audiences – over 50 million people
are regular listeners to BBC World Service programmes, which are
produced in eight languages. BBC World Service's long-term commitment
to Africa came to the fore in a year when world focus on the continent
followed the Commission for Africa initiative to tackle debt, trade and aid.
But the media climate is increasingly challenging and audience fragility is
a concern. Listening declined significantly in English in countries such as
Kenya and Tanzania – although Hausa audiences hit a new record.
It was a year when Africa moved up the global political agenda. UK Prime
Minister Tony Blair said reducing poverty in Africa was 'the fundamental
challenge of our generation'. The UK-led Commission for Africa urged
wealthy nations to double their aid to the continent, raising it by £30bn
a year over 10 years.
The BBC's unrivalled ability to report in depth from across Africa is
founded upon its large network of African reporters. Working for
the BBC's African services in English, Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, French,
Portuguese, Kinyarwanda and Somali, they contribute expert local
knowledge to the BBC's newsgathering operation. There are many
examples of brave and high quality reporting. Khartoum correspondent
Alfred Taban won the UK Parliamentary Press Gallery's Speaker Abbot
Award for his work in exposing the scale of the killing in Sudan's Darfur
region. Jonathan Paye-Layleh was honoured for his courageous journalism
Mark Doyle won first prize in the United Nations Correspondents
Association (UNCA)/UN Foundation Awards (Reporting on Humanitarian
and Developmental Affairs category) for his coverage of post-war Liberia.
'Historically the BBC's African services have played an important role in
spreading free and impartial information for people to know more about
what is going on in their societies,' says regional head Jerry Timmins. 'No
one should be in any doubt about the BBC's long-term commitment to
Africa, both on radio and increasingly on multimedia platforms.'
Holding those in power to account is a daily task for programmes such as
Focus on Africa and Network Africa. They have consistently maintained high
standards of journalism and are a prime source of news and information
for millions of people. Annual tracking surveys in Kenya and Tanzania
showed a significant rise in the BBC's ratings for trust during the year.
Nevertheless, audience numbers, particularly in English, are under pressure.
Results published at the end of the year showed regular listening had
fallen by 2.1 million in Kenya and 1.3 million in Tanzania. In Nigeria, where
BBC partner station Ray Power FM has faced government restrictions in
broadcasting BBC programmes, audiences fell by 1.5 million. But listening
in Hausa grew by 3.4 million, reaching an all-time high of 18.6 million.
The BBC is responding to growing competition by investing in the quality
of programmes at key times. Among major programme improvements
for 2005 are extra editions of Network Africa and Africa Live. 'Africa Live
is expanding the agenda by creating a platform where people of all
descriptions across the continent can talk to each other about issues
that really matter to their everyday lives,' says Jerry Timmins. 'Issues such
as arranged marriage are hotly debated on the programme, which takes
the BBC's coverage well beyond simply politics and economics.'
Investment in FM frequencies and partnerships is another crucial part of
the competitive strategy. Programmes are now available on FM in African
cities such as Abidjan, Accra, Bamako, Dakar, Freetown, Kigali, Maputo,
Nairobi, Ouagadougou and Victoria (Seychelles).
The BBC is also extending interactivity in all language services and
increasing multimedia investment, reflecting the importance of mobile
phones in many African countries.
The BBC's strategy for Ghana typifies its approach and commitment to a
continent where mass audiences are by no means taken for granted. It is
launching another FM frequency there in 2005 and plans to strengthen
partnerships with local broadcasters. A local SMS text messaging number
was introduced in Ghana during the year and more such services are
planned. New ways of delivering programme content include news alerts
and headlines for mobile phone users. In Kenya, for example, subscribers
can now access BBC international headlines and African football news
on demand.' Kenya is a crucial market for us and we are constantly seeking
new ways to serve our audience better,' says Joseph Warungu, Editor, BBC
African Service. 'Now Kenyans can be kept updated through their mobile
phones – an increasingly popular means of communication.'
Alongside the BBC World Service's regular broadcasts, the BBC World Service
Trust is carrying out a wide range of health, education and media
development projects in Africa. The Trust's health campaigns
developed in partnership with local broadcasters utilise mass media
to increase knowledge about the threat of HIV/Aids and to promote
sexual health among young people.
Education initiatives include Nigeria's Voices project, which explores issues
of governance, rights and responsibilities in imaginative ways, including the
country's first radio soap. A radio project in Somali, Macalinka Raadiyaha,
has pioneered literacy education.
The Trust promotes development of independent media by providing
training in journalism and managerial skills in countries, including Somalia,
Sudan and Tanzania. In addition, the BBC has supported partnerships
with local broadcasters by carrying out extensive training in 10 countries.
Co-productions have been made with African partners such as Joy FM in
Ghana, Ray Power in Nigeria and Radio 1 in Tanzania.
The BBC's significance for African listeners was highlighted in a rare
survey of their lifestyles and attitudes. 'They are not casual listeners
but enthusiastic and loyal BBC fans in countries where radio listening
dominates media consumption,' says Alan Booth, Controller, Marketing,
Communications and Audiences. BBC World Service's 'Pulse of Africa'
survey covered 10 countries from east to west, including some with the
highest BBC audiences. The survey showed that in Tanzania over 50%
of the population are regular BBC listeners and in Nigeria and Kenya
The Pulse of Africa survey's insight into African lifestyles and attitudes
showed that more than 90% of African people are proud of their
continent. While many in the rest of the world see Africa as plagued by
war and poverty, Africans are generally far more positive about their lives.
At the BBC Africa 2015 conference, jointly hosted by the BBC and the
Corporation of London, the BBC pledged to take a lead in developing
the media within Africa through the BBC World Service Trust. Opening
the conference, BBC chairman Michael Grade welcomed the Africa
Commission's backing to strengthen media capacity and programmemaking
in Africa, building on the Trust's ground-breaking work. 'We in the
BBC stand ready to do our part,' he said. 'This is a bold and exciting
initiative to help African media realise its full potential.'