Briefing Notes: Focus on Africa

Ritchie Cogan
Ritchie Cogan 2nd November 2014


Rachael Akidi, Editor, Focus on Africa (radio) @rakidi

Stephane Mayoux, Editor, Focus on Afric (tv) @smayoux


Other useful contacts

Nick Ericscson, Planning editor, BBC Africa @nickericsson

Chakuchanya Harawa, senior planner for the tv show

Alice Muthengi (and others), planners for the radio show @amuthengi



Focus on Africa (radio)

The radio show goes out three times a day on the BBC World Service, broadcast live in English from London at 1500, 1700 and 1900 (all GMT). The main show is at 1700 and lasts an hour and the other two shows are 30 minutes each. The show aims to provide comprehensive coverage of African politics, business, sport, arts etc. It wants to reflect the progress that is taking place across Africa but not shy away from addressing the challenges. It is not a straight news show. The assumption is that the audience finds the headlines elsewhere but comes to the show for detail and analysis and for its features. The same team produces all three editions of the show and one of their priorities is to engage with their audiences via social media. They have a reach of 2½m across FB, Twitter and Google +. When selecting a studio guest topicality is the key. Why this guest? Why now?


Focus on Africa (tv)

This is a daily show which goes out at 1730 GMT Monday-Friday, live from London. It is also syndicated to 13 African tv stations. The show is broadcast on BBC World News so it reaches a global audience, although a high proportion of that audience is in Africa. The tv and radio shows work closely together, often interviewing the same guests, but they are made by different editorial teams. Stephane has a strong belief that coverage of Africa needs to move away from the 3D approach – death, disease and destruction. He’s keen to feature stories that look at arts, business, technology and health. The production team and reporters are for the most part African and he believes that Africans should be telling their own stories. The team also contributes an African perspective to wider news coverage on BBC World News.


How to pitch ideas

The best way of pitching ideas is to go to the planning editors for each show (Chaku and Alice – see above for contact details) or Nick Ericsson on the BBC Africa newsdesk. You can also contact the editors direct – Stephane via Twitter and Rachael via email. They are inundated by press releases and pitches but, whilst they are receptive, they find it frustrating that NGOs make a range of elementary errors in their dealings with the BBC. They gave a few examples of mistakes to avoid:

Reports arrive at the last minute with little or no advance notice. Experts quoted in the press release are not available for interview. Press releases lack a clear top line. Reports don’t have an executive summary. Old press releases are rehashed with a new top line. The reports offer experts to comment whereas what the broadcasters want is human stories to illustrate the issues being raised.

Both Stephane and Rachael made the point that BBC Global News in general is keen to collaborate with outside organisations, to save money, but also to give them access to expertise and information they would not otherwise have. If you are planning some research, get in touch at the beginning and see if they want to collaborate with you. This particularly applies to investigations. They are keen to do more investigations but lack the funds therefore collaboration is vital.

They are generally less keen on covering UN days, summits, elections, publication of reports, unless there is something new and surprising to say. They do not want to follow the news agenda set by UK broadcasters but prefer to respond to an African agenda. And they are keen to move away from the traditional way in which Africa has been reported and to cover a broader range of stories including ones that have something positive to say about Africa.

Rachael said she was particularly interested in covering countries that receive very little coverage such as Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Equitorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau.



BBC Africa now has an established team of reporters who have started to appear more widely across BBC News, including Namsa Maseko (who came to fame when she gave a personal view on what the death of Mandela meant to her), Anne Soy (who has been reporting on terrorist attacks in Kenya) and Tulip Mazumdar (reporting on Ebola). There is a feeling that these African reporters have a more authentic voice than British reporters sent in to cover African stories. The point was also made that these reporters connect with a more diverse UK audience.


Working with NGOs

Both spoke reasonably positively about their experience of working with NGOs and a couple of examples were given. Rachael worked with Oxfam during the Copenhagen climate change summit and they helped her to find examples of farmers who were affected by climate change so that she could give a human and African dimension to the issues being discussed.  Amnesty published a report on torture in Ethiopia and were able to provide Rachael with someone from Ethiopia who had been tortured and could be interviewed live on the show. Rachael emphasised her interest in featuring human stories rather than experts.

Rachael and Stephane were asked if they would use NGO footage on air – or if they would be interested in edited pieces. Both would consider using NGO footage if it provided them with access they didn’t have or couldn’t obtain. The NGO footage would be credited but the BBC would edit it as they saw fit and would want editorial control. The BBC remains nervous about being perceived to be ceding editorial control to NGOs. Balance remains critically important.



The audience profile for radio and tv is similar. The shows tend to reach a professional male skewed audience typically in their early 30s, comprising teachers, students, NGO staff, government, civil servants and other decision makers. They are keen to reach a younger audience and would welcome ideas that would appeal to young people. The audience is predominantly urban and focus groups have shown them that the audience welcomes a move away from the traditional 3D agenda.


Mark Galloway


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