Bilkisu Labaran, the Nigeria Editorial Lead for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), speaks on the new pidgin service (bbc.com/pidgin) introduced by the corporation which went live on Monday August 21 and the opportunity the BBC is offering the young population with the new fully digitalized language service.
For how long have you been planning this new service and at what point did it become a reality?
In 2016, the UK Government through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CFO) offered BBC a new investment to reach certain parts of the world. That investment is worth £289m and the BBC, working together with the CFO, then looked at which part of the world would best benefit from this investment and we, here in West and Central Africa, are among the lucky ones to be identified as one of the regions to benefit from the investment.
The African continent in general is a major beneficiary because of the 11 new languages that would be launched. Africa is getting six; three for West and Central Africa, that is Pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo and another three for the whole of Africa, that is Tigrinya, Oromo and Amharic.
In addition to the new language services, some of the investment would go towards the digital transformation of our existing services – Hausa, Somali, Kenyan, Rwanda. All these services would get investment to digitalize or enhance their digital offer. There is also going to be an offer for TV for Africa so that there is a lot richer content from the BBC stable for TV. So the offer cuts across the whole continent. It is a really exciting opportunity. In addition to the three languages that are being introduced here, we need to remind us that we have already an existing Hausa service. So, with Hausa and introducing Yoruba and Igbo, as well as pidgin, as well as English, we are really solidly covering this region now.
What niche are you trying to carve out by introducing this new pidgin service?
The first thing to say is that this is a fully digital service. It is a really exciting opportunity because it is the first time that the BBC is introducing a service that is fully digital in the African continent. And part of the strategies for going fully digital is that we are targeting young people. Africa is the youngest continent in the world.
We are richly and truly blessed with millions and millions of young people and we want to be in a position where we are offering them quality news and information and also content that will generally enrich their lives and therefore we are offering not only the traditional, impartial and balanced news that the BBC is known for but we are also going to provide a rich offer of business, technology, health, education, entertainment, sports, etc. So that we offer a well-rounded content and we are creating it on digital platforms.
As you know in the last 15 years, there has been an explosion of mobile phones ownership in Nigeria, in Africa and so we want to create this content and meet the young people where they are; they mostly live their lives on their smart phones and that is why this digital strategy came about.
What age bracket are you targeting?
The average age bracket we are targeting is about 17 to 35, so quite a young audience. Because the average age of African population is about 17, 18 and 20 into the early 30s.
And you quite believe this pidgin service would go a long way in advancing your reach in Nigeria?
Definitely. If you look at Nigeria alone the estimate is that, about 75million people speak pidgin. By the time you bring in Ghana where they speak pidgin; you go to Cameroon where they speak creole which is a slightly deeper pidgin; you go to Liberia, they speak creole, The Gambia also, by the time you bring in all of those countries across this region…Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, they all speak one version of pidgin or the other, the reach and potential of the language is huge and the BBC is in a position to offer that and by being on digital platforms, it is also a good opportunity because then that means whichever country you are on, you can easily click right on your phone.
Everybody is connected through the internet. So it is quite easy to reach even diaspora audiences, big African communities that live in the major capitals of the world – Washington, New York, Atlanta, London, Paris, Beijing, – all of those places, we would be able to reach all of them. The other thing also is the potential of the pidgin language which is a language that brings people together; a language of unity; a language that cuts across divides and barriers that unfortunately sometime we have in African communities whether ethnic, whether religious, whether regional, this is a language that is going to unite all of those peoples across socio-economic groupings as well.
The other thing is, our strategy is that we are going to be fully digital, we will have a website as well as social media platforms, primarily Facebook and Instagram. Those platforms are specially selected because young people have access to the platforms, Facebook is really popular in this market so is Instagram but we have a deliberate strategy to also reach young women and hence the Instagram strategy.
By going on Instagram, we found from our research that it is really popular with young women and so we want to go on that platform in order to have a particular drive and a particular push to get more females to be able to participate actively to express themselves, to get great content because we think there is a rich potential there to reach those female audiences.
What about the human resources required, have you been able to address that?
Africa is so richly blessed with a population that is dynamic, vibrant, educated; that has energy and drive. What we have done in our recruitment strategy is to travel across the region, across Nigeria, across Ghana, across Cameroon and Central Africa in order to spread the word in the right circles. We went to universities targeting fresh graduates or people who are just about to graduate or postgraduate students who are just about to enter the labour market, media organizations that we partner across the region, technology kind of gathering, we attended the social media week here in Lagos.
The strategy was to spread the word in the right platforms, in the right market on order to reach the right type of people. So that strategy enabled us to be able to spread the word about the jobs when we advertised them in those circles and therefore to attract the right kind of talents and I am really happy to say that we have successfully recruited an amazing number of talented young individuals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon and they are already really proving themselves just going through the intensive BBC training that they have gone through and the content they are already creating.
We are really excited at this opportunity to provide employment for young Africans – Nigerians, Ghanaians, Cameroonians – and also to create all these rich contents because we want Africans to be able to tell their own stories. Gone are the days when white people would come and report here. These new services provide an opportunity for young Africans to tell their own stories in their own voice, in their own words, in their own pictures, in their own videos and capture that richness, that colour, that vibrancy of African society. So we would be really lucky to recruit that talent and I hope you would be able to see that once the site goes live.
What is the programming content going to be like?
One thing BBC is well known for is the quality of its news and journalism. We would be having that news we are known for–independent, impartial, balanced, accurate news. In addition to that, we would also have other things that young people are interested in.
Young African people are really connected to the world. So we want to be able to really offer them that opportunity of really knowing what is going on in the world, bringing the world to them, what you need to know, what is happening and what it means, making sense of it also, not just saying, ‘this happened in France, this happened in Spain or this happened in the UK’ but also explaining it. ‘This happened in the UK, what does it mean for me’.
That is our added value, we are going to contextualize it. It is a mixture of bringing the information, educating, informing, entertaining but also contextualizing it here in our region. In addition to that we also have that network of correspondents and the core team of producers who are constantly on a daily basis creating original journalism.