Briefing Notes: BBC Africa

Chloe Choppen
Chloe Choppen9th May 2019


Lucy Walker, Multimedia News Editor

Nisha Kapur, Commissioning Editor, TV programmes

Nick Ericsson, Planning Editor



There have been big changes at BBC Africa, with the launch of 6 new language services, a number of new TV programmes and a push towards digital. The emphasis on TV and digital is designed to ‘future proof’ BBC Africa. Whilst their main audiences are listening on the radio those audiences are declining and so they are shifting resources towards TV and digital. For their TV output they work through partner TV stations across Africa which broadcast their news bulletins and their non-news programmes. BBC World News also broadcasts a number of the TV shows including the TV version of Focus on Africa and Africa Eye, their investigative strand.

Their overall aim is to reach more women and younger audiences – and to reach audiences which are not currently consuming BBC News.

They also want to change the way that Africa is reported both across the continent and by the BBC in the UK. They want Africans to tell their own stories and they want to give a voice to the people not just to the privileged.

Their approach to storytelling has changed.  Where they are looking to shed light on important issues they want to do so initially through one person telling their own story and then broaden out to the wider issue. They are also keen to see their output reversioned for UK audiences via the Today programme, the 10 O’Clock News etc.

The expansion into non news TV has resulted in new content across a number of genres: health, business, women, children, sport, current affairs and investigations -and this all comes under Nisha.

BBC Africa has three specific goals:

  • Hold power to account
  • Give audiences the tools to change their lives
  • Produce innovative storytelling for young audiences

Nisha gave examples of the new programming:

Children’s – there is a weekly children’s news show called What’s New? which is broadcast in French and English, and gives children’s perspectives on news stories, shows how children are influencing key issues like climate change, provides inspirational stories, covers some challenging stories like Ethiopia or Eritrea, helps children to spot fake news and to develop media literacy.

Women’s The She Word is a new TV show aimed at women – it includes African female influencers talking about a topic such as polygamy, domestic violence, etc. It tries to be celebratory but is not afraid to deal with controversial issues.

Health – their new health strand is Life Clinic which features three stories in each episode, looking at health and lifestyle with a problem identified and an expert helping with the solution. They also have Talk It Out which looks at taboo topics such as intersex, suicide and bipolar. Again, the emphasis is on a person describing the problem and an expert helping with a solution.

Business – the business strand looks at three stories each week, about the economy, entrepreneurship and personal finance. They are reporting about business in a different way with an emphasis on empowering people.

Investigations – the new investigative strand is Africa Eye which will typically do 20 investigations a year, relying on a network of freelance journalists across the continent. One investigation may take 4-5 months to complete. The investigations are personality led. Nisha gave the example of a report on rape in a South African township by a reporter who lives in the township. They also use an open source network to verify information – for example they had video of a massacre which they thought was taking place in Cameroon and they managed to find out more and eventually to tell the story of the massacre via open source. They are the only BBC programme using open source in this way. They work in partnership with other organisations – for example, they saw red in the water outside a house in Burundi and suspected something criminal was happening. Working with Forensic Architecture, they pieced together what was happening and discovered that this was a torture house and that there were other torture houses in the same area.

All the new programming is made in London or Nairobi, by BBC teams. Although Nisha commissions these programmes, it was suggested that any stories for the new TV strands or for BBC Africa should go to Nick who would then pass them directly to the right person.

Planning team – Nick has a big planning team as they are trying to work in a much more joined up way – he is also the main point of contact for anyone in BBC News who is following up on an African story. BBC Africa are keen to get their stories onto Newsnight and other UK news programmes.

Nick heads up planning in London and works with planning editors in Nairobi, Lagos/Abuja and Dakar. Hugo Williams is the link person between the planning desk in London and the digital team. His aim is to ensure that reporters know what they need to deliver for digital.

Nick focuses on three areas:

  • Breaking news
  • Trips
  • Original journalism

Pitching to them– all the speakers encouraged IBT members to pitch their ideas and they said that they were keen to work in collaboration. They gave the example of a report on human rights in CAR which was based on research by Human Rights Watch. If you have a report coming up please let them know well in advance. The CAR report resulted in a 3’ radio report, a 2’30” TV report and a piece online. If you are pitching to them don’t prejudge whether it is radio, TV or digital, let them do that. Pitches should not just identify the issue but also the story – and ideally the character at the heart of the story.

Constructive journalism – they are also keen to run positive stories that show solutions to problems rather than just the problem. The solution doesn’t need to solve the problem altogether, it can be a work in progress.  Audiences across Africa are keen to hear about what is happening in other parts of the continent, and what they can learn from the experience of others.


MG, 7.5.19

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