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Focus on Africa

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Eloise McNaulty | 16:03 UK time, Friday, 31 August 2012

Jamie Angus, senior commissioner for BBC Global news, blogs on how the BBC's expansion of its services in Africa benefits licence-fee payers in the UK as well as our African audiences.

BBC broadcasts in Africa have undergone some significant changes over the summer. Our radio services began in 1938 in both English and Arabic and now include services in Swahili, Somali, Hausa, French and Kinyarwanda.

Komla Dumor, one of the presenters on Focus On Africa

Komla Dumor, one of the presenters on Focus On Africa

A little earlier this summer we launched the BBC's first daily African TV news bulletin in English. Focus on Africa runs on BBC World News every weekday at 1730GMT, presented by Komla Dumor and Sophie Ikenye. It also runs in prime-time on free to air terrestrial TV in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Namibia. That means a whole new set of audiences can now access BBC News for the first time on TV.

This week BBC Swahili launched its own daily TV bulletin for the first time. 'Dira Ya Dunia' (it means Compass of the World) is a 30 minute bulletin of the biggest international news stories for our Kiswahili speaking audience in East and Central Africa as well as the main stories from that region. Presented by Salim Kikeke, it builds on the strong brand of the existing Swahili radio programme of the same name, and is on air in Tanzania and Kenya.

We now have local correspondents from the BBC's African Services able to report and go live in Accra, Juba, Dar-es-Salaam, Addis Ababa, Kampala and Lusaka, as well as from the BBC's existing hub bureaux in Nairobi and Johannesburg. In all the BBC has a correspondent in 48 African countries - that's significantly more than any other international broadcaster.

For the first time over the summer, some of World Service radio's flagship morning English programming also comes live from Africa. The new Newsday programme has a particular remit to serve our English audiences in Africa who in the morning hours make up around 70% of the total audience. And the programme is co-presented by Lawrence Pollard in London and Lerato Mbele in Johannesburg every day, which puts us closer to covering Africa's biggest stories. Read more information about the new programme.

Lerato Mbele and Lawrence Pollard

Lerato Mbele and Lawrence Pollard

So why have we made these changes? Audiences in Africa are telling the BBC that they appreciate our impartial and comprehensive coverage, and that our radio platforms are strong and stable. But younger audiences are much more likely to seek out news on TV than Radio, so it's important that we are able to offer a selection of TV services that are accessible to mass audiences on terrestrial TV as well as satellite. And for younger radio listeners, the English World Service needs to evolve and present a more accessible sound, while losing none of our highly-valued authority and accuracy. So these changing needs are reflected in the different sound of Newsday.

African audiences are also concerned about the image of Africa presented to the rest of the world by international broadcasters. And they're not alone in that. Our audiences think the BBC has a particular responsibility to reflect the African agenda fairly, and they understand our strength in influencing other international audiences. That doesn't mean ignoring strong African stories if they happen to involve civil war or food shortages. But it does mean putting them in a wider context, reflecting economic growth, creativity, and African states' growing sense of control over their own resources.

These new services in Africa bring benefit to UK audiences too. Understanding Africa's role in some of the biggest international stories we cover is more and more important. Sub-Saharan Africa has 6 of the world's ten fastest-growing economies; cultural links between African countries and the UK diaspora are significant. UK audiences also want to know whether African states are successful in combating terrorism and piracy, and keeping communities of different faiths living harmoniously side by side, in places where rapid population growth is leading to great competition for natural resources.

Most of the extra video content from Africa is available to UK audiences on the BBC News Africa site, and of course Newsday on World Service can be heard in the UK on DAB, and overnight on Radio 4.

Jamie Angus is senior commissioner for BBC Global News

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