The BBC recently announced it was launching its first dedicated daily television news programme in English for African audiences. And last night, the first episode of BBC Focus on Africa was flighted globally on BBC World News. Komla Dumor and Sophie Ikenye are the presenters of the 30-minute news programme. It’s brief is to “draw on the pool of BBC African talent on the continent and in London to report on Africa’s rising economies, entrepreneurs, innovators, culture, entertainment and sport”.
“The BBC is committed to covering the events on our continent, having done so for 80 years. DStv is delighted to be a platform provider for what we know will be compelling, credible television made in Africa by African journalists. To have this packaged for audiences daily, will make for gripping viewing on DStv,” says Simon Camerer, chief marketing and sales officer at DStv.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Dumor to find out more.
What lies behind the decision to create a dedicated English language news programme for Africa?
OK, Well, the fact of the matter is that over the years the continent has changed politically, socially, and economically and our viewers and listeners are sophisticated and demanding and expect deeper, more context in the analysis of (news) and Focus on Africa is going to provide that. We have close to 80 million dedicated viewers across the continent and we need to respond to the change to the generic expectations as an international broadcast.
What are the challenges in terms of logistics, Africa being so huge! Will you use existing Bureaux or will you be hiring more staff to handle news requirements?
Well, fortunately BBC has had many years experience covering the continent for many decades now so we’re actually relying on the existing network of African professional journalists who are across the continent who have the experience and understanding that is necessary to provide the kind of in-depthanalysis that Focus on Africa will provide.
We already have a team in place. A very experienced team, a very large bureaux here in Johannesburg and we’ll be working with them to deliver the kind of content that our viewers require.
Where will you (Komla) and Sophie be based and why?
I’ll be based in London the presentation will come out of London but the content will come directly from the continent. Sophie will also be based in London.
What is your vision, as an African journalist, for the news agenda? What stories do you want to tell and why?
There are many stories to tell but I’m not setting the agenda. My role is to provide the connection between what our correspondents are delivering and what the viewers will be watching, so, you know, I’m not here to set any kind of agenda. What I’m interested in doing is to ensure that the material we provide is accurate, balanced and presents a full view of the continent – the challenges as well as the triumphs.
With Africa’s ever-growing use of mobile technology for delivery of news content, will Focus on Africa have a mobi – and socia media – component?
Social media is huge across the continent and will be on all sorts of media platforms – already millions of Africans across the continent receive material from the BBC through mobile phones and they will find content on Focus on Africa whenever they want to.
Why the expansion into television when Africa has been ‘radio oriented’ for so long?
Well I think it’s also a reflection of what’s happening across the continent; people have more access to television and they want programmes that reflect their interests and there has always been a strong interest in news and current affairs across Africa, Television and Focus on Africa is a logical step for the BBC to fill in that need
Is this quite a substantial investment for the BBC? Got any numbers on that?
You are absolutely right, it is a significant investment and placing the programme in a prime time slot is a reflection of how important Africa is to the BBC.
Will you be taking on Al Jazeera, to a certain extent?
Our role isn’t to challenge anyone, our role is to provide what our audience wants. And I think that when our viewers tune in, people that watch the programme tune in, they will find that it is the kind of news programme that is lacking generally across networks and I think they’ll find it very compelling viewing and something they will want to watch on a daily basis.
How long will each show be and will there be regular features on a nightly basis? Can you describe the format?
The show is on at 7.30pm South African time for half an hour, on weekdays – Monday to Friday. And I think our viewers will find the content is, if you like, full-bodied, we’ll have news, current affairs, sports, business, and will also address pertinent social issues.
Do you get to personally report on some stories? What kind of stories get your juices going?
Absolutely. You know I’ve been reporting to the BBC for many years now and I do have a strong interest in political issues, business issues – presenting Africa Business Report for many years. But I often find that the most powerful stories are those of human interest. I will be presenting from London but will have responsibilities that will require me to travel to the continent and my presence there (in London) is as involved as it would be if I was presenting on location somewhere in Africa.
How would the news diary work for the show? Collaboration of all bureaux and news editing from London?
I think the co-operation is already existent through both SA on radio and the relationship that our news department has always had with the continent. So, Focus on Africa TV is going to build on that process and that structure to make sure we have full coverage.
Do you believe Africa is emerging from its reputation as the ‘dark’ continent, in more ways than one?
Absolutely. I have travelled to almost 20 countries in the past two years reporting exclusively on business and opportunities; clearly the Africa of 10 to 15 years ago is not the Africa of today. That being said, Africa still has enormous challenges, and there are difficulties that need to be surmounted by policy makers and by African people. My job is to report on that entire process, to share that story with the rest of the world.
What are the five biggest stories in Africa right now?
I don’t think there is an exhaustive list of the big stories in Africa. I mean, it is difficult to capture all the exciting things that are happening. Obviously the instability in the Horn of Africa region and the implications for the rest of the regions is important. Africa’s relationship with China is going to be a talking point for many years to come.
I think the technology revolution that is occurring across Africa and the way in which social media is changing; and I think the emergence of a powerful and influential African middle class and how that is going to affect the politics and the governance of the continent, and the next one would be Africa’s youth, young people, and how they are going to affect the future of the continent.
Those are the five stories that I think are tremendous, not in any particular order, but five stories that I think will be quite important for the few weeks.
Do you believe enough is being done to train and develop African journalists, and deliver them to a world stage?
I don’t think learning has a limit. And I don’t think that any experience that anyone requires is unattainable; there are always opportunities for people like myself to learn and I would encourage others to do so. So, I think, if training opportunities exist people should pursue them because the more experience you have the better.
Final word goest to to Solomon Mugera, the BBC’s Africa editor, who says Africa is now “one of the fastest developing news markets in the world – this new investment will expand our services for African audiences.While radio remains popular in Africa, TV is growing, and our partnerships with leading African broadcasters play a key part in these future plans. Mobile phone ownership is racing towards a billion, internet connectivity is rising and social media is empowering audiences. It’s essential that the kind of independent journalism the BBC does that isn’t slanted to one political or commercial viewpoint remains central to the new media landscape.”
“With correspondents in 48 African countries, production centres in Nairobi, Abuja, Johannesburg and Dakar and a weekly audience of 77 million, the BBC already has deep roots in the continent. Our journalists are from the African countries they report on – in English, Swahili, Hausa, Somali, Kinyarwanda/Kirundi and French – living and breathing the big stories and issues facing Africa.”