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BBC retains loyalty of African audiences in new media era

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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is one of the largest and most trusted news sources around the world.

Unsurprisingly, it has emerged as the top media brand in our annual survey of the most respected brands in Africa. While the BBC has been broadcasting to Africa since 1923, a year after its birth, it was only after the Second World War that it started producing content that is directly tailored to the continent.

Nearly eight decades, the familiar sounds of the BBC still strike a trusted note in Africa.

Alan Kasujja, host of the BBC’s Africa Daily attests to the BBC’s enduring value across multiple generations in the continent, including parents who ensure that their children are also introduced to the service.

“I received a message from someone who said they have raised their children listening to the BBC and for one of their children studying in the United States, the Africa Daily podcast is very important for his classmates who are curious about Africa. Another woman told me she has been listening to the BBC for 50 years,” he recalls.

Kasujja believes the BBC’s success is due to, among other things, the perception of authentic, trustworthy reporting. This trust was established during a time when African media was heavily state-controlled.

“The BBC offered an option for  authentic and more trustworthy reporting and that has carried on till now”

For people who are curious about how the rest of the world perceives them, the BBC presents coverage of stories that directly impact them but from an impartial perspective.

“I also think,” Kasujja adds, “the BBC has much wider coverage than most local media houses on issues such as Ukraine and Gaza, and so people feel like they can get the real story from the BBC and they can make up their own minds.”

Impartiality is critical to the BBC’s brand, even for people who might disagree with some specific choices it makes.

“I can tell you, having worked at the BBC for the last 12 years, that impartiality is key to the coverage of every story. No editor can call me and ask me to take a particular angle on a story because they know I would not only ignore them, but make sure they are sanctioned for doing that.”

This commitment to impartiality contributes to the BBC’s credibility and its consistently strong performance on our annual list.

Coverage on Africa, by Africans

It also helps that the BBC’s coverage is not only of Africa but by Africans. Even though the numbers have reduced due to corporate restructurings, the BBC is home to a wealth of African voices from various regions who can communicate in the languages of those regions. Engaging people from such diverse backgrounds means “Auntie”, as the BBC is sometimes affectionately referred to, can provide valuable context and nuance to its coverage of the African continent.

Kasujja highlights the importance of reporters across the continent in ensuring accurate and comprehensive coverage, including at the Africa Daily podcast, where there is a deliberate effort to platform African voices.

“It is absolutely a strength,” he says of the BBC’s approach, which ensures that its coverage of Africa is enriched by a network of contributors both within the London office and across the continent.

Kasujja believes that Africa’s storytelling capacity is growing, with citizens leveraging platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. However, he notes that media houses across Africa are struggling, with decreased advertising for private establishments and limited resources for state-owned outlets. Increased investment in building media capacity can enable more African-originated stories. Until then, he highlights the positive impact of young Africans using available platforms.

“A lot of the content that we have on the BBC, for example, on Africa Daily, is content that is coming from young people across Africa.”

Social media also means that individuals can also seize the narrative from under the feet of major media houses on occasion and Kasujja thinks its an opportunity for African media to develop further.

“Hopefully data will be cheaper and if that happens, more Africans will be able to get on and to tell the African story a lot more comprehensively.”